“Our understanding is enriched when we have emotional connections. We love to experience what we find beautiful, and we understand better when learning includes aesthetic journeys. In our own creative endeavours, we seek to craft something luminous and memorable, something that matters to others. Ultimately, our insights become potent and lasting-and we remember” (Keene, 2008, p.230).
When Johanna Stuart, the EAL teacher, and I embarked on a guided inquiry with her EAL students we were uncertain of what the final results would be. We wondered if the students would “get” inquiry, and we questioned how we could immerse students in complex and abstract thinking, what would it look like, and how could we do this in the small amount of time she sees them each week? Since Mrs.Stuart was focusing on reading strategies this term, in particular connecting, it seemed only natural for us to identify mentor texts that could help her EAL students build background knowledge around the concept of identity. We used the following books as mentor texts, as many of them dealt with aspects of identity that our students would be able to identify with.
At the end of each book the students were asked to think about what the big idea was in the book. It was through these conversations and their connections that they began to develop and explore the concept of identity. After reading the book Hooray For You, the students connected with the term “You-Ness” and we continued to explore what makes each of us unique, yet the same. After coming up with criteria of what makes all of us the same, each student grappled with and explored a different concept such as: spirit, dreams, weaknesses, and culture, all aspects of “You-Ness.” To collect their thinking each student wrote a paragraph identifying and explaining a “You-Ness” characteristic and represented it by drawing a picture. Lastly, they shared their new understandings with an authentic audience by creating a voicethread using the ipad. This allowed the students to practice reading fluently and with expression. Here is the voicethread they created.
We had planned for all of this, we knew the direction the guided inquiry was going to go, and we had an end in mind. But what we didn’t plan for was how the message of identity and “You-Ness” would resonate with the students. Shortly after we finished the inquiry, I received an e-mail from Mrs.Stuart who shared with me that when she was introducing the visualizing reading strategy, one of her students commented that everyone had a different picture in their minds when they were visualizing because
“we have been learning about Youness and we all have different brain, body and heart so that’s why we are all different- we have different Younesses.”
I am reminded of our initial hesitations and questions of exploring and dabbling in an abstract inquiry with our EAL students. Seeing this unfold was yet another affirmation of the importance of immersing students in a topic. The immerse phase is all about facilitating, or in this case, providing meaningful ways for students to engage and connect with a topic.
Keene, E. O. (2008). To understand: new horizons in reading comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.