Data tables can tell stories, or how to get lost

This was an interesting little strategy that kind of happened without any plans.

As we begin our inquiry into Peace and Conflict, I had the students create a table on their page with the headings Who, Where, How, Why.

I asked them Who has conflicts, and they wrote a list of people.

I asked them Where do they have conflicts, and they wrote a list of places.

I asked How do they have conflicts, and I got a bunch of verbs.

I asked them Why they have conflicts, and I got some reasons.

Everything was in place, and all the data had been collected, but I still didn't know what to do with it all. I noticed a child tracing his finger horizontally along the table, connecting the boxes, and I realized that these boxes can tell us stories. The information is built into, all we have to do is join the dots, and then let the story take over.

I asked them to connect the dots, and then to let the story take over. As a group, they wrote out their short stories, including as much detail relating to the background of the conflict as they could (I asked them not to focusing on physically descriptive language, but rather focus on the internal mental states). They wrote their stories in groups, then they presented them to the class. The narrator read the story, while the remaining member of the group performed pantomime.


There are so many paths, so many roads that learning can travel in. It is impossible to see all the possible directions. During the Tuning In phase of an inquiry, I think that open disposition is so important, not only for the teacher but also for the students. Central Ideas (thought I still think they should be questions) tend to be so large in scope that you can get lost in the massive shadows they cast. What I've been thinking recently is that getting lost is a good thing, and learning to orient yourself is one of learning's most difficult tricks, but also one of the most important to master.

It brings me back to provocation selection and visible thinking strategies, and how rich tasks are not enough. They are an aspect, but along with those tasks/provocations/strategies we really need to keep our ears open and listen to how the learners are making sense. When I saw that child tracing their fingers along the tables, that student was making sense of Conflict through the lens of story. Thus, story seemed like an ideal way to allow students to explore the concept. We found our way there by getting lost.

How do you deal with getting lost? Do you embrace it? Do you need a map of where you are going at all times? Are you comfortable with the idea of just wandering and figuring it out as you go? Do you think this way of being in the classroom has a place in education?


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