How to Help All Students with Evidence-based Reading and Writing During an Inquiry Activity, pp. 2 of 7

In this article, I focus on scaffolding the source-based skill, evaluating claims and evidence, and three core reading comprehension habits: (1) connecting to background knowledge; (2) generating and answering questions; and (3) monitoring one’s own comprehension. With the inquiry question in mind, I describe what each of the above six components of the instructional process might look like.

Establish a Clear Inquiry Purpose

Framing a learning activity as a question signals the importance of inquiry as a curricular goal; students need to answer this question to document their learning. When this curricular objective is married to an inquiry-based instructional approach, students have opportunities, as Walter Parker (2012) describes, to “do inquiry, to use the mind well… to read, write, and think critically about something” (p. 1). In this scenario, students are investigators, working with different sources to develop evidence-based and well-reasoned answers to the question.

Framing a learning activity as a question also helps establish a clear link between the reading students are asked to do and a culminating writing task – what they will produce to represent their learning. The question, What online spaces do adolescents in Singapore spend time in?, informs students the answer to this question will be descriptive; they will need to list these different spaces and describe some of their key features or characteristics. However, if the question is, How can social harmony be best achieved in online spaces?, which is our focus here, the expectation is that students will explain and argue what actions need to be taken and who might be responsible for taking these actions. A mere description of online spaces would be insufficient. An evidence-based argument is what is called for.

A clear inquiry purpose also needs to focus on an authentic problem rather than serve primarily as an academic exercise. This helps safeguard that source-based skills (making inferences, evaluating reliability, evaluating claims and evidence) are not treated in isolation or as ends in themselves. Instead, these skills are used to best answer the inquiry question.

Introduce Learning Activity

The primary goal when launching an activity is to “hook” students, to draw them into the curriculum content by providing opportunities for them to make direct, visceral connections between the topic and their lives. This is not difficult to do with the question How can social harmony be best achieved in online spaces? We live in a highly interconnected world. This is especially the case with our youth who dedicate significant amounts of time to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. These and other online spaces are also common spaces where people from different backgrounds interact. While many of these interactions are positive and supportive, sometimes people act irresponsibly and post information that can be insensitive, offensive, or hurtful. This can threaten social harmony among different racial and religious groups, which leads to questions about what might need to be done to monitor or regulate what happens in online spaces. Because many students live in these spaces, they will have first-hand experience and knowledge to access and use in this learning activity.

The introduction, along with establishing a clear inquiry purpose, is entwined with the next component in this instructional process: activate prior knowledge.

Related Teaching Materials

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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