By Erin Gannon, K-12 Educator and PBSWorks National Faculty
Flexibility has always been an important part of our work as educators, but that is even more true as the pandemic causes repeated shifts in how and where we connect with students. Strategies that translate easily to different environments are more important than ever. There are many great practices that work to inspire learners using media whether they are in a digital environment or in person. Let’s explore a few of these together.
Making Observations and Inferences
To get your learners engaged in discussion, try asking them to make observations about a compelling piece of media, using as many of their senses as possible. As they do that, it can be difficult for them to separate out the inferences they are making at the same time, so this presents a great opportunity to look at the two skills side-by-side. The use of sentence frames like I see _______ (for observations) and I think _______ (for inferences) can be a helpful way to separate the two. Jen Jones of Hello Literacy shares some resources for this practice in her blog post.
Whether in person or in a virtual classroom, students can use collaborative tools to share their thoughts and generate further discussion. This practice can be something you do to kick off a Project Based Learning unit to pique student interest or as a daily (or weekly) task to promote dialog and sharpen students’ observation skills and ability to provide evidence to support their inferences.
Questions, Questions and More Questions
Children are naturally curious and don’t need much encouragement to ask questions. That said, if you ask them what questions they have about frogs without a visual to prompt their thinking, it may be hard for them to respond. But share a photograph or video of frogs, and the questions will flow.
Photos and video aren’t the only media that can prompt questions, of course. Consider developing questions about a piece of music or blog post to engage students in critical thinking about the author’s purpose in creating it and what its intended message might be. One
When you encourage students to ask questions, you can learn about their interests and, in turn, increase their engagement. Learners are always more invested in answering their own questions. Good questions often lead to more questions, and an environment that is driven by inquiry and exploration allows students to drive more of the learning.
Project Zero’s Thinking Routines Toolbox is an excellent resource for taking your classroom discussions to the next level. They offer a variety of routines that you can use with students to frame a discussion, enhance their learning and get them really thinking about their thinking. This metacognition helps students better understand themselves and the world around them.
One routine that ties together the observations, inferences and questioning we’ve been focused on in this post is See, Think, Wonder. Learners are asked: What do you see? What do you think about that? What does it make you wonder? This can be used at the beginning of a study to generate interest or later on to provide them an opportunity to apply their knowledge.
For all of these practices, an online tool like Jamboard or Padlet allows for collaboration both in the virtual or in-person classroom. If you are working in person, you may want to stock up on sticky notes and chart paper to allow for easy sharing of student thinking. How can you use media to inspire your learners this week?
Some Final Thoughts About Media Selection
When using media with your students, it is important to consider how your selection may impact your audience. Students may experience media differently, so you want to be mindful of how the selection may influence students’ thoughts related to important topics like race and class. Providing additional context on an image or having a discussion to debrief cultural differences, biases and social issues is often beneficial. This great resource from NAMLE offers questions to support you in thoughtfully selecting and discussing media. If students have an unexpected reaction to the media you selected or you note that their comments indicate bias, harness the opportunity to engage them and explore their thoughts and feelings. You’ll be building students’ critical thinking and empathy skills while building a supportive class culture.