By Sue Mellon, Fluency Cohort 1, Gifted Support Teacher in the Allegheny Valley SD
As many of you know, Fluency is a processed based experience that morphs through ever expanding encounters. As a Cohort 1 Fluency member, the promise of inquiry-based learning for students has a forever place in my teacher’s heart. Although no longer listed on the website as a core value, inquiry-based actions are evident in the work of many Fluency teachers.
Throughout this past school year (2018-19), I had the privilege to work with 5th grade English Language Arts teacher, Kristin Bellavance, and 18 of her students. I would have loved to work with all of her students, but this was my first attempt at personalized inquiry-based projects and time is tight. I had the goal to honor each child’s thinking style and for each child to land on a topic that sprang forth from their own sense of wonder. This personalized approach to inquiry-based work can be traced to my Cohort 1 time in Detroit with Allied Media and the workshops based on their RIDA framework which emphasized the need for students’ connecting to their learning.
This 5th grade project was called “Family History Mystery” and the students knew that “family” was defined as anyone that you care about or anyone who cares about you. The project was prefaced with a great deal of work valuing and using primary sources which moved into the students creating primary sources by scribing some vignettes that they heard from their family.
These student scribed stories were used with the Project Zero (Harvard University) Thinking Routine - Question Starts. As with all Project Zero Thinking Routines, colored Post-it notes were everywhere in the room and on the students’ stories. The Post-it Note work lead to one favorite question from their family mini-stories. At this point, the students did not know that they would be asked to meet Pennsylvania Common Core standard CC.1.4.5.V by conducting research as I did not want the question to be influenced by what might be “easy” to research.
The questions were extremely varied and were the springboard for literary theme based topic selection. Here are a couple examples--
One young boy was fascinated that his uncle had earned a spot in “tryouts” for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but then was drafted into the Vietnam War before getting any feedback on his performance. This young man’s uncle returned from the war injured. This boy’s research topic settled with “the draft” and I have a fine memory of his “ah ha” moment when he exclaimed in front of the computer screen “Oh I get it! The draft is like the lottery.” His literary theme - “Life is Hard.”
A very athletic girl wondered if her toughness in sporting connected to past generations. After reading a great deal about raising goats in the early 1900s because a great grandmother had done so, her research and family questioning went back in time some more and she learned that she had a family member who used his farm as part of the underground railroad. Her theme - “Heroism and Courage.”