Coaching Cycle: Modelling Critical Thinking in Research

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As we are in a transition from the role of Academic Technology Coordinator to Teaching and Learning Coaches, I am  identifying coaching elements in what we already do,  so it becomes easier for teachers to see how these elements will be distilled out and more focused in the new role. So for this Grade 9 History end of the year project, students have to research slavery in the past to help interpret modern day slavery. In this way, students create products to help raise awareness about modern day slavery with a historical background, which are posted on a website called Stop Slavery. Last year was a big step for the History Department as it was the first time that such connection between past and present was attempted in a large product. Mr Hardwicke was teaching this course for the first time this year and he came to me asking about steps to tackle the project.

slavery archive res 700

1. Identifying learning needs

Student data: projects from last year

Having had experience with High School research and knowing the difficulty students have in narrowing down their research and making connections specially between these past and present events, I tried to zoom in critical thinking during the research process. The data used to better identify student learning needs were projects from the previous year, which were available under archived projects at the  Stop Slavery site.

Difficulties in narrowing down focus and making connections

In the first year of the project, many students focused mainly on listing information from the past, listing information from the present and listing possible actions. This happened because  narrowing down research and making connections between past and present are hard for Grade 9 students. This also happened because last year was the first time we were all involved in this type of project at this grade level.  So we were ready for improvement now, helping students develop their critical thinking during research.


2. Modelling critical thinking activity for students

Prep for the main learning goal

In class, I first started by stressing the importance of learning from the past as information to interpret the present, using a HailuDeck for which you see two of the slides below.  Without a strong research focus in the past, the connection with the present becomes weak and we may loose the meaning of this project as a strong and unique awareness service to the community that takes advantage of historical learning.

haiku lessons from past

hailu interpret present

Sharing an example of project analysis

Having made the importance of that connection clear, I went over my own analysis of a project from last year, which was chosen randomly. I explained that my modeling was a preparation for their next activity, as they would have to choose a project from last year in  small group and do the same type of analysis except they were not required to use Videonotes as I did just to help them visualize my points. This modelling raised several questions from the students regarding focus, background information, connection with the present. Even though I was the one modelling, the teacher was actively involved in answering students questions and reinforcing critical thinking ideas in research.

silvana modeling slavery videoanalysis

Below you see snapshots of  how I used Videonotes to analyze the project and then an explanation of my analysis, as given to the students.

slavery modelling videonotes video

slavery modelling videonotes notes

The students’ project was analyzed as follows:

  • Finding a research focus in the history from the past:
    • minute 4:41 abolitionist press: students mention the importance of abolitionist press in the US, but do not give details about what type of information it involves, how it is spread out and what is the impact on people
    • minute 7:02 free slaves in the abolitionist press: : students mention that freed slaves also played an important role in the abolitionist press, but do not go into details about what was special about free slaves in the press as opposed to other abolitionists.
    • How can we narrow down the focus in this research? So the conclusion here is that abolitionist press seems to be a good lesson learned from the past in terms of being effective in helping abolish slavery. In this way students would have to choose this topic to narrow down the focus of the research and find more details.
  • Disconsidering information that does not relate to the focus: 
    • minute 0:45 killing master slaves: students mention the killing of master slaves as one of the events that happened in the past, in what seems to be interpreted as necessary background information.
    • How can we narrow down the focus in this research? It seems clear that killings of master slaves did not directly relate to or explained the abolitionist press as a means to end slavery, unless it is used as subsidiary information to explains the type of news that worked best to end slavery. So it can be disconsidered, if not directly related to the argument.
  • Finding a connection in the present:
    • minute 4:00 trafficking in the US: students mention the lack of information that surrounds people from different countries who end up being enslaved by traffickers for believing they are going to a better future.
    • How can we make a connection to the past in this research? At this point students would have to consider if trafficking can be indeed connected with lessons learned from the past on the role of abolitionist press. A lot of critical analysis will be necessary to evaluate possibilities for communications and if a similar form of press could influence traffic and as a consequence, influence slavery today.
  • Selecting and analyzing action to help end slavery today:
    • minute 7:30 actions: here the students list a series of possible actions that are many times are already described in anti slavery organization websites.
    • How can we  suggest an action with critical analysis behind it? Here the students could choose one or two actions that directly relate to their focus on abolitionist press, making a connection of how it may work, or if it may work in the present conditions of trafficking.

3. Student activity based on model : teacher ownership

After the model project analysis,  Mr Hardwicke was totally in charge of the class, taking ownership of the analysis strategies by writing a few guiding questions on the board. He then split students in groups and asked them to choose a project from last year to analyze and discuss his questions.  As each group finished watching a project, the teacher went around prompting students to answer the questions  before releasing them to start their own research.

At this point students seemed to have understood the point of the research project and how it could be improved in terms of narrowing down and making connections.

shane 2 res 400

shane 1 res 700



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