Dear all, I’ve thought long and hard before posting this… I need to launch an SOS. And eat humble pie.
But here it is.
I downloaded the “Lower One Controlled Inquiry: Alfred the Great” booklet intending to work through it and practise leading a group and… I can’t. I have spent a few evening staring at the paper and I’m stuck. So, I’m just wondering if there is a kind soul out there who can throw a rope I can grasp…
Connect: What do I already know about this topic? My answers in the bubbles: He lived in the Middle Ages. He was King of Wessex. First King not under Danish rule/repelled Danish Invasion. He made a list of laws and promoted learning.
Wonder: This is where it all began to unravel.
Connect: He was King of Wessex. Wonder: What/where is Wessex?
Connect: Made a list of laws. Wonder: How did this improve people’s lives?
Connect: Repelled the Danish invasion. Wonder: What were the consequences of this?
And… that’s it. I am stuck and I don’t know if I’m writing “good” questions for Wonder and where do I go from here? I’m at home and I do not have access to library books easily so I’m only googling.
I thought my critical thinking skills were good but clearly I cannot rest on my laurels. And the history is mostly new to me because I was educated in Italy so we did not learn a lot about English history apart from a bit about the Restoration – and that was about 40 years ago – it feels like 400 at the moment…
So, if there is a kind soul with a bit of time on their hands who could point me in the right direction I would be infinitely grateful…
You shouldn’t – I, for example, have been on what at times feels like an impossibly steep learning curve with FOSIL since 2012, and longer than that as an approach to learning and teaching, and “humble pie” is still my staple diet. I/ we really appreciate your willingness to ask these questions so that our individual and collective knowledge can become explicit to the benefit of the whole community – for that reason, and with your permission, I would like to move this to Topic to Inquiry and resource design.
There are a number of things to take into account here.
The first is who the inquiry is for and the purpose it serves. Our main intake is in Year 7 (and Year 9 and Year 12), but for historical reasons we have a relatively small but growing number of Year 6 pupils. It is unlikely that these pupils will have encountered FOSIL as a process or a model before, although a number of our feeder schools have adopted FOSIL to a greater or lesser extent. Consequently, this inquiry (see here for the Inquiry Journal) serves 4 purposes, which is (1) to learn about Alfred the Great (2) through a controlled inquiry, which (3) allows us to introduce them to the FOSIL model of the inquiry process, and (4) equip them with age-appropriate inquiry skills. The fact that this is a controlled inquiry is important (I found Daniel Callison’s The Evolution of Inquiry: Controlled, Guided, Modeled, and Free very helpful, and I have also attached a poster that Lucy produced from Callison’s book), because this is an essential part of the scaffolding process. The two main characteristics of a controlled (or closed) inquiry that concern us here are that (1) the model of the inquiry process is explicit, because we are teaching the process, and (2) the knowledge that we are expecting the pupils to gain about the topic – in this case, Alfred the Great – is largely predictable, and so, therefore, is the outcome of/ answer to the inquiry – in this case, “What was so great about Alfred the Great?“. Having said this, it is important to point out that while the outcome of/ answer to a controlled inquiry is largely predictable – the evidence only supports narrow range of answers – the knowledge and understanding that children gain of the topic is important and new to them.
This leads to the second thing, which is that while a good inquiry requires us to work our way through the inquiry process, doing so from our perspective as a teacher is different to our perspective as a pupil. Sticking with the Year 6 Alfred the Great inquiry, pupils may know very little about him at the start of the inquiry (Connect), which is absolutely fine. However, even managing between them that that he was, or even may have been, a king, immediately opens up (Wonder) into King of? When? For how long? Was he actually a great king? If so, why? And so on. Pupils may need more or less help with this, because learning to ask serious, helpful questions is not easy. These questions then guide the Investigate stage, during which stage pupils look for reliable, age-appropriate information that will help them to answer their immediate questions and, in turn, Construct a reasoned response to the inquiry question based on evidence that they uncovered during Investigate. It is worth pointing out here that we limited them to the most basic Britannica article because our focus in this inquiry was not on finding reliable information, but on learning from reliable information. It is unlikely that pupils will conclude that there are no grounds for considering Alfred to be a ‘great’ king, and the reasons that they give in support of him being considered a ‘great’ king are likely to be similar, although they may disagree on the relative importance of these. In terms of what we are expecting them to learn about Alfred the Great, this is about it. This may seem inefficient if all we are concerned about is how much/ quickly they learned about Alfred the Great, but that is clearly not all that we are trying to do, and the gains build over time.
Finally, what you have highlighted is that inquiry is not a thoughtless “method to be implemented according to a preformulated script” (Galileo Educational Network quoting Gordon Wells) – Connect (done), Wonder (done), … (done). Rather, it is a messy process, especially when beginning to learn how to become increasingly effective inquirers. I may know much, little, or nothing to start off with (which is why background reading is actually part of the Connect stage, time permitting), but at the very least I have a complex question to get me going (Wonder), which, by definition, is made up of a number of simpler questions, all of which require information (Investigate). My investigation may lead to more questions (Wonder), which require more information (Investigate), while attempting to make sense of the information (Construct) may require more information (Investigate). Making a compelling argument (Express) may require more evidence (Investigate), and Reflecting on the product and process before the end of the inquiry may require me to revisit any number of stages. This could go on forever, but common sense and the timetable prevail – have I answered the inquiry question as well as I can with the resources at my disposal?
As always there is much more to say, but perhaps others will pick up where I have left off.
As Darryl says many of us have been working with this for many years and it is not easy to do this on your own. I found that it began to make far more sense when I was actually able to get into a planning lesson with a teacher as they were able to fill in the ‘topic’ and ‘knowledge’ side of it that I really did not have a clue about. This obviously is not possible for you at the moment but hopefully it will come eventually. Gaining as much knowledge about this process now is a good way forward until things begin to get back to ‘normal’.
So be gentle with yourself and getting to grips with FOSIL like you are is the best way to do it. I too have been working with this since 2013 and even now I have a conversation and something else slots into place. It is only by talking, asking questions and sharing our thoughts that is going to make this any easier.
One of the things that the workbooks don’t focus on is the skills framework and I found when I was struggling that this was where I needed to head to see where my skill set fitted into an inquiry so it might be worth going back to that to see if it helps too.
When I was working at SLS Guernsey I created individual documents based on the skills framework that broke it down year by year which I found help me understand where I could support an individual inquiry. Here is the link to the secondary document and also the primary one too.
The one thing I would add in response to your question is that it is important, and certainly not easy, to try to put yourself in the head of the pupil, in this case a 10 year old, when considering an inquiry. The questions they come up with will not be the same as ours, many will be more basic as they have less of an understanding of the overall topic and how Alfred fits in; and some will undoubtedly be more obsure and difficult to answer – and cause us to scratch our heads a little as we try to find answers. This provides the perfect opportunity to model good inquiry skills though, so we should not be too afraid!
I hope this makes you feel a little better about Alfred.
thank you for your replies which are very clear and very useful.
Darryl, of course feel free to move this discussion wherever you prefer; your reply is very useful because it has helped me visualise how the group would work together in a workshop; [I can see a workshop/brain storming session where the children work through the concepts (what do I know? what do I want to know? etc) and then they could begin to investigate etc.] Your reply has also given me a much better image of what a Resource Pack might look like; I was thinking of including pages from some reference book from our library plus the Britannica, as you mentioned. (You can see that one of my weak areas is connecting images to words… I need to “see” something in order to have a “mental image” of it… I think there’s a bit of Plato there somewhere…). “The evolution of enquiry” is great – really useful guide to refer to. I agree that enquiry led learning is not a straightforward A>B pathway but rather may require going back for a second or more bite of information before attempting to construct and express. My modest take on enquiry led learning is that the teacher or librarian needs at least a passing knowledge of the subject; you don’t need to be an expert because teaching is learning, but you need to be a step ahead if you are to lead. As I mentioned in my post above, I thought my critical skills were good, but I decided to attempt the King Alfred paper as an exercise.
Thank you for your message Lucy; I realise a year 7 child will think very differently but I just wanted to practise, so if a see a child is struggling I can try and “scaffold” – or point them in the right direction; I hope I am making sense.
Elizabeth – thank you for your reply. The link to the document for year 7 to 13 will be particularly useful. I already had the primary school ones – either you or someone else from Guernsey must have emailed them to me a couple of years ago – I cannot find the emails although I had saved the documents – this will remain a mystery! But thank you once again for your encouragement and the information!
Thank you all very much for the time you have taken to reply and all the information and links you have generously shared,