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Bobby Belden

Gr.8 English and Social Studies

Brookfield, CT, USA

Live Curious, Go Beyond____________

Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Bobby has lived his life as a global nomad. He's very tall and stands out wherever he goes. He typed his first essay on a typrewriter in 1989 and got hooked on AOL in 1992. He has always been enamored with technology and is committed to helping create a world where technology allows us to be truly and deeply more connected with one another.

Areas of expertise: Collaboration Tools, Open Educational Resources

    Twitter Handle: @beldenbobby              


Going Beyond: K-W-L

posted Nov 8, 2015, 5:22 PM by Bobby Belden   [ updated Nov 8, 2015, 5:22 PM ]

K-W-L is a tried and true pedagogical strategy.  It is used by many teachers to introduce new topics or to guide students through a text.  The teacher starts by asking students what they already know.  This is the "K".  Asking for background knowledge gives the teacher some formative understanding about students background knowledge.  The next step is to ask students what they want to know.  This is the "W".  Asking students what they want to know gives the teacher an understanding of student interests and engages students by encouraging them to be curious.  The "L" stands for "Learn" and is usually completed at the end of the lesson or unit.  Students account for their new knowledge, see how it has expanded from their initial "K" , and see how if they have satisfied their own curiosity.

In a blended learning environment we need to rethink the K-W-L in order to take advantage of the posibilities that students have to shape their own learning through their access to information by way of the internet.

Introducing the K-L-W.  By switching the order of the tasks of the K-W-L we can magnify the effectiveness of this exercise, transforming it into something that fuels inquiry and allows students to practice research skills.

In the K-L-W we start with the "K" just as before in order to gauge the background knowledge that students are bringing with them to the lesson or unit.

After checking students background knowledge, they are tasked with researching the topic on their own.  This could take twenty minutes or it could take a whole class period.  When their time for research is over, they procede to complete the "L" based on what they have learned from their independent research.  This can be done independently or in groups.

Once this has been completed, the class can discuss the "W", what they would like to know.  Because the students have already researched the topic, the questions that they raise at this point are potentially much more specific, probing, divergent, or insightful than if they are asked what they would like to know based only on their background knowledge.  Moreover, since they been self directed in their research, they may have found avenues that the teacher never anticipated and may raise questions that are well beyond the lesson that the teacher has planned to deliver.  This sets the stage for further explanation of the topic that is centered on inquiry rather than assimilation of knowledge.

I recently used the K-L-W method to begin a unit on the protestant reformation in Europe.  In the space of thirty minutes, students had already learned, on their own, much of the material will be assessed on the unit test.  They had also developed questions that provide a jumping off point for different lessons in the unit.  One student wants to know more about Henry VII's involvement in the reformation.  Another student wants to know more about the reformation's lasting repercussions.  As we go through the unit I expect to see students that are more engaged and more comfortable with the new material as a result of the K-L-W activity.

As a final thought, I would like to make clear that I am not arguing that the original K-W-L lesson is no longer useful or wrong.  Rather, this post is intended to encourage teachers to allow students to explore topics on their own before receiving instruction from the teacher.  If students are given time at the beginning of a lesson or unit to independently build their background knowledge and curiosity, students will then become more engaged as the unit or lesson unfolds.  I'd like to encourage teachers to experiment with a K-L-W lesson in their classes and to leave a comment sharing their experience.

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