Student’s background knowledge
Both learners brought a fairly simplistic level of background knowledge about China in particular and the social studies concept “movement of people and goods” in general as evidenced through their anticipatory writing prompt and KWL charts.
Anticipatory writing prompt/KWL
For example, the grade 8 learner focused her response to the impact that travel has had on her life and how her sharing of her travels has impacted others primarily on the excitement of the journey. Absent from her response was any sort of deeper explanation of how she has changed as an individual from her year long sailing adventure; I expected responses such as “I have become more mature, more responsible, able to interact with different cultures on a new level”. As well, I would have imagined that by her telling her travel story, that she would have felt a sense of enlightening and expanding the potential travel opportunities of others, that she may have felt a sense of power in her experiences that by sharing them, she could act as an inspiration to others. Likewise, the Grade 8 Learner showed a lack of background knowledge of China; her I Know chart was limited to awareness of a festival and that the Chinese eat rice and teriyaki chicken.
Concept_anticipation (click for link to larger view)
KWL (click for larger view)
I found it curious that the Grade 5 learner focused her response as to what object was the most important to her and how her life would be different if she didn’t have it to the fairly pedestrian object of her bed. Her response was also mainly limited to the aesthetic comforts that a bed offers; “soft, squishey (sic), and very comfortable”.
This was surprising given that the family had been living on their sailboat for the past six years, in essence two-thirds of her life. If she had said “having my own bedroom or a house to live in” I could more easily see the impact that such a recent and dramatic change would have had on her. Similar to her sister, the Grade 5 learner’s I Know section was limited to food, animal representation for different years, and the notion that China was “discovered”. This final statement points to a misconception that other countries/people must somehow be “discovered” by Western peoples and brought into the fold of civilization, and perhaps that a high level of culture cannot exist independent of the Western sphere of influence.
In general, I would have expected a deeper level of self-reflection and awareness of the unique opportunity and impact that a year-long sailing trip to Mexico and Hawaii would have on their outlook towards life and their relationship with others. I anticipated that their experience as travelers would lend a level of insight into the importance of the exchange of people and goods along the Silk Road in China, but this wasn’t necessarily the case.
What the experience leveraged in terms of new learning
Advance Organizer- video(discussion of KWL Chart)
Given the lack of background knowledge about China, both learners were newly exposed to the presence of the Silk Road, the exchange of goods and people, fortifications present along the Silk Road to protect travelers and merchants, and the presence of religion in China. In terms of religion, it is interesting to note that the Grade 5 learner was curious whether the Chinese believe in different Gods. There was a section in the video that showed Muslims engaged in prayer, yet it appears that neither learner made the connection; with prompting (during discussion following the video) both learners had noticed this section but did not know that they were viewing Muslims praying.
Cooperative Learning- Jigsaw Text and Video
Clearly, this was the first time these learners were asked to engage in a cooperative learning exercise that required independent processing of information (with instructor assistance) followed by teaching their learning to another student. In hindsight, this makes sense since they have been homeschooled their entire schooling experience. While presenting, both learners were uncomfortable and unsure of themselves, the Grade 9 learner more so than Grade 5, and continually sought my reassurance and prompting.
Additionally, both learners struggled with the process of taking relevant notes, despite being given a RAFTS document that contained the exact elements that should comprise their presentation. I offered highlighters to both learners to use while reading through their text; yet I found it interesting that the Grade 8 learner refused in favor of using a pencil to underline and circle relevant details. As is demonstrated by the quantity of sentences underlined and circled, this learner has a difficult time discerning key details from a text.
Finally, although both learners were provided with textual and video information (additional from the advance organizer video) neither learner took notes while watching the video, asked to view the video more than once, and neither integrated the video information into their presentation; it was as if they hadn’t even watched it.
highlight_notes_gr5 (click for link to larger view)
underlined_notes_gr8 (click for link to larger view)
In the discussion following presentations the learners were able to make some connections between their own year-long voyage sailing and living in Mexico and Hawaii to the social studies concept of movement of people and goods but the connection was superficial at best.
Pros and cons of this strategy
Advance Organizer- Video
I think that using a visual, especially a video helps to capture the attention of learners at any age. I noticed during our discussion following viewing the video, the Grade 8 learner kept glancing towards the computer (where I’d shown the video) as she was talking about what she noticed/learned by watching the video. There was a noticeable need to make a visual connection as she attempted to process the information she had learned. Videos act as a means to transport the learner to another time and place with accurate depictions (though edited by the filmmaker) of the physical locale. Another good thing about videos is that they can be viewed multiple times if necessary.
However, using a video as an advance organizer can be limiting as well. Though not always accurate, the imagination can take a learner to planes of understanding that is not always conceived of by a filmmaker. When we are read to, or read text, it is up to our own neural network to make connections to our past experiences; without the filter of a concrete visual that could be limiting, the mind is open to create connections that an instructor may otherwise not anticipate. Additionally, it seems that when we watch a video, it can be taken as the truth unless steps have been taken to teach learners that filmmakers make editing choices that can limit, distort and/or hide the whole picture.
Cooperative Learning- Jigsaw
Attempting a Jigsaw with learners that I wasn’t familiar with, that were not accustomed to cooperative learning, and have difficulty integrating information from several texts made this a poor instruction choice for their learning context. According to Mom, these learners are much more familiar with direct instruction and writing five paragraph essays. In fact, the Grade 5 learner asked if what they were going to do was write an essay. Despite a dismal first attempt, I believe that if the expectations were properly modeled and practiced over a number of instructional sessions, that this could be a viable learning strategy for some contexts. Additionally, as there wasn’t adequate time for me to model my expectations regarding their presentations; eye contact, volume, expected length are all skills that need to be explicitly taught for students to experience success.
Insight into student’s view of learning experience
Advance Organizer- Video
When I initially asked both learners if they had had any of their questions answered (from the KWL charts) they said “not really”. On the other hand, when prompted by simply asking “what did you notice?” both learners were able to refer back to specific information they learned; for example, the need for fortifications along the Silk Road as protection from bandits.
Cooperative Learning- Jigsaw
I feel that while the learners were able to gain new knowledge about how silk is made, it’s importance to trade along the Silk Road, and that an Italian explorer spent time in China and helped facilitate the exchange of ideas and goods, it was a surface connection at best. The notes that were taken are basic and brief, and neither learner was able to make connections (on their own) to the social studies concept of movement of people and goods until our group discussion/processing.
reading_notes (click for a larger view)
Elements of this strategy as applied that is replicable
Advance Organizer- Video
It is probably safe to say that a video advance organizer is a relatively easy instructional strategy to replicate. However, there are learning opportunities immediately following the viewing of the advance organizer that I would alter. In retrospect, I would have the learners immediately spend some time with their “What I learned” portion of the KWL (in a new color) to begin tracking their new learning. Although we discussed what they noticed, had learned, I think that taking the time to actually write-down what they remembered would have helped focus their thinking and begin creating neural connections that would bring the new information from their working memory on the path towards a more stable connection.
Cooperative Learning- Jigsaw
Given the unique circumstances of these learners having experienced schooling solely through home schooling and their unfamiliarity with cooperative learning, this experience should not be replicated in the same manner!
- Preparation– I believe that I was fairly well prepared with the necessary materials and handouts for the learners, however, there was an issue with the wi fi connection at the home; troubleshooting led to the loss of precious instructional time as we were on a tight schedule. In the future, I would not schedule appointments back-to-back when engaged in this type of activity.
- Expert Group- Each learner was to become an expert in their own right; this was unavoidable as I was limited to the two learners that I was able to work with. While this is not ideal, I felt (at the time) that their interaction while presenting their expert information would be adequate, but I feel this was not ideal.
- Home Group- In this context, the learner’s home group was the actual presenting of information to each other. In retrospect, I should have had the learners taking notes of each other’s presentation, or have been prepared to offer feedback to focus their attention and ability to synthesize each other’s information for our final discussion.
- Debriefing- I feel like we had a good discussion given the limitations of attempting a Jigsaw with limited learners. Unfortunately, in my eagerness to discuss what the learners learned, I forgot to have them first complete their “What I Learned” portion of their KWL Chart. This was a definite oversight that makes it more difficult for me to analyze their individual understanding outside of the context of our final discussion.
- Group Processing- Again, given our time constraints, I was unable to conduct this portion of a typical Jigsaw. In hindsight, I would ask learners to write down what the process of presenting was like, what they could improve on and how they felt this type of activity would be helpful to their learning in the future.
- Individual Accountability- My original intention was to assign a final quick write where the learners responded to How did the exchange of people, goods and ideas along the Silk Road affect China and Europe during the Imperial China? What effect does it have on us today? Instead, this ended up being an oral discussion so the individual accountability was not present in the form that I had intended.
Next steps in instruction:
at standard- A student that is able to meet the English language arts standard at either the Grade 5 and Grade 8 levels would be supported in taking the next step of researching their own relevant materials (text and online sources) that would enhance and continue their conceptual development of the movement of people and goods. As we worked with text and video only, learners would be required to integrate additional relevant types of visual information (charts, photographs, graphs or maps) to increase the complexity in their presentation.
approaching standard- A student that is approaching the English language arts standard would be supported in the development of their reading and note-taking strategies. For example, another advance organizer technique that could be utilized is skimming the text before reading and taking notes. Students would be taught to use graphic organizers such as a GIST template as well as SEED discussion graphic organizer. Students would be instructed in how to take notes while watching/listening to a video, setting the expectation that multiple viewings of videos is sometimes necessary to “catch” the necessary information.
mastering standard– A student that has mastered the English language arts standard would be encouraged to integrate technology into their future presentation. Additionally, the emphasis could shift from the English language arts standard and the case study of The Silk Road to a larger focus on the conceptual understanding of movement of people and good allowing for self-directed exploration and connection making to a variety of contexts and times that illustrate this concept.
Protection of student identity
As these students are home schooled, there is no official policy regarding protection of their identity through hosting video on youtube, this blog or other public domains. To ensure student privacy, I have not used their first or last names and I have made my Youtube links private. This is a link to the North Thurston County School District FERPA website request to prevent disclosure of student directory information and internet access as this provided the most applicable example of what a school policy could look like for these learners. http://www.nthurston.k12.wa.us/cms/lib/WA01001371/Centricity/Domain/46/Opt%20Out%20document%202012%20FINAL.pdf