How to Help All Students with Evidence-based Reading and Writing During an Inquiry Activity, pp. 3 of 7

Activate Prior Knowledge

Adequate background or contextual knowledge is essential to doing source work, especially when the learning goal is to evaluate, examine, and extract evidence to answer a question. So, what background knowledge do students need to have to be successful in this activity? This activity focuses on two core concepts -- social harmony and online spaces -- and students will come to these concepts with some familiarity. The idea of social harmony (and the importance of preserving social and religious harmony) is foundational to government policy and included in school curriculum in Singapore. Many youth in Singapore also participate in online spaces, connecting with friends and others through social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. As a result, the experiences of students serve as an essential starting point for this inquiry. 

Our job as teachers, then, is to provide students with an opportunity to cultivate the reading comprehension habit, connecting to relevant prior knowledge. Here it is helpful to ask specific questions like: What do you already know about social harmony in online spaces? And, what do you want to know? Do you know of any examples where people posted insensitive, offensive, or hurtful information in an online space? Do you have any examples of what you think were a successful response to these kinds of posts? Asking these kinds of questions will prepare students to more deeply engage with the sources in the activity. These questions also reinforce to students that the question How can social harmony be best achieved in online spaces? is an authentic problem, one that requires them to access their existing knowledge to answer well.

When students share and discuss their answers to questions about their background knowledge, we can identify what they know about participation norms in online spaces (who can participate, when, how this happens, etc.), about how in Singapore there have been consequences for people making what were deemed inappropriate or offensive posts, and about what connections students can make to the ways their textbooks have covered how common spaces can bond people together rather than separate them. Thus, this is also an opportunity to address any misconceptions students might have to prepare them to do their source work.

Select Engaging Sources

In terms of the criteria for selecting sources for this learning activity, How can social harmony be best achieved in online spaces?, I chose sources that vary in type or genre (text and video), purpose (to inform or persuade) and difficulty level (based on the content or complexity of argument). This variation is crucial because students will bring diverse needs, interests, and abilities to this learning activity. I also wanted to make sure the sources represented different perspectives on the issue, so students would need to wrestle with competing claims as they worked to make their own claims and extract evidence from the sources to support their ideas.

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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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