The Mushroom Man, written by Ethel Pochocki, is a complicated lesson in friendship. It is a good selection for shared inquiry because it requires students to interpret the character's motives and inner thoughts. Its vivid prose captures students' attention as they continually inference, predict, and analyze the character's motives to gain understanding of the story. These are complex tasks students must practice in order to find the central message of this story, revolving around an eccentric, lonely man who works in a mushroom farm. He is an outcast of society who strives to find companionship.
As I present the Shared Inquiry Flip Chart, I focus on three types of questions that students need to understand: factual, interpretive, and evaluative. Once we review the definitions and examples, students learn that shared inquiry uses interpretive questions to guide its discussions because it requires text based evidence. Students do not need background information or personal experiences to answer interpretive questions because it can be attained from the text.
We also discuss that it is important to read for different purposes. For this lesson, we will have a first and second reading. When we read for different purposes, we peel the layers of the story and find its hidden meaning. I review the instructions for first and second readings that is on the flip chart after discussing the purpose of each.
Because of the complexity of this text, I chose to read aloud to my students for the first reading. As I read aloud, I instruct students to write notes on their post its using symbols and phrases as follows:
+ anything important
? anything confusing
! anything that you feel strongly about
Students are informed to listen attentively because they will be sharing their notes at the end of this reading. I also tell them that there are hidden meanings in this story that requires them to become story detectives and find clues. Therefore, students are held accountable for Note Taking and writing their reactions to text and sticking their post its on that section of text that inspired these reactions.
I partner students who are compatible together for the second reading. Students read the story together with their partner. They convert their notes from the first reading into Interpretive Questions during their second reading. Students also use a Partner Rubric to make sure they are contributing wholeheartedly to their partners. Again, the rubric gives ownership to the students because they are made accountable to their partners. Also, the rubric gives not just a numeric score, but descriptive details on the quality of partnership students are striving for.
In order for the partner rubric to work effectively, I established a culture of learning that encourages students to support one another. This nourishing environment was not created in one day. I started introducing the Cooperative Groups norms, roles, rules the first day of school. Students had discussions, modeling, and role playing regarding behavior during partnering and group collaborating. Then, I introduce the assessment rubrics and explained to students that a rubric is a map towards a goal. We must help each other follow that map by looking after one another so no one gets lost along the way. Once students understand the purpose of rubrics, hurt feelings are alleviated because the focus is on the action or skill, not the person. I also encourage students to celebrate successes. Balancing strengths and weakness during rubric assessments is an effective way to rate someone's performance. Through the continuous practice of expected behavior, students develop interpersonal skills. Non-cognitive skills, such as social skills, needs to be taught and reinforced.
At the end of this lesson, students share their interpretive questions with the class. We analyze these questions and select one for Day 2 of this lesson. Day 2 will focus on the shared inquiry discussion session using the selected interpretive question to guide the discussion.
Students complete the partner rubric and partners give feed back to each other. Students constructively communicate their performance as well as their partners, using the rubric to indicate strengths and weaknesses in specific performance.
Interpretive questions have more than one answer. The frequency of the question that students ask during the note taking process indicates that students have a natural curiosity about this particular topic. That curiosity leads students to back to the text to find answers. I select the question that arises most frequently because it naturally motivates students to search for text evidence that supports their perspective. The class chose the interpretive question: " Why did the mole and the mushroom man become friends ?"