This post will describe two lessons I conducted with my colleagues' students in Daugavpils Russian Lyceum. My personal aim as a developer was to test some ideas related to the new TA technology I am working on now. This technology should provide teachers with a framework for developing tasks to any type of text they would like to work with (fictional and non-fictional texts, videos, film excerpts, etc.). It's still far away before it's shaped into something tangible but I would be really grateful for all possible comments from the colleagues reading it as it will help me understand some of the aspects I might be missing. So, please feel free to ask, comments, argue and react in any way you feel like.

1. Lessons description - before

I asked Irina (the English teacher of the group of learners I was going to work with) to offer five different videos to her learners and get them to choose one they like best. Most students opted for Salman Khan's 'Let's use video to reinvent education'. The learners were asked to watch the video once again before the lesson and were also given the text of the presentation to read and clarify whatever might not be clear in terms of language.

My idea was to get the class to think what kind of questions this video poses and if there any questions they would find interesting and useful to focus on and dig into. It is these questions I wanted to use for organising further work with the text. The questions could be different for various learners. 

As soon as the question was chosen, learners would plan their work on investigating them (either individually or in groups). This would turn into a kind of mini-research project, where each learner identifies the problem to deal with, develops a plan for collecting necessary information and doing the analysis needed, implementing what has been planned and presenting the results. Then, depending on how the process unfolds, we could either focus on some of the problems we have faced and / or evaluate what we have produced, compare with peers and see what can be improved about learners' model for conducting a mini-research.

In terms of the technology to be created, the sequence looks as follows:

getting to know the text --> activating one's knowledge to be ready to interact with the text (prototype: content generation tasks in the Text Technology) --> deciding on the problem to deal with / an inquiry question to investigate --> conducting mini-research --> sharing the results / responding to the text

All of the above refers to the analytical part of the technology. There is also a synthetical part (see below) but I was not planning to deal with it during the lessons.

The following worksheet was prepared for the first lesson. I've also prepared six possible inquiry questions as a back up plan to make sure we don't get stuck at this stage.

2. Lesson description - after

The structure of the class can be seen from the worksheet above. The thing that immediately became clear is that pupils had only superficial knowledge of the text. It had been anticipated but it happened so that we didn't have time for activating their knowledge part described above. The superficial reading was also reflected in the questions they chose for investigation. I shared mine but most of them were not clear to learners (again a failure at activation part) and I didn't insist on them.

After selecting an inquiry question, students were asked to divide it into sub-questions to ensure that they would not miss important aspects to focus on when conducting their mini-research. During this process, it became obvious that dividing into parts is difficult for some students. Instead they just came up with possible additional questions (this is something to focus on with this group in terms of the list of thinking skills).

All the students worked with their own questions. There were three groups and three students worked individually. The first lesson ended with each group / student having an Action plan to follow. This was homework which they were asked to submit by email, so that we could work with it during the following lesson.

Before the second lesson, I decided that the outcome I'd like to bring them to was a list of drawbacks in their model for conducting an inquiry, so that they could be more prepared the next time they do it. As an input I decided to provide them with samples of their homework and I also added my example (I basically did the same task I asked them to do) to provide them with more parameters to pay attention to when analysing works (see the handouts with homework for analysis). I also prepared a worksheet to follow during the lesson

3. Overall reflection

When students starting evaluating works, it became clear that they are choosing parameters without thinking about the function. The parameters were either randomly chosen (whatever came first to their mind) or these were the parameters usually used for the evaluation of written works (like task achievement, clarity, etc.). The right thing to do would have been to stop and compare the same homework samples to arrive at new parameters (I consciously chose not to do that as I was not sure Irina would be interested to continue the line of lessons, therefore I wanted to reach some logical end by the end of the class). Therefore we just had a discussion where I pushed them towards the need for a function in order to be able to evaluate something. By that time they had already generated quite a few parameters, therefore they could consider if all of them were relevant to the purpose / function of an inquiry, the quality of which they were meant to evaluate. There homework was to look at the parameters, select the relevant ones and produce the second version of their model for conducting an inquiry.

In terms of the technology to be developed, it is apparent that there are still plenty of gaps and things to specify. As I wrote above, I am sure it's necessary to spend some time (and to have certain types of tasks) for activating learners to be able to respond to the text at a deeper level. Types of tasks here might include responding from a particular role (eg you are a student or a mother of the student who is in the pilot group that will be starting mathematics on the basis of Khan Academy during the coming semester. You have just seen the video and have mixed feelings about the idea. You've decided to talk to the class teacher. What are you going to say?).

Then, of course,  these tasks would need to be tested in terms of the extent they allow learners to define possible inquiry questions. The next group of tasks should deal with shaping the chosen question to ensure it's not superficial.

After that there are tasks that get the learners to conduct their mini-research. This mini-research / inquiry can probably be of two types: a) requiring additional resources to answer the question (reading, experimenting, etc.) and b) those that can be done here and now (using own resources or classmates). 

The final group of tasks in the first part is connected with sharing the outcomes and making changes / drawing conclusions for the future. 

The synthetical part is currently seen similar to transformation in the Text Technology. Here learners could be asked to transform the text they have worked with in some way. It could either be an adaptation for a particular context (eg making Salman Khan's presentation for the mathematics department in students' school), telling it from another point of view or making into a different medium.

Possible project tasks (larger scale inquiries or tasks that require more time) can also appear as a response to the text. For example, one can see the development of Khan Academy over the past years in terms of problems they have solved, compare Khan Academy with a similar project in own country (eg in Latvia) and make suggestions for improvement to either one or the other or make a translation assessment tasks comparing the translation of the EN version of the presentation into other languages the student in fluent in.

I realise that it's probably difficult to say much on the basis of this fragmented description I've shared but I'd be grateful for the comments and suggestions. All kinds of questions are welcome as well.


# Irina Buchinska 2013-12-24 17:00
I, personally, like the idea of developing a framework for developing tasks to any type of text, because, I believe that this general framework can become a tool which will help different teachers to apply it for very specific contexts of theirs.
After having read your, Alexander, perspective of what your aims were and what my reflections on what I saw at the lessons I have a few questions and comments.
Q. 1. Re- Following the sequence you offered, how does this sequence follow the TTF?
Q. 2. Re-the inquiry question.
a) I think there should be specific features of the question. What are they?
b) I think that formulating an inquiry question is one of the key skill in this approach. Should this kind of question be pre- worked with as a special tool or should the learners learn how to formulate it while working with a task?
c) You mention that ‘each learner identifies the problem to deal with’, As I understand the inquiry question is not a problem. Should the problem here be formulated according to TRIZ-based formulation? Should it follow the inquiry question or is the inquiry question enough to do the mini-research?
Q. 3. When mentioning the sequence of the tasks-
getting to know the text --> activating one's knowledge to be ready to interact with the text (prototype: content generation tasks in the Text Technology) --> deciding on the problem to deal with / an inquiry question to investigate --> conducting mini-research --> sharing the results / responding to the text, do you mean the draft of the framework here?
Q.4. RE- the above – could it be viewed as the parts where the learners create their algorithms/ models?
Q. 5 Re -Interaction with the text – what do you mean here?

Q. 6. Re- responding to the text – as the final step/tasks.
AS far as I understood ( possible not very far ), one of the aims, which I happily accept, is that the learners deal with the text at a deeper level and when they give an answer it is more thorough because of all the work mentioned above. So, in my vision, the answer to their inquiry question goes beyond the initial text after the mini-research. Why do you bring them back, as ‘responding to the text’? It doesn’t mean that I don’t agree, I just don’t understand and feel that I miss something in better understanding of the aim of the tasks.

Q.7. The question I am going to ask matters a lot for me as it influences the way I work in class. It is about the role of the teacher in the student’s work monitoring. How much of hints should we give to the learners? What is the role of the examples? Don’t they interfere into the learner’s autonomy of choosing their own ways of finding the answer to the question or fulfilling the task?

Q 8. Do you think that traditional system of tasks for text will be left or will it be changed? Can’t this be just another task in the system?

I agree with Alexander taht it would be very interesting to know opinion of other peopel as well.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-12-29 22:29
Irina, thanks a lot for the questions. I will be answering them in turn, dedicating a separate comment to each.

Q1. In my view, it's quite transparent. Inquiry question / problem is Step 1 of the framework. The actual process of research is generally Step 2 (depending on the type of research, it may comprise the movement across all the three steps at a lower level). The presentation of results is Step 3 (which can also lead to Step 1 - new problems as a result of interaction with the audience or Step 2 - the author is forced to review some of his/her ideas.
Getting to know the text and activating one's knowledge are preparatory activities, i.e. they are outside the framework.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-12-29 23:00
Q2. It's a very good question - thank you. As the technology has not been shaped yet, I can't give you a very specific answer. Generally speaking, an inquiry can be understood in a variety of ways, hence the competences we are trying to develop when working with an inquiry may differ greatly.

Of course, if we are speaking about the TA, an inquiry question should lead to a problem or a network of problems. And, yes, in the way they are defined in TRIZ and OTSM-TRIZ. In fact, you can see this if you look at the materials in the Research Technology of the TA, e.g. a source analysis form:
At the same time, it's quite likely that a beginner TA teacher will choose to work with simpler aspects of inquiry, e.g. generation of a hypothesis and then validating it. There's nothing wrong about this approach. Moreover, it's also connected with the development of thinking competences as long as the learners have not mastered these particular competences yet.

Given what I wrote above, features of inquiry questions will be different. So I am not sure I can provide you with a general list that will suit all purposes.
# Irina Buchinska 2014-01-05 20:08
re Q 2. Thank you Alexander for the answer. I agree that it is difficult to speak about inquiry question in general. So, let's speak more specifically, referring to the inquiry questions at the lesson you had with Form 9 learners. When they were asked to ask an IQ, for me as a teacher it would be difficult to help them understand which of the questions were better, which worse. Could you, please, give examples of at least 2 questions, showing which one is better and why.

Another point here is, that I still don't understand the connection between an inquiry question and the problem to solve during the research. In my understanding at the moment IQ is the first step, while the other should lead to a problem/contradiction formulation? Or are they absolutely different things?
# Alexander Sokol 2013-12-29 23:02
Q3-Q4: here I am not sure I am following you, especially when you are saying 'here'. Here - where? In the sequence as such? A particular part. Please specify.
# Irina Buchinska 2014-01-05 20:33
Well, Alexander, here I referred to the tasks from the handouts you gave them. For me, these tasks look like an algorithm for their research work and my question was whether I am right here or not. The questions were also partly about the role of the teacher in helping the learners build the algorithm. So my questions were, in fact, about the following - After following the tasks offered can/should the learners put them as a 'How to..." ?
1. Find something in the text you doubt about, is ambiguous,..
2. Formulate a question you want to find an answer
3. Specify the question by adding sub-questions
4. Develop an action plan
5. Follow the plan and present the results in a table.

The questions were also partly connected with the TTF, which you already answered, thanks.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-12-29 23:10
Q6. I am not sure we are of different opinions here, as I wrote responding to text / sharing results. I also meant 'responding' in a rather abstract way, so we are probably speaking about similar things.

As to deeper / more thorough approach to text - yes, probably. But this depth is more an outcome. The main idea is to get the learners to go through a certain learning activity and internalise a particular sequence of steps when facing a problem.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-12-29 23:44
Q7. This is also a very good question. And the one that is extremely difficult to answer 'in general'. My immediate response is that here the role of the teacher is the same as in other TA technologies. Normally our 'hints' should help us organise the movement through the Thinking Task Framework. The 'must' behind every 'hint' is a clear understanding of the purpose. If the teacher sees the function behind what he/she is doing, it's normally fine. Many problems appears as we fail to think about the function behind our actions and do things because we usually do them in this or that way.
If you are asking me about something more specific, please let me know and I will try to respond.
# Irina Buchinska 2014-01-05 20:48
Thank you for the reply, I absolutely agree with the things you mention.
Sometimes, though, it's difficult to identify the right aim. :), but that is I think another thing to discuss.
Here my concern is about the differences in the procedures, as I used to think that the teacher's role is to help the students by challenging their answers properly in different ways, (which I am still learning to do) avoiding the direct guidence, but I might have been wrong.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-12-29 23:51
Q8. In my view, what I am proposing is not another task but another technology. I think it will exist along with the Text Technology. I also hope that it will be more accessible to teachers than Text Technology, as it will be less bulky and will allow lots of flexibility in terms of source materials one chooses to focus on.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-12-29 23:06
Q5. There can be different models of how the meaning appears from the text. The one which is embedded in the TA is that the meaning appears as a result of interaction between the text and the reader (in a general sense, i.e. the viewer is also the reader). For this to happen, the reader should be prepared, otherwise that text just won't talk to him/her. Therefore, part of what we should do at this preparatory stage is to activate the audience, so that they are able to respond to the text and generate some meaning as a result. Only then an inquiry question will become possible.
# Irina Buchinska 2014-01-05 20:54
Ok, thanks. This question is very important for me as I feel here is a great gap in my approach. So, Alexander, sorry for asking once more what do you mean by ' the reader must be prepared', 'to activate the audience, so that they are able ....." Which text do you mean here - the text they read/watched or the text they create as the presentation. Could you, please, give example referring to the material you worked at the lesson with.
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