My Secret Confession About KWL Charts

4 08 2015

I have a confession: KWL charts make me feel like a failure as a teacher. I know I’m supposed to love them. I know they’re Good Teaching 101. I know I’m supposed to use them — I’m told so in nearly every professional learning event I attend.

But I just can’t do it. And I find, in secret workroom conversations with colleagues that I’m not alone. In those furtive conversations whispered in the early morning or late afternoon workroom, we confess that we all nod knowingly in inservices about the value of KWL, but then as we go into our classrooms, we feel such guilt about how much we feel disconnected from those magical KWL charts.
Let me explain.

Let’s see. KWL means:
•    K – what do you know?
•    W – what do you want to know?
•    L – what have you learned?
And we have kids fill this out at the beginning of learning and again at the end of learning. And it’s good teaching strategy.

Simple enough. However, I confess…that’s not how it goes in my classroom. Not at all. Here’s how it goes with my kids:

•    K – what do you know? Nuthin.
•    W – what do you want to know? Nuthin.
•    L – what have you learned? Ok, here’s where I’m the worst teacher in the world…I NEVER get back to this step. At the end of the unit, the KWL charts are so lost and we’re so over them… ugh. I know. Fire me now. I’m a horrible teacher.

But what I do use is KWL-like — trying hard to fit into the “good teacher” mold — even if it’s not perfectly done.

And this modification works. And it works really well in my Project Based Learning classroom.

I use a chart that asks the class:
•    What do you KNOW about the challenge/question?
•    What do you NEED TO KNOW to learn in order to answer the question/complete the challenge?
•    What RESOURCES do we need to find the information we need? (people? websites? videos? books?)

And at first, as the kids are starting the chart, the “need to know” column feels random and is a bit short. But we leave it posted on chart paper or on the white board in the room. And then periodically, we revise the lists and cross out what we now know and add to what we now need to know in order to keep moving forward.

What I do find is that the second column grows to gigantic length as kids’ curiosities continue to add to the learning. And the deadline looms. So now we get to practice prioritizing what we NEED to know, based on the time we have to collect our work into a solution or presentation.

Anyway, my kids do good work with this modified chart. I won’t lie and say they love the process, but I do see them begin to learn how to self-manage and start to self-solve some truly ambiguous PBL challenges. You see, I want the chart to be a way to digging in to PBLrole model how we think and logically attack problems. And using the chart this way helps keep me organized and stay focused on the bigger picture as we dig into a PBL unit. We start pulling out new info, and generally make a learning mess as we dig in. And then we continue actively using the chart through the process as it helps us make sense of the mess of learning we’re creating.

If you have trouble loving the traditional KWL chart, you might consider this variation, especially if you’re in a Project/Problem/Passion Based Learning environment.

Let me know how it goes!

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3 responses

4 08 2015
Becky Ryckeley

Wow! I like this recommendation. I think it is more useful and has students set learning targets. Thanks for sharing!

4 08 2015
GingerLewman

Absolutely my pleasure! I’m glad I’m not alone! 🙂

4 08 2015
Janine

I usually forget “L” too. I also like KTWL. The T is what they think they know and K is what they absolutely know.

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