Inquiry Book Study: Week Four

Welcome to week four of our inquiry book study – you can access the discussion from the first three weeks here.

Week Four: Play Out of Town
As vice president for technology and research at the Great Books Foundation, Mark Gillingham plans technology-related infrastructure, marketing, production, and service. Major projects include enterprise applications for web content, constituent management, and telephony; he is also responsible for technical development and analysis of web sites. In addition, Mark is engaged in tracking education and reading research. Mark has a doctoral degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been on the faculties of the University of Maryland, Washington State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Illinois-Chicago where he taught, managed programs, and conducted research. You can find Mark on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and at Wrigley Field.

David Perkins’ clever metaphor of playing the game of baseball works well for “transfer,” the
main idea of Chapter 4. Without transfer, there is no reason for instruction as we know it.
Without transfer, knowledge we applied to towers would never apply to holes; what we applied
to cars wouldn’t apply to trucks.

Transfer is complex with many ancillary topics: near and far transfer, negative transfer, Bo Peep transfer, high-road, and low-road transfer. Teachers who can create lessons in which students excel at transfer are performing a great feat. If our lessons don’t have strong cues that lead toward transfer “then the sheep do not come home” when placed in an out-of-town bin (the lost sheep theory).

At the Great Books Foundation, we promote Shared Inquiry Discussion–a form of critical
thinking. First, the teacher explores a concept of interest that is relevant to a story. This helps
elicit background knowledge and connections from the students. Then, the story is read (often
aloud) and students ask questions about it. During the second reading, readers are asked to
pause to engage in brief activities, which vary by age and ability. Then the teacher (or other
leader such as a peer) asks an interpretive question–one that is rich and authentic. Students
discuss this question completely giving everyone a turn. Usually, there is another activity that
includes writing or other creative response to the story. You can see other video examples from
grade 2 to middle school and adult discussion at our Vimeo channel.

In this example one may see that low-road transfer of decoding, vocabulary, reading strategies
can occur, especially if this sort of reading and re-reading are a normal part of a curriculum–
many games played in a season. High-road transfer occurs while finding evidence, formulating
questions, and listening to others. Each new story is a new game and each new interpretive
question is a new out of town playing field. For even further transfer, a new leader can be
chosen to ask the questions and lead the discussion (a game at a neutral field).

Motivation to expend effort in this game is usually very high because humans have opinions
and like to talk, but the cost of an opinion is evidence (a favorite quote from a volunteer leader). The junior versions of Shared Inquiry have to be carefully constructed so that the students can understand the story and find evidence in it.

Chapter 4 makes me wonder what other rich games we can play in classrooms to promote the
conditions for transfer and if the out-of-town (transfer) games serve all disciplines well.