Coming to Terms with Promising Ideas

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We have begun to grapple with several fundamentals of knowledge building.  Monica Resendes suggested that our “Rise Above” work also reflects Promising Ideas and so today I created
an anchor chart with a visual analogy for nascent ideas.  Communities of learners should be constantly generating ideas through inquiry.  Ideas must be made visible to the entire community, so that everyone has the opportunity to think about them.  From all the ideas generated, some will be promising – they could possibly grow into something bigger.  Students need to learn how to recognize and extract promising ideas.

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I went on to reinforce how our previous achievement chart represented only my thinking and our new chart reflects the class’s thinking. My idea had been promising, but it took all of the ideas of the community to improve the idea.

As students worked I circulated to speak with individuals or small groups to find out if what I was trying to get across was making sense.  Corben, provided a fantastic analogy for Promising Ideas which I then drew.

Promising ideas make perfect sense.  It’s like you’re at an intersection with your idea — and there’s many people around you with lots of ideas.  You can take them and go in one direction or the other or the other or the other.”

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Underlying this thinking is our struggle to understand what makes an effective response to an open-ended question, “Why is Cole so angry at Spirit Bear?”   We’ve been reworking the achievement chart, rubrics and success criteria as thinking about excellence changes.  Today I put one student’s writing which marks an advancement in how to construct an answer under the document camera.

Typically in grade 6 when students write responses to open-ended questions, they state opinions, find evidence to support opinions and finish by restating the opinion in a different way.  This student did something different.  She began with one idea – Cole is angry at the bear because usually everyone is afraid of him but the bear isn’t – and then carefully constructs an argument toward a deeper idea: what Cole wants is to be known for something more than being a kid who commits crimes.  It’s an exceptional piece of writing for grade 6.  Some students clapped and some gasped when they saw it.  A few kid’s jaws dropped.

As a class we then tried to deconstruct the writing.  Intuitively, students understood the excellence.  Finding vocabulary to describe that excellence is hard.  “That writing is so tight.  Everything just flows together.  You can’t really call the end a conclusion.  It just moves through the ideas.”  I pointed out the transition from the initial opinion to the deeper thinking in the closing idea.  Every piece of evidence in the response was used to construct an argument leading toward the final idea.    What we have in this text is a promising idea of how to move our writing to the next level. The idea is nascent.  It will be the class’s job to figure out how to create this kind of excellence in their own writing.   Not everyone will get there.  It’s grade 6 after all.  For some, just going back to the text to get direct quotations to support their opinions is a personal leap forward.

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