Connecting diverse expertise: Who’s studying…?

Context: Grade 5, human body study, whole class metacognitive meeting about how our body get energy from food as related to digestion, circulation, and respiration.

S1: It might be the acids and the gases [that] help turn the food into energy.
Teacher: What gases is my blood carrying around? Who’s studying the heart and the blood? …
S2/others: We need oxygen. (S3 draws)
Teacher: What are you thinking, S3?
S3: So in my drawing, there’s a part where it (blood) connects to the lungs, connects to the heart… you get blood in the lungs from the heart.

In this example, the teacher was working with her students to understand how digestion, circulation, and respiration work together. Students first talked about issues about digestion. S1’s talk mentioned gases that help turn the food into energy. Noticing this turn in the conversation, the teacher seized the opportunity to engage students who had developed the related inquiries and expertise. She asked: What gases is my blood carrying around? Who’s studying the heart and the blood? S2, S3, and other students followed up, identifying the importance of oxygen and explaining how blood gets oxygen in the lungs. The teacher facilitated idea connections among students with different expertise, so they could put together their knowledge to understand complex system processes.

Guiding attention: That is such a great question!

Context: Grade 5, human body study, whole classroom “metacognitive meeting” about how digestion works.

S1: What’s the difference between saliva and water?
S2: The saliva has enzymes in it, that’s the chemical break-down. Those break down your food in your mouth, which turns into chyme.
Teacher: That is such a great question! Did you guys hear what he asked here? What’s the difference between water and saliva?  Saliva is a little bit different because it has what?
S2: Enzymes, which break it (food) down into chyme. If you don’t have saliva, … let say crackers, just be dry, it will be hard to swallow… It will be hard to digest. 

In this example, the teacher listened to students’ conversation attentively. She captured an interesting question from S1 and the response from S2, involving an important concept: enzymes. The teacher highlighted S1’s question: “That is such a great question! Did you guys hear what he asked here?” And she repeated S1’s question, and further asked S2 to reiterate his response by saying: “Saliva is a little bit different because it has what?”  Doing so helped to guide students’ attention in classroom meetings and highlight important questions and ideas for shared awareness as well as continual build-on.

Advertising high-potential ideas and work: X said something amazing!

Context: Grade 4, light study, small group work leading to an unplanned whole class meeting:

T: Could we all get together for a KB talk (meeting)? S1 just said something that I thought was so amazing. So go ahead.

S1: Well S2 and I had a problem, ‘cause we were reading about how white light shines only the true color of the object it bounces off. She had a problem. She said: “Well, how does the light know which color to bounce off?” And I thought well maybe we can’t see color, maybe we can only see color when light shines on it and bounces off.

S3: Did she write a note about that [in Knowledge Forum]?

In this class, the different students/groups were researching various issues of their interests. The teacher walked around the classroom to observe and occasionally co-participate. He captured the interesting thoughts of S1 and S2 that had a high potential, and called upon all the students to gather for a short meeting.  By doing so, the teacher helped to advertise/spread high-potential ideas and works from some of the students, encouraging further inquiry, and build shared awareness and connections among his students. Following his modeling, S3 also asked whether S1 and S2 had written a  note online yet, showing a sense (norm) that students should use the online space to share important insights or questions.

Deepening the conversation: I don’t understand…

Context: Grade 4, light study, whole class meeting.

S1: …If this room was totally black, the carpet would still be green… But you wouldn’t see it because there’s no light to bounce off of it, so you couldn’t see the color.  Because it’s like a green light bounces off it so we can all see it…

Teacher: … I don’t understand why we’re talking about green light. I see a green carpet as we all say we do. But I see a white light, so how are we saying there’s green light here?

S2: Well if there was. [Students talk at once]…

S3: Um I’m just saying for you there is green light.

Teacher: In this room?

S3: Yep. [stands up, walks to the chalkboard, and draws a prism.] I just need… prism. You know how when you shine light through it, it makes the light split up into the…colors. [Pointing to the ceiling light] … that’s how the green light is there.

In this example, the teacher listened to S1′ “thought experiment” on what would happen to the green carpet if there were no light in the classroom. He picked up an important and challenging concept implied in S1’s talk: regular white light has colors in it. It was likely that this notion was not so clear to many of the students. Instead of stepping in to directly explain this concept, the teacher shared his problem and wondering: “I don’t understand…how are we saying there’s green light here?” This was followed by students’ active input to elaborate the nature of white light in relation to color vision.

Co-Shaping and deepening the Focus: I’m interested in what x said about…, he/she said… I wonder…

Context: Grade 4, light study, whole class meeting:

Teacher: I’m interested in what J said earlier when he was talking about opaque. He said that a mirror is opaque, because when light hits it, it can’t go through. It bounces back. Then my question is: Are all opaque things reflective like mirrors? And if not, … what are the different kinds of opaque things? …like reflective and non-reflective?

What was the teacher doing in this KB moment? He was listening to student talks attentively while seizing the opportunity to shape the conceptual direction as needed, to connect the talk to the optical issue of how opaque things interact with light. Instead of simply assigning this discussion topic to his students, the teacher identified a seeding idea from student J with interest, rephrased (re-voiced) J’s idea, and then built on to it with a question, inviting further ideas from students. By doing so, the teacher was able to bring forth a potentially fruitful direction of discussion as naturally growing out of students’ prior work.


KB Minutes

Welcome to this KB Minutes blog! KB stands for Knowledge Building.

You’ve come here probably because you are interested in turning your own classroom into a powerful community of knowledge builders or helping other educators to make this change. This change requires teachers to turn more classroom control over to students, so the inquiry processes will be primarily driven by student-generated questions and deepening ideas.

This will lead to new classroom dynamics in which core decisions about learning goals, processes, and organizational structures will be co-improvised by the teacher with students. As a new type of classroom discourse, the teacher works with his/her students to engage in authentic idea-advancing conversations to deepen their understandings while finding deeper problems, goals, and connections.  So we call it  “metacognitive meetings” considering the high-level metacognitive operations that the class as a whole needs to collectively handle.

On this stage of collaborative improvisation, the teacher has a critical role to play!

Using this blog of KB Minutes, we will collect and share a set of examples of how teachers empower their young knowledge builders to continually go beyond what they know and connect with their peers to develop powerful thinking. Each post will highlight a classroom episode that showcases a specific role played by the teacher to support productive knowledge-building conversation.  The teachers’ words may seem simple, but they send important messages that empower students’ agency for continually deepening their dialogues and advancing their inquiry to higher levels.