Knowledge Building/Knowledge Building in the classroom
Schools that are working with Knowledge Building
The Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (ICS) is a laboratory school and research institute of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Many of the teachers at the school work with Knowledge Building.
Knowledge Building content
Developing a "class idea"
Experienced Knowledge Building teachers seem to move from focusing on obvious or well-defined problems to ill-defined problems, big ideas, and promising possibilities. It´s important that the students together find some big questions or ideas that the class can work with ("Community Knowledge", "Collective Responsibility"). The work is primarily supposed to be done by the class as a collective enterprise and not so much of the group or the individual. The teacher must also expect to manage disruptions and tensions among the students in the process of developing a shared goal (Teo 2012). In class, this approach raises several practical pedagogical questions:
- What is actually a big idea or a big question? How is this related to different school subjects?
- How many ideas can the students work with at the same time?
- To what degree should the teachers also emphasize the individual contributions?
- How do students relate their own ideas to curriculum goals? How and when in the process should this be done?
The teacher introduces a broad open topic
It´s usual that the teacher introduces a broad open topic.
Encouraging "Idea Diversity" in the start phase of the lesson
In the start phase of the course the teacher usual encourages Idea Diversity in the class:
In the beginning of a Knowledge building project, it seems to be important to encourage "Idea Diversity" among the students. Zahra did not identify an explicit curriculum goal at the start of the year, but constructed the curriculum the idea-centred premise that students’ ideas should have priority over her construction of a fixed curriculum plan (Teo 2012:92). Later in the period, the teacher will also need to engage the students in working toward a common understanding. Interestingly, the teacher in this example used the board and not Knowledge Forum in this start phase.
Zahra, for instance, allowed her students to suggest other topics at every Knowledge Building Talk (Teo 2012: 109). Another teacher tried to a larger degree to limit the content of the talk to one idea, so that the conversation was more connected. This was done in order to ensure that there was improvement in the quality of the notes. By constraining the possibilities in this way, one can ask if this choice simplifies the "Knowledge Building Discourse" because it reduces "Idea Diversity" and "Rise Above" (Teo 2012:92). On the other side one could ask if it sometimes in a lesson is necessary to try and connect students ideas to create more coherence. Maybe the idea development process emerges through cycles of diversity, coherence, diversity and so on.
Students´ ideas are directing the lesson
In Knowledge Building students´ ideas are often directing the lesson.
In the example the teacher starts a lesson by choosing water as a broad topic. Interestingly, students´ ideas are used to decide what to do next in the lesson. There is a clear element of improvisation because the teacher is adapting the lesson to the students’ emerging ideas. This move beyond prescribed lessons requires adaptive flexibility because the teacher can not know in advance how students’ questions will connect to the inquiry. The teacher does this by choosing student questions that the class can continue to work with. Even though the teacher chooses the questions, the process is fundamentally based on the further development of students´ own ideas. In this context digital technology can be very helpful in managing all the ideas in a class.
In Knowledge Building it is also considered important to work with wrong ideas or misconceptions:
In this example the teacher is trying to engage the students in exploring the root of the misconception. This is very different from the traditional IRE-structure in classrooms. The point is to let students get time to work with misconceptions instead of telling them the right answer at once. One of the challenges in Knowledge Building lessons seems to be if the students get sufficient time to explore misconceptions:
The example illustrates that the teacher must be interested in searching for the deep, underlying, big ideas. At the same time the teacher will need to experience if work with the wrong theories or misconceptions are worthwile
Knowledge Building processes
Class inquiry is the key working method for knowledge building in classrooms. In Knowledge Building this inquiry process is often related to what is called KB talk. An important didactical question is the degree of control students should have have over their own collaborative work. At what time is it appropriate for the teacher to intervene?
It seems to be important that the teacher uses some time to explain the rationale in terms of knowledge-building contribution.
Talking about notes in Knowledge Forum (KF)
A Knowledge Building teacher encourages students to look at the notes in Knowledge Forum together:
The teacher here starts an oral discussion about the contributions in Knowledge Forum. In this case she poses an open question to the students asking them if there is anything they would like to talk about. In this way the class is evaluating the knowledge advancement and the knowledge building discourse on the basis of written notes in the database.
Moving Ideas forward by making new views in KF
At some point in the lesson it seems to be important to select some ideas for further work. An important question is how do you choose the promising ideas?
If nothing is done with the notes the view become chaotic and difficult to overview.
By making new views in Knowledge Forum the teacher is trying to advance the knowledge building discourse in the class. Sometimes in the process it seems to be important to stop and discuss the further direction. It is also very difficult to try and build on all the notes that are contributed in the database.
Taking risks with the discussion format
KB talk is characterized by the teachers willingness to take risks with format and structure, like for example letting students try a KB Talk without hand-raising and without intervening.” (Teo 2012: 88).
Even when the student has given the right answer, the teacher still continues to ask other students for more suggestions and new theories. This communication structure is very different from the traditional IRE-structure. Exploratory talk is important in KB talk.
The teacher is careful not to define the big idea
The teacher is careful about suggesting what the big questions might be (teacher behavior). Students should get the opportunity to discuss what idea they would prefer to continue to work with. KB-questions in classroom are not either supposed to focus on the true answer. Instead one should ask questions like:
- What is this idea good for?
- Does this idea have a future?
These questions are meant to facilitate idea improvement. In traditional classroom practice students seldom discuss the usefulness of a concept. One will discuss what gravity is, but not why this concept is useful.
Can KB talk become too formalized?
Helen then returned to “format,” reflecting on a discussion in an earlier teachers’ meeting concerning KB Talks becoming too formalized and not as effective as they should be (Teo 2012: 95).
- Do what degree is KB talk a formal talk?
- Do what degree is KB talk a spontaneous conversation?
How large should a Knowledge Building group be?
In Knowledge building it is a challenge to set the "conversational format" in the class. To what degree can Knowledge building be done in small groups in the class compared to the whole class working together? Rich conversations can also be done in small groups, but how could these activities connect with the work in other groups. It´s interesting that the teacher here thinks that good KB Talk might not necessarily involve all children at the same time. In this example the teacher lets the students work with ideas individually before they discuss the idea with peers.
Presenting students´ ideas in public spaces
It´s also important to manage the technology so students’ ideas can be presented in public spaces where peers can contribute, reference and build on each others work a communal knowledge space such as for instance Knowledge Forum (KF) (Teo 2012). In one example the teacher tries to connect students talk in their classroom with their ideas on KF. This is done by projecting the Knowledge Forum view on a screen in class. Then the students are asked if they have any interesting notes on KF that they would like to discuss. In this way the teacher is using KF to facilitate Knowledge Building (KB) talk (Teo 2012: 102-103).
Listening to ideas in a very open way
Every voice deserves to be heard
Peoples contributions will be different, but it is important that everybody gets a chance to contribute.
How to tackle those students that don´t contribute
It´s seems to be difficult to get everybody to say something in a KB talk in large groups. Is this easier to encourage in the KF? Is it also necessary to let everybody talk in smaller groups?
The teacher in the Knowledge Building classroom
Moving to principle-based reflection-in-action
Knowledge Building teachers are encouraged to move from routines to adaptive flexibility; and from procedure-based actions to principle-based reflection-in-action.
Here the teacher is first introducing a broad topics. Then she tries to facilitate students interest in the topic. The keyword "lungs" also illustrates the point of unexpectedness that makes an important impact on the further planning of the lesson.
Always being in design mode
A Knowledge Building teacher describes it as always trying to develop or create something: “The sense of what it meant to do KB, I was still bringing it to the classroom, even when I was not using KF. It [was] hard to think of it before. Teaching is always reflective, the design mode, the sense of always creating something; now what is interesting, I feel that I am helping to figure something out and developing something.” (Teo 2012: 76).
Teachers must tell students that they support their epistemic agency
In an interview Chloe says: "I want them to be knowing that they can act independently, they don’t need a teacher to guide them a whole way and telling them what is right or wrong." (Teo 2012: 68)
Sustaining a flow of ideas instead of working with only one Knowledge building principle
On the one side the Knowledge Building principles can be considered in isolation, such as for example "Democratizing Knowledge" or "Improvable Ideas". On the other side the principles can be seen upon as part of a complex, interacting system of affordances. Experienced Knowledge Building teachers will to larger degree engage students in problem-solving that might allow them to sustain a flow of ideas and deal with disruptions (Teo 2012: 97). Is it more difficult for the teacher to develop ways of working with several principles?
Evaluation in Knowledge Building
Using KF to assess student contributions
The teacher is here using a combination of classroom observation and activity in the Knowledge Forum to assess how different students are working.
Monitoring KF to move the work in class forward
The teacher is here trying to bring more coherence to the views by creating a new topic while at the same time creating a space for continual inquiry on cycle. By making a Rise Above the teacher is trying to assess the collective learning. According to Teo (2012), Zahra is here using an embedded and transformative assessment in an idea-centred environment. One possible disadvantage with moving forward to new views is that you may leave interesting information behind.
Using the Analytic Toolkit in KF to inform daily teaching
The teacher is for instance using contributions in KF to analyze each students´ participation pattern:
Zahra continued to analyze her students’ participation pattern and generated ways to engage all students in more principle-based work: “I may need to be more explicit about the importance of reading other’s notes and trying to improve their ideas by building onto them. I’ll run vocab and writing growth after our second session.” (Teo 2012: 117).
Evaluating KB talk
In one example the teacher let the students discuss how to write good notes:
The teacher here let the students rearrange the notes and the scaffolds.
Discussing the format of the KB talk
Interestingly a Knowledge Building teacher engaged students in discussing the format of the KB talk. She did not consult with them on forms of interaction that might advance their understanding, but she did poll students on the format they preferred for their talk (...): (Teo 2012: 88):
Summarizing the big idea after every KB talk
The teacher tried to make “summarizing the big idea” a standard activity after every KB Talk. She also described how she might want to get students to draw their idea after every KB Talk so that she could “assess each child’s thinking.” (Teo 2012: 91). Interestingly, the students are here encouraged to be responsible for the KB talk by summarizing the ideas. At the same time the teacher also wants to control what the student thinks about the topic.
Collaboration with collegues
Teachers working with Knowledge Building usually want to participate in a community where they can discuss ideas with each other. A teacher explains teacher collaboration in the following way:
The teacher is describing a process from being an individual alone with the class to becoming a member of a community with the same interest for the pedagogical questions. A teacher describing that the whole atmosphere of the school is to learn more: "The third improvement would probably be, I think, to try, because [Jackman] ICS is such a different school, so much more innovative; I find that I am more open to new things then, so the whole atmosphere of the school is to learn more, you don’t become a teacher and stop there. So you keep learning; even though I am not young I still think I have a lot to learn. It teaches me a lot. The students teach me as much as I teach them."(Teo 2012: ???)
Knowledge Building Technology
If a whole class is going to work with idea development the number of ideas and text may soon become overwhelming. Fortunately, digital technology can help us to manage all these ideas. In Knowledge Forum one can manage the many and diverse ideas, while also trying to relate them to the curriculum.
When should students write notes in Knowledge Forum
An important question is how you combine KB talk with the use of Knowledge Forum. One teacher tells:
It seems to be a challenge to combine the oral and written discourse in the classroom in a good way. In this case the teacher set some restrictions on when to use Knowledge Forum. One could still ask if it´s good idea to let the teacher what notes that are good enough for Knowledge Forum.
Students working in Knowledge Forum
A typical challenge with Knowledge Building is that the teacher experience a lack of time. It´s also difficult to do Knowledge building if the school day is organized in half hour time periods. It´s important to give students enough time to work with their tings. A teacher with Knowledge Building experience shows adaptive flexibility and commitment to move towards big ideas and principle-based use of time and discourse:
One teacher says: “The most challenging issue today is children wanting to speed up and want instant answers. They are doing this because of our media system. Our computers, the Google.” (Teo 2012:73)
Elements of Knowledge Building in out-of-school activities?
Maybe the tradional school can get inspiration from knowledge building in other contexts. What are good examples of Knowledge Building activities outside classroom? Do students already do Knowledge Building in their spare time?
Some pedagogical questions
- How do you create a good combination of oral and written discussion in Knowledge Building processes.
- It it okay for all students to write their own idea? Some students seem to be more vulnerable when they write text. It may be more difficult to exposing your meanings and your spellings errors in a written class discussion. Maybe more vulnerable than in an oral discussion.
- What if only some students in the class develop really good ideas?
- How do you manage students’ behavior and at the same time advance students´ ideas? Is there a tension between focusing on students’ behavior vs the substance of their ideas?
- It is enough to demonstrate an implicit understanding of a number of Knowledge Building principles? Do you have to have an explicit awareness of the principles? Will one tend to focus on one principle or procedure at a time without an conceptual awareness?
- Will Knowledge Building be experienced as chaos in the classroom by inexperienced teachers?
- How important is it to reach an "exportable" idea compared to valuing the process in itself?
- How much academic subject knowledge do teachers need to do Knowledge Building?
- To what degree should students assess their own contributions in Knowledge-building processes (for instance through Knowledge Forum)?
How do you encourage people to work according to the Knowledge Building principles?
- A teacher will always ask if it´s worth the effort to change classroom practice. It takes time to develop and plan new activities. An important question when implementing Knowledge Building is also if one should present it as something very different from what teachers already do or as something that only require minor adjustments of what teachers already do. Some teachers seem to experience that they are already doing Knowledge Building: Teacher’s understanding of Knowledge Building pedagogy, as well as their ability to implement it, grows over time. An early reaction is often “I do that already,” signifying that at a surface level the pedagogy has many characteristics shared by other constructivist pedagogies (Teo 2012: 75).
- Another dilemma is that if you describe examples of Knowledge Building in a very concrete way, you may risk that the pedagogy becomes very technical or methodological.
Possible tensions between Knowledge Building principles?
- To engage students more equally ("Democratizing knowledge"), a teacher let the students work in small groups. This was part of a risk-taking effort to advance students’ ideas, but it limited "Idea Diversity" and "Community Knowledge", "Collective Responsibility" (Teo 2012: 98).
- Equal contributions vs conversational flow. What if some of the students are more creative than the others?
- Developing good deep ideas and concepts vs developing students own ideas?
Resource pages and examples
- International collaboration: http://kbip.fse.ulaval.ca/
- How to use Knowledge Forum?
- Teo, Chew Lee (2012). Conceptual shifts within problem spaces as a function of years of knowledge building experience. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. PHD-Thesis