Knowledge Building

Linking Inquiry and Knowledge Building:
Inquiry based programs understand that a student’s interest in the content of what is being focused upon profoundly affects engagement, attention and retrieval processes, acquisition of knowledge, and effort expenditure (Natural Curiosity, 9). Some of the major benefits of an inquiry based program outlined in the table below support the student outcomes described in the strategic plan for the Avon Maitland District School Board: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Problem Solving.

In our classrooms we are continuously trying to find ways to share and build upon student learning in ways that promote critical thinking, collaboration, communication, problem solving and creativity.
*Inquiry stimulates curiosity, leading to progressively deeper questions and habitual critical thinking.
*Inquiry builds lifelong learning skills that transcend content mastery.
(Natural Curiosity, 9).

What is Knowledge Building and how does it support inquiry?
Another key component of the inquiry process is Knowledge Building Discourse, a communal activity in which learners come together to pose questions, posit theories, and to revisit, negotiate, and refine their ideas. The collective goal is ‘idea improvement’. Knowledge Building Discourse “serves to identify shared problems and gaps in understanding and to advance the understanding beyond the level of the most knowledgeable individual” (Scardamalia, 2002, p. 12). Knowledge Building Discourse builds upon a long tradition of classroom discussion, with a focus on deepening students’ understanding through increased exposure to the diverse perspectives and ideas of the class. It is a class discussion time that is specifically reserved for working out students’ emergent questions and ideas, rather than a teacher directed forum for eliciting ‘correct’ answers to curriculum-based questions. What typically emerge from Knowledge Building Discourse are students’ new/unresolved questions or theories, which in turn serve as entry points for further investigation (Natural Curiosity, 11).

What is meant by discourse?
It is the talk we use during our discussions in a knowledge building circle. The emphasis is on building on ideas. Facilitating frequent knowledge building discourse is a key role to the educator in an inquiry-based learning environment.

“I would like to build onto what you said…”
“I agree with…”
“To add to what you said…”
“Something that I have tried is…”
“I have a matching idea…” or “I have a tag idea…”
“I need to understand…”
“I have a different idea…” or “Another idea I had…”
“My theory is…”

Adding knowledge building to the inquiry process activates critical thinking. Students become used to the process of repeating back to a group and develop a sense of responsibility for their learning (21).
Progressive Unfolding of Knowledge Building Circle
First Knowledge Building Circle
*The circle is used to promote attentive listening, communication, respect and equality. The teacher is part of the circle, not sitting apart from the students.
Knowledge building circles usually follow a series of hands-on, outdoor, or other lead-in experiences.
Students share what they know and the questions that they have.
The teacher participates, observes, and documents the comments and questions.


Next Knowledge Building Circle
Teacher and/or students identify which questions to pursue.
Students share and negotiate their initial theories about their selected questions of focus. Teacher participates, observes and documents.


Subsequent Knowledge Building Circles
Students share new understanding in light of recent experiences and or new information. Students share new questions or ‘problems of understanding’ that they
encounter during their investigations. Students ‘build on’ to one another’s ideas, by agreeing, disagreeing, or contributing possible solutions. Teacher observes, participates, documents (21).
Student’s Questions
In an inquiry-based classroom, the teacher relies upon his or her extensive documentation of each student’s questions and emerging ideas as the foundation for assessment, evaluation, and reporting. Natural Curiosity p. 22).
“Virtually all classroom activities, whether formal or informal, provide teachers [educators] with information that can be used to monitor learning progress” (Fostaty Young & Wilson, 2000, p.13).
By documenting and revisiting students’ questions, teachers not only collect data that will inform the direction an inquiry may take and what resources to procure; they also gain insights into the learner’s place along a developmental growth continuum. A student’s questions can provide teachers with information about a student’s understanding of the content area at hand, as well as his or her level of critical thinking. This is one important reason why teachers seeking to foster an inquiry-based learning environment make a concerted effort to record students’ questions that arise during Knowledge Building Circles (Natural Curiosity p.23).
Resources Knowledge Building Circle in Action

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