Knowledge Building/Knowledge Building in the classroom

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Schools that are working with Knowledge Building[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

Developing a "class idea"[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

It´s usual that the teacher introduces a broad open topic.

Helen described how she had attached a camera to the butterfly cage to capture on tape the metamorphosis of the chrysalises into butterflies. When students saw that morphing process, they began to ask questions about the process, along with many other questions that were both related and unrelated to the metamorphosis process (Teo 2012: 86).

Encouraging "Idea Diversity" in the start phase of the lesson[edit | edit source]

In the start phase of the course the teacher usual encourages Idea Diversity in the class:


Zahra, a teacher in elementary school, collected students’ emerging ideas on the topic of the day/night cycle (...) aligned to the Idea Diversity principle. She engaged the students in working toward common understandings and goals, engaging them in activities designed to create data to help them generate and advance their ideas. For example, she had her students note the daily time of sunrise and sunset, and talked about the trend of these recordings. She recorded these data on the side of the board. That continued for two weeks, during which time she and her intern recorded students’ emerging questions and ideas (Teo 2012: 108-109).

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[edit | edit source]

In Knowledge Building students´ ideas are often directing the lesson.


Sparkling water

Nancy, a teacher in elementary school, is teaching about sustainability to children who are seven years old. She has asked the kids to bring water from their travels or their home:

Kids brought water and questions about water, and there’s no holding them back:

  • Why is water shiny?
  • Why does sweat makes you cold?
  • What is temperature?

After the students shared their water questions and samples, Nancy reflected on the flow of the activity. She felt that it was taking too much time for each student to come forward to share their “water story”; she felt it would be better if the sharing were done in parts. Nancy indicated that she uses students’ ideas to decide what to do next, including making sure that students have a chance to go to the library to advance work on their questions and review related literature, as well as conduct experiments and engage in discussions (Teo 2012: 100).

Students’ questions informed her further teaching: “It was a question Student A had posed. Who made up all the words we say? I was not completely sure about going more deeply with it because it did not match my goals of “sustainability” and “water” as our area of inquiry, however, when student M told us he had discussed student A question with his uncle, I felt it was worth following up on. I thought at least it would be a good practice of how to have a KB Talk.” (Teo 2012: 101)

Tower of Babel

Nancy guided the students in making sense of all of the questions. She wrote the main questions on the board in class:

  • Water and survival – why do we need water?
  • About water: Why does a river move? Why is water wet?
  • Why does it rain?
  • Who made the first language?

Nancy noted that it is important to “honor students’ great questions,” which were generated as the class engaged in KB Talks and wrote notes on Knowledge Forum. Nancy therefore went through the class database (Knowledge Forum) and picked up three ideas that she felt would help in advancing the class inquiry on water:

  • Clouds burst/ don’t burst – this could be a great topic for us to do more research on.
  • NHL hockey ice – I would love to find out more about this because I think the kids would be interested in it.
  • “Why is water wet?”- this is not a big topic, but I’d like to share the etymology of the word if I could find out something about it (Teo 2012: 102).

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.

Honouring misconceptions[edit | edit source]

In Knowledge Building it is also considered important to work with wrong ideas or misconceptions:

Nancy, a elementary teacher, spent a great deal of time and effort trying to understand the root of the “cloud bag” misconception, and to engage students in exploring ideas, rather than directly correcting the misconception. She provided opportunities for the students to talk about two conflicting ideas that had been raised about the formation of rain. She also took time to talk to the student with the ”cloud bag” idea, to try to identify the root of this misconception (Teo 2012: 103)

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:

After a few explorations of the misconception that rain results from the formation of a “cloud bag,” and explorations of related concepts, which spanned three months, Nancy felt that the students had advanced as far as they could. She reflected on her role, and felt that it might not be fair for her to exert her authority and directly correct the misconception after students had worked so hard to discuss their two views on how rain is formed, yet she felt she could not let the misconception spread within the class. There was no evidence that Nancy searched for the deep, underlying big ideas in the domain, which could perhaps have allowed her to engage students in discussions of their disparate ideas and use the Rise Above principle to achieve explanatory coherence; perhaps she had exhausted the possibilities within her own understanding of weather and rain and was unable to find a connection between the “cloud bag” theory and a scientific account. In any event, she corrected the “cloud bag” idea, and this discussion ended shortly after that (Teo 2012: ????).

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[edit | edit source]

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?

KB Talk[edit | edit source]

Helen observed that her students were applying a convention from their KB Talks (e.g. choosing the next person to speak after they had spoken), and that that had a positive impact. (...) Interestingly, she noticed that students continued to use the KB Talk format in class even when she did not specifically structure the situation as a KB Talk. Her students spontaneously applied what they referred to as KB Talk conventions to their face-to-face interactions (Teo 2012: 94).

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)[edit | edit source]

A Knowledge Building teacher encourages students to look at the notes in Knowledge Forum together:

Zahra, a Knowledge Building teacher, is talking about the use of KB talk in the classroom: "What we do in KB Talk is to talk about any questions, concerns you have. When you think about what we are doing in our database, the other thing is to talk about something of our problem of understanding that we are working on. Today we are going to look at the database, put it up on the screen ... When I put up the database, I want you to look at it and tell me if there is anything you want to talk about...We are having our KB Talk and our problem of understanding..." (Teo 2012: 113).

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[edit | edit source]

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?

The teacher Zahra needed to respond to the growing number of notes on her class’ view on Knowledge Forum. She first sat with her students and brought more focus to the topic of inquiry by creating new views to hold notes on related ideas, so as to ease up the space on the Knowledge Forum view and allow deeper inquiry. She then went a step further by engaging students in reflection on their notes, with the goal of advancing work from a Community Knowledge, Collective Responsibility perspective (Teo 2012: 114).

Here is Zahra talking to the class: “Grade 3, we are going to start now our KB Talk. And what I thought we could do today is some work that is really, really important in the Knowledge Building community. I need you to go back to your seat, and the work I am thinking about today is called bringing coherence to the view. And what coherence means is to try to make the view easier for people to understand, for you to understand and for people to have a look. So when I look at the view, I know it is about cycles. But now when I look at the view itself, what do you think? Do you have any idea what the view is about?” (Teo 2012: 114).

If nothing is done with the notes the view become chaotic and difficult to overview.

Zahra aimed at getting students to work on really good questions to help classmates: "At our KB Talk we agreed to make two new views – Gravity and Planets – and moved notes to them. This has eased up the space on Cycles and will, I hope, bring some focus to some of the excellent questions that are there." (Teo 2012: 113).

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[edit | edit source]

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).

Bruce, a Knowledge Building teacher, is reflecting on his observation of another teacher, Chloe: "There is one moment where I fell like I really got it; it was when Chloe [5+ years of Knowledge Building experience] was telling the story, reading a transcript of KB talk in her SK class. About astronomy, sun and the moon, she was describing the light bulb illustrating the sun, where day and night came from. She was reading through it, appropriate, myth, God etc.…then one child got up and was walking around the sun, and rotating as she said it, she figured out where day and night come from at the age of 5, but when Chloe read it, she had the same response as to the other theories, she just said, oh, that is a great theory, would someone have another theory? I would have said, Yes, you got it! Let’s everyone try to understand it.’ Now, what I realized when Chloe read the story..." (Teo 2012: 69)

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[edit | edit source]

Chloe, a Knowledge Building teacher, describes KB talk in this way: “I am careful about what the ‘big question’ might be for KB Talk so that there will be ample opportunity for a variety of ideas. I also try to plan for ways to draw the conversation away from absolutes and towards more hypothetical or theoretical discourse (Teo 2012: 72).

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?[edit | edit source]

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?[edit | edit source]

A teacher reflects on the size of different groups when working with Knowledge Building: Helen identified as a characteristic of knowledge building that students should be “able to collectively follow an idea through from a question to some theories”; she then considered the kind of “conversational format” possible in her class, which led her to think about changing certain formats, such as “if we make the groups small enough.” In November she indicated that there could be connected conversation in a large group, but just not for everyone at every moment. She began to construct quite a different set of problems after realizing that a good KB Talk might not have all children engaged at all times. (Teo 2012: 90) (...) Helen asked students to create a visual representation of their ideas before sharing them with friends, and she had small groups work independently. She tried to support students in developing their ideas before influencing peers. (Teo 2012: 94).

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[edit | edit source]

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).

Democratizing knowledge[edit | edit source]

Listening to ideas in a very open way[edit | edit source]

In the following example, Chloe, with more than five years of Knowledge Building experience, talked about an overarching principle corresponding to Knowledge Building principles such as “listening to ideas in a very open way” to improve students’ respect for each other. (Teo 2012: 70)

Every voice deserves to be heard[edit | edit source]

“[T]he second one, for me, [was] really understanding how important respect is in a classroom, that every voice deserved to be heard, their own voice deserved to be heard, that it is not what is about the teacher said, about what they want; we need to hear what everybody said, if you can really build the foundation of respect. It means if you are sitting on a carpet with 5-year-olds or 12-year-olds, it means you can have a real conversation, you don't always have the same voices in charge, and it means you are listening to ideas in a very open way, so people are more likely to share their ideas with you.” (Teo 2012: 70)

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[edit | edit source]

The evident problem was to get as many students to contribute as possible. Helen appreciated that her rather superficial “procedural” approach led her to be too focused on the “number of contributions.” She was clear that her goal was to increase “real conversational flow” in her class, but she stayed with the more evident and procedural aspects of the problem space, with no reference to the actual ideas being generated and how they might connect or advance the discussion. She modified student groups to create smaller groups, and noted that students seemed more forthcoming with their ideas—“suddenly this tiny group was talking seriously about structure ... .” (Teo 2012: 70)

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[edit | edit source]

Moving to principle-based reflection-in-action[edit | edit source]

Knowledge Building teachers are encouraged to move from routines to adaptive flexibility; and from procedure-based actions to principle-based reflection-in-action.

Chloe, a teacher with +5 years of Knowledge Building experience, reflects on her own teaching: “I think a watershed moment for me, as a teacher, happened in my first year of senior kindergarten. It wasn't my first one but it was a very important. It was the very first day of school, and I have told the story, unfortunately, before, but I thought it would be interesting to do a study on tree, and whenever I think about a broader topic that we might have been looking at, I think about how I can impact their interest in class, I try to think where they would go. Every year, they bring leaves to class, every year in the fall, they bring it in,; I figure they would be thinking of the leaves and the color and maybe get to the sap, I have not gone beyond that, I was going to wait for the kids. The very first day, the kids knew about trees and as they told me about trees, somebody said, branches, the root went in, twig went in, nest went in, and then a child said, lungs. And I just stopped and it was an important moment for me, because it makes it explicit that about trees have lungs. I don't think I would have said that. But in such a clear way, it puts me in an interesting position, so I said, where would I put the lungs, and she said I don't know, but they have to breathe, don't they, they are alive. So for the next month, we looked at how a tree breathes and that caught the interest of the class (Teo 2012: sidetall??)

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[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

Using KF to assess student contributions[edit | edit source]

Helen used the analytic tools built into Knowledge Forum interestingly to obtain information regarding contribution rates than as a shift to principled work surrounding Concurrent, Embedded and Transformative Assessment. She used the tools to reflect on which student she needed to pay more attention to, but this happened only twice; she mainly relied on her observation in class to determine the next move in her class. These analyses of students’ interactions in class also prompted her to explore the quality of students’ notes (Teo 2012: 91).

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[edit | edit source]

(...) many of us (students) seemed to be interested to know why the moon is rising and setting at a different time every day ...” (Teo 2012: 110)
(...) many of us (students) seemed to be interested to know why the moon is rising and setting at a different time every day ...” (Teo 2012: 110)

A Knowledge Building teacher uses KF to monitor the “intellectual energy” of the group and supports students in “rising above” to a higher view of their work: “Interest seems to have waned in the cycles, gravity and planet views. I’d like to do some work making rise aboves and bringing coherence to those views. Maybe I can do that in groups this Thursday.” “Today we sat together and looked at the cycles view and looked at the cycles view to identify as many problems of understanding as they could. Each child wrote his or her problems on a file card and I’ll hang these on the board.” (Teo 2012: 119)

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[edit | edit source]

Zahra, used the analytic toolkits on Knowledge Forum to reflect on her own teaching: “[I am] really interested in using the Analytic Toolkit at the end of each day to inform my daily teaching. How the tools link to the [KB] principles. How they help the kids to understand the principles better.” (Teo 2012: 108).

The teacher is for instance using contributions in KF to analyze each students´ participation pattern:

“Everyone else has 7 notes or more. Want to sit with each of these children today and talk to them about a note idea, help them get it down. What is the barrier? Lack of focus? Typing skills? Ideas? Maybe they are not reading enough? Lack of engagement with the problems?” (Teo 2012: 116) (...) See what the barriers might be for them, especially for student J and student T [both wrote zero notes and also read less than others]. Maybe they would do better sitting on their own using a laptop? Student A also read quite a bit less than others. I think there might be a focusing issue.” (Teo 2012: 117)

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[edit | edit source]

In one example the teacher let the students discuss how to write good notes:

Some of the students began to talk about the “cheese thread’; they actually noted the same problem the teacher saw. Zahra explained that the initiating question “wasn’t a bad question, but people went in a silly directions and that was the problem.” She then engaged the students in a discussion of about writing good notes: “I asked the kids to go back to look at all notes in the cheese string, and to go delete the ones that were silly and weren’t helping, and to put some of their notes into annotation instead of notes.” (Teo 2012: 113)

The teacher here let the students rearrange the notes and the scaffolds.

Discussing the format of the KB talk[edit | edit source]

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):


  • Helen: Boys and girls, here’s I want to do, just for about 10 or 15 minutes. I want to try something it a little differently now, OK? We are going to try something different. If you look around, some ideas are really getting build-on, some just one block. They are really interesting ideas. I am wondering if we have so many ideas that we are not able to get them all. OK, we are going to try again (count down). OK, for a very short time, I want us to try talking in a different way. We are going to try without blocks, and we are going to try without hands-up – I don’t know, Grade 4s do that, and what can we do to be still respectful?
  • Student A: Don’t talk over other people’s voices.
  • Student B: People don’t know who to pick.
  • Student C: Let’s vote – two choices – try hands up or not.
  • Student D: Maybe we should vote.
  • Helen: Put your hand up now if you think we should have our hands up more. Close your eyes. Put your hand up if you don’t want to have your hands up. Now put your hand up if you want to have your hands up. More people pick don’t want to put hands up! (Teo 2012: 88)

The teacher here wants the students to reflect around their own discourse. She discusses rules of engagement in knowledge building, hoping to bring students to a deeper understanding of their knowledge-building efforts in class.

Summarizing the big idea after every KB talk[edit | edit source]

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.

School culture[edit | edit source]

Collaboration with collegues[edit | edit source]

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:

“I think as a teacher I have always been somebody who has been very flexible, I don't teach the same thing every year, I never try to think, ‘That worked very well, I am going to do the same thing again.’ I am always looking for ways to improve my practice, I think what the KB process brought to me was making that more explicit and embedding it in an environment that is so embraced and the work and the thing I do in class. I used to be…on my work… I was an individual looking at questions, and it really was more about just being the individual in my class. The way it is different now is that I am much more connected to the community that is thinking about the same questions, even though I am in the same building, I am still more connected to the community thinking about the same questions, and it is so much more obvious that the questions that I am asking about the individual children in my class are broader questions that affect teaching generally. I think that is probably the change in my thinking, it has connected me in a broader way to other teachers.” (Teo 2012: 75)

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: ???)

One teacher says: “I think there is a culture here where it is OK to take certain risks with your students, and those kind of things, taking risks or trying to do something different and innovative is valued and not seen, not looked down on, even if it is not really working out. I think most people here are forthcoming, they have all done things that have not worked out, they understand that there is a lot of casting [about] and see what will work and what won’t, there is value in the process, and everyone see it, and [it is] not an environment that you have to hide it if it didn’t go right.” (Teo 2012: 76)

Knowledge Building Technology[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

An important question is how you combine KB talk with the use of Knowledge Forum. One teacher tells:

“So this year, the Grade 5, had been with us, how are we going to, and I really waited until it made sense, and then students would say to me, 'can I put it in KF?' I would say, no! that should go... they were surprised that someone they know who uses KF to build knowledge, [would] say that it wasn’t necessary, so only this idea of choice, then they were more open to the idea of, it makes sense to use it now; we would be storing a deep question that we can build on. I realize that some of the students who hated it in the beginning, would say, can I write a note in KF so people can build on? So we have to be careful how we use the technology, not for the sake of technology, it has to be for the sake of knowledge building. Some KB has been in KB Talk, some KB happens in our notebook, and some happened there, I think that is the challenge this year.” (Teo 2012: 74)

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[edit | edit source]

My theory[edit | edit source]

Time constraints[edit | edit source]

Class schedule

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:

“I think that it is one thing that as school and teacher, we don't do enough of: we don't give children enough time to follow through with what they are doing, so I try to give them time in a day and I try to give them time across a unit, so we don't spend two weeks on something, so we let it go as long as it makes sense, which may be you never know. I didn't use to do that when I [was] a early year teacher, but now I am much more comfortable just letting them run along as long as they think it is valuable.” (Teo 2012: 72)

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?[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

What do you do if a child dosen´t want to talk?
  • 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?[edit | edit source]

Students participating in First Lego League
  • 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?[edit | edit source]

  • 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[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • 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