Our unit of inquiry for Where We Are In Place And Time required a lot of reading about Australia in the 1800's. And this is where we feared our students would get stuck, remaining in a sea of a sequenced facts.
To Tune In, we had a fantastic excursion/camp to see and experience life back in gold rush and we wanted students to be able to draw on this rich learning and use their reading to construct and understanding of our central idea - How History Can Shape Present Day Society.
Throughout Finding Out and Sorting Out students began using the 9 Reading Comprehension Strategies, particularly those of connecting, summarising and inferring to understand the "big ideas" behind the facts in the variety of non-fiction texts used for research the guiding question, "What were the significant people, places and events of the Australian 1800s?". To make sense of the past people, places and events of the Australian 1800s, text-self comparisons were made with their own lives today. When inferences were made from the summary of facts read or viewed, students were asked to reflect even further on the significance of these big ideas or concepts of fairness, rights and equality and what importance does it play in Australian culture and society today.
During Going Further students were challenged to find the "big ideas" within a shared text, Eureka Stockade, a fiction picture book. When sharing their "big ideas" with the whole class they were able to make connections with each other's ideas. Students were able to distill concepts of fairness, migration, rebellion, equality, risk-taking, democracy, revolution, hardship, poverty, rights, change and quality of life. Students began to self-monitor the quality of their Big Ideas and return to having a second think, a deeper think, where they began to distinguish the difference between a thin fact, fat fact and big idea. Asking questions to help them peel back their thinking helped such as "What am I learning from this text? What is the one message the author wants me to know? What do I understand now after reading this text?" And if they moved from a thin fact to a fat fact, helping them reach a big idea often required the question, "What are you learning from this fat fact? Why is this fat fact so important to you?"
To model learning and to bring students from reading to writing, we used the "BIG IDEA - Supporting Facts" graphic organiser and the "Writing Paragraphs using PEEL for Organsiation" poster. We intentionally made the space tight in our "BIG IDEA - Supporting Facts" graphic organiser so that students didn't feel compelled to copy fact after fact from the texts they were reading. We also found that students may construct a Big Idea one of two ways: 1) reading, thinking of the Big Idea and then selecting supporting facts or 2) reading, selecting connected facts and then thinking of the Big Idea. Either process worked well and we supported each student's own preference. We then asked students to select one Big Idea to write about BUT it must be the one they feel the most strongly about. The notes they had taken on their "BIG IDEA - Supporting Facts" graphic organiser easily transferred to the PE of PEEL. And because they had selected the one Big Idea they felt most strongly about, this helped with Evaluation, the second E of PEEL. Finally we asked students to find how their Big Idea Linked (the L of PEEL) to our central idea How History Can Shape Present Day Society.
We were so pleased that we were able to find practical ways in which to support each student through the reading and writing process so that each learner was able to construct their own understanding of significant ideas.