This e-bulletin focuses on thinking tools for promoting emotional engagement and ownership – again focusing on the first of the six areas of the QCA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills framework, developing ‘independent enquirers’pdf-8341488

Feelyguage.pdfpdf-8341488 8Q template.pdfpdf-8341488 8 Ways In template.pdf

Previously, we have looked at resources and practical activities to help students develop their own understanding of what enquiry is and how it might be structured. This issue we will begin to explore a range of ‘thinking tools’ that can be used to support different stages of the enquiry process. Firstly we will look at strategies relating to the prerequisite of any successful enquiry – creating a ‘need to know’.

Creating a need to know

Working with some year 8 students recently, I became involved in a discussion about what school is for. The response of one student gained general agreement, and has stayed with me: ‘School’s just a place you go to learn things you don’t want to know.’ These students clearly struggled to make a meaningful connection with the topics and subject matter that they were required to explore, and even when given the opportunity to engage in enquiries of their own, they lacked any sense that they were developing towards increased ownership of the process. They made the sadly common assumption among many students that knowledge is a static, stable commodity stored in libraries and databases, already certain and agreed. They resented having to make the effort to dig it up themselves.

One way of rekindling students’ motivation and engagement, as discussed in our last issue, would be to offer them a rather different view of knowledge – as something that is fluid and subject to change; something that is actively worked on. Emphasising and helping students to uncover and control the process of enquiry (see issue no. 4) would give them an insight into how knowledge is formed and developed. When students begin to choose their own topic matter, devise their own questions and develop their own enquiry model, they gradually come to see enquiry as an active process in which there is scope not only to explore existing knowledge, but also to shape and change it, and to make their own, individual contribution.

Although care should always be taken to avoid retaining unnecessary control over the enquiry process – the planning, methods and enquiry structure to be used – it is not always possible to give students an equal amount of control over the enquiry focus. An enquiry can easily founder if students are not able to make an emotional connection with the topic – if it appears to have nothing to do with their interests or lives. This is when you have to work particularly hard to create a ‘need to know’.

Creating a need to know – some tips and tools

1) Connect with what students already know
A simple strategy is 3/5/7, which will engage students with a new topic by helping them to see how it fits in with what they already know.

  • On your own: write down three things you know about our current issue.
  • With a partner: combine your ideas, lose one or come up with new ones so that you have a list of five things about the issue.
  • [If time permits and the students are enjoying it] Combine pairs and agree on seven things you know about the issue.

2) Provide a strong stimulus that inspires students to ask questions
Video clips, stories, newspaper articles, your own personal experiences, photographs, ‘shocking statistics’, simulation games and so on, can all provoke feelings of puzzlement, annoyance or intrigue that can lead to students asking the questions that will stimulate their thinking and launch them naturally into the enquiry process.

3) Promote emotional engagement – identify and explore emotions
Emotion and motivation are words to do with movement. We feel ‘moved’ and as a result make ‘moves’ to find out, discover and achieve things. Try using the FeelyGauge strategy to help students identify and develop a language for talking about how a topic and/or various introductory stimuli have made them feel; feelings that will provide the ‘push’ that launches their journey of enquiry. It is often this emotional connection with the topic that spurs students to formulate their own questions and take control of the direction the enquiry will take.

To use the FeelyGauge strategy you will need a class set of FeelyGauge templates.

Prepare in advance three questions that probe feelings associated with the topic. If, for example, the lesson focused on the ethical issues surrounding face transplantation, the questions might be:

a) ‘How do you feel about donating your organs?’ b) ‘How would you feel about someone in your family having a face transplant?’

c) ‘How would you feel about donating your own face?’

1. Have the students place a ‘Tiddlywinks’ counter at the centre of each of the three lines on the template. Ask them to place their forefinger on the top one.

2. Ask the first question and encourage your students to slide the counter to the point, between the two extremes, that indicates their feelings.

3. Repeat for the other questions and then encourage students to compare and contrast their responses with a partner and put a name to each feeling.

Students can record these ‘emotion’ words on a large wall version of the FeelyGauge somewhere between the two extremes. This will encourage them to consider differences in nuance and intensity and develop a wider ‘emotional vocabulary’.

4) Provide tools to help students devise their own questions
8Q is a simple strategy that supports the formulation of questions. A relevant picture or piece of text can be pasted at the centre of the sheet and students write their questions prompted by each question stem: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Could? Should? Students can follow up their own questions or can offer their most interesting questions to a class 8Q, and the most promising of these can serve to stimulate an enquiry. Download an 8Q template here.

8 Ways In is an alternative approach drawing on Howard Gardner’s well known theory of ‘Multiple Intelligences’. In this strategy, students devise their own questions using prompts related to the following eight ‘Intelligences’ namely:

Linguistic (‘word smart’)
Logical-mathematical (‘number smart’)
Spatial (‘sight smart’)
Bodily-kinesthetic (‘action smart’)
Musical (‘sound smart’)
Interpersonal (‘other smart’)
Intrapersonal (‘me smart’)
Naturalist (‘nature smart’)

(See more information on Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, including a critique)

Students can work together to formulate questions relating to each of the eight areas, or different students could ‘specialise’ in an area that is of particular interest to them as it relates to one of their more developed ‘intelligences’. In this way, even though students may not have a free choice of topic matter, they are given the freedom to pursue an enquiry from a particular perspective, capitalising upon their particular strengths.

Share your ideas!

Do you have any favourite ways of ‘creating a need to know’ at the start of an episode of enquiry? How do you help your students to develop a sense of ownership over the process? If you have any practical ideas and strategies to share, please do consider posting them below!

In the next issue we will look at tools and resources that students can use to help them analyse and make sense of the information that they uncover.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.