Finally, our first round of inquiry circles comes to an end. This has been one of the most incredible and engaging experiences that I have ever been a part of in my classroom. I am left in awe of my students and in awe of the learning that is possible when we trust them to lead their own way through complex topics. These final weeks of our work have been the most incredible of all. Because these have been the weeks that we have allowed our investigation to inspire action. Real action. Action that reaches beyond the walls of our classroom and attempts to make the world a better place.
Our inquiry circle work started with an idea and with the amazing book, Comprehension and Collaboration by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels. I then described the work that followed HERE and HERE and HERE.
In my last post we left off with the students synthesizing their research into a clear claim statement. Some groups had more than one claim statement in order to account for different areas of interest or differing perspectives within a group. But once each group had a claim statement or more, it was time to begin thinking about how to share what they had learned with others and how to begin to take action to create positive change in the world.
As I walked amongst the groups, I was struck by what almost EVERY SINGLE group had planned. A slideshow. It was their go-to. I quickly realized that this is the only way that our students have been used to sharing information with others. Throw everything that they’ve learned up on a slide and then stand in front of the class and read off said slide.
As I realized what was happening, we came together to have a discussion. We talked about the limits of a slideshow. Yes, sharing information is an important thing, but was it always enough? A slideshow could reach those sitting inside our own classroom. A slideshow could teach people things that they did not know before. A slideshow could raise awareness. But was all of that enough?
So I asked my students to think about what could happen if they aspired to do more. They asked me what I had in mind. I told them, very honestly, that I did not know. Because that is the thing. They look to us for the answers. They wanted to know what I wanted them to do. If not a slideshow, what did I want from them? And in all honesty, I did not know. This made them uncomfortable. This made me uncomfortable.
And in our discomfort we started to push the limits of what we thought we knew how to do. We realized that we need to begin to dream bigger together. So I collected some video clips and articles of kids creating positive change in the world. We watched and read THESE together. And somehow, being inspired by other kids, made a world of difference for my own students.
Almost instantly, they began to think of what might be possible instead of only thinking of what they had done in the past. The conversations took off and they began to dream. To help guide their dreaming, I gave each group a document to help them create an ACTION PLAN. I worked with each group, one at a time, to help them turn their ideas into concrete steps that they would take as a group.
And because I wanted each group to incorporate the learning that we had been doing on persuasive writing and its power, I asked that each group have some form of writing as a part of their action plan. I was worried that this would limit the ideas that the students had, but I was wrong. Instead of limiting any group, the idea of incorporating writing helped to give a few groups direction. It also put beautifully into action the idea that we have been working with throughout our persuasive writing unit which was that writing holds power as it places our voice out into the world. My students were able to use this concept to help them take action.
For the next two weeks (and beyond for some groups) our classroom became a workshop of a different kind. We became more than just a reading or writing workshop, we became a social action workshop. We became a buzzing, breathing, pulsing, energizing workshop for social justice. And. It. Was. Incredible.
As my students created their plans, I began to chart our work on our bulletin boards which usually hold our anchor charts for reading and writing. Here is how these charts grew over the course of the week:
I am not sure that there has EVER been anything hanging on my bulletin boards that I have been more proud of than these charts.
I wish I had taken video of what my room sounded like and looked like as the students worked to follow through on their action plans. It was simply awe-inspiring. It was the kind of work that I always believed was possible, but never was actually able to get to before. It was the kind of work that I felt like maybe I should always be doing with my students. It was the kind of work that actually made me feel like in those moments we were making the world a better place. We were not preparing to one day make things better, we were jumping in, with what we currently knew, and we were creating the change that we wished to see in the world.
And what was really incredible is that each group found their own way to create change. Some groups wrote and submitted op-eds to local newspapers, other groups wrote and shared links to blog posts, other groups created fundraisers, other groups wrote and sent letters to Illinois representatives, other groups wrote to our school board, other groups created graphic novels, and other groups met with administration from the junior high.
I watched the group that studied gay rights put together a presentation to ask our junior high to begin a gay-straight alliance.
I watched a group that studied transgender rights write to the governor of South Dakota to ask him to veto a law that would stop transgender students from being able to enter a bathroom that matches the gender they are.
I watched another student create a graphic novel based on what she learned from studying the lives of transgender youth and she is planning to send the finished product to our school board along with a letter asking them to write a bathroom policy to honor transgender students.
I watched the group who studied terrorism begin an online fundraising campaign to help refugees who have been forced to leave their homes due to terrorist activity.
I watched a group who studied the effects of hormones in food create a flyer to hang up in local grocery stores asking people to buy organic foods.
I watched the group who studied video game violence write letter to our members of congress asking for stricter laws concerning the enforcement of video game purchases.
I watched the group who studied police brutality write heartfelt letters to both the Cleveland Police Department and the Chicago Police Department asking for better training for police officers and harsher punishments for officers who use excessive force.
I watched one student interview her classmates about times when they had been treated unfairly because of their ages. She wrote up a plea to adults to treat children with more respect and she began a powerful conversation within our school community.
And I could go on. Because the kids went on. And on. And on.
There were moments when I was nearly moved to tears as I watched my students change the world. Because they had ways to get their voices outside of our classroom through their blogs, through our class Twitter account, through powerfully written letters and op-eds, they knew that the work that they were doing was not just for me. They were working to make positive change in the world. And there is nothing that I have ever seen motivate children as much as that.
When I began this work a few weeks ago, I never could have imagined where we would end up. And sometimes, I think that is the best way to do things. Because I had no vision of what our endpoint would be, I knew that I had to follow the kids. And I am so incredibly grateful for where they led us.