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Inquiry Based Learning and the KWL Chart

The 21st Century classroom enables teachers and students to focus on real world learning skills that are transferable to real world situations

Teachers are always assigning different projects for the students to complete throughout the year. Parents feel like they are under the gun assisting their children in completion of these projects. Teachers often question whose efforts were greater, the parents or the students. The parents question whose responsibility it is to complete the project; their own, the students or the teachers. The answer to all of those questions are the same, all of them. The only way these projects can be completed is when the teachers, parents and students work together as a team.

Term papers and research are often after thoughts. Teachers assign them after the ‘real teaching’ is completed. No one has taken full advantage of the great learning opportunity that they can afford. Of course our students are so in tune to what we do that this is something they have picked up on so their efforts seem to be lacking. Parents get frustrated because the students aren’t as independent as they should be.

We all need to realize the full extent of benefits when these projects are implemented. As educators there projects should be used as the perfect opportunity to blend learning of all skills and contents. Enter project based learning opportunities. Yet we are still having issues with falling short of the results we are looking for. The first shortcoming is that when project based learning has been implemented there is too much emphasis on the product and under emphasizes the learning process. The second problem is that teachers leave students to work independently and well-meaning parents still step in to take over.

So how do we change it? How do we turn our classrooms into a 21st Century learning environment? It might interest you to know that you may already be well on the way to that classroom that you are striving for. If you use a K-W-L chart with your students, you have already taken one of many possible first steps. In using this chart you are already changing focus from the teacher at the center of instruction to the student. The chart begins with the students explaining what they already know {K}. Then the student continues to explain what they want to learn {W}. Lastly the student explains what they learned {L}.

Students are beginning to focus their attention on the learning process. Teachers are focusing on the needs of the student.

The simple KWL chart shows the beginnings of the the 21st Century learning model

Now to extend the learning all that is needed is to add a few letters of the alphabet. Have students explain how they will find out what they want to learn {F}. This allows students to direct the next steps of the learning process. Students can then explain how they will share what they learned {S}. This allows students to use their own personal creativity in relaying the relevant information. Finally students can reflect on what they have already done and what they will do next time {D}. Reflection is often the most important piece that is overlooked. Students need to be given the opportunity to reflect on the lesson in order to rebuild their understanding of the content.

The extended KWL chart adds three questions to enable the students to identify the process they will take to acquire new information.

The extended KWL chart allows the teacher to increase the inquiry base of the classroom lesson.

How exactly does the simple K-W-L chart with the a few little tweaks turn the classroom into a 21st Century learning center? Each question revolves around the student’s experience. Each explanation allows the student to focus on another real world learning skill.  Not only are they focused on the product but the content that they are learning as well. Teachers are facilitators to reach mastery of the skill and content along the way. Most importantly, with each explanation, students are guided to the importance of the subject, this helps them make real world connections so that they now have a reason to complete the learning beyond the teacher requirement.


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