Generating Research Conversation with “The Wheel”
Terry Elliot, Western Kentucky University Writing Project, February 2016
I have a semester-long research “thing” that all of my students take part in. I call it a “thing” because it could range from a standard research paper (their default setting I fear) to an extended informational blog to ebooks to collaborative handbooks. The purpose of this early assignment is to get them thinking first about their personal and disciplinary passions AND connecting those with their immediate community in the classroom. Passion and connection.
I also introduce a really effective sharing technique that I call the “wheel”. The wheel allows students to get up, move around, converse, and then sit back down to reflect. I love how it seems to be a whole activity, a gestalt. The “wheel” can be easily adapted for other purposes. In fact the next assignment is for participants to reduce their original list of ten to five topics that they then turn into research questions. Rinse and repeat.
Here is the Friday assignment:
- Bring 10 ideas/concepts/things that you are curious about to class on Friday. Make sure at least five of them are from your major/discipline. These are topics. It doesn’t yet matter that they are too big, too small or just right.
- Make sure you the tutor, as facilitator, have ten of these ideas/concepts/things as well.
- Count off students around the room as either “one” or “two“. Have the “ones” form a loose circle in the center of the room. Have them face outward from the center. Get the “twos” to pair off with the “ones“.
- Participants introduce themselves to each other.
- The twos will tell the ones about their listicle of ten items.
- The facilitator can either participate or listen from the side and take notes (or not). When the facilitator senses completion between the ones and twos (plus a little extra time) she announces, “Switch clockwise.”
- Repeat the conversations until the participants return to their original positions.
- Repeat the “wheel” with the inner ring rotating and telling their listicle of ten.
- After completion sit closely together (or standing) do a “post-mortem”. I practice ultimate time here. I ask the question and wait until I have a response.
Here are some questions I use:
- any discoveries made?
- which one of all the items did you like the best? explain.
- which one of your own items did you like the most? explain.
- did you drop any items for consideration as a research topic?
- how did you share your list?
- did you get better at sharing your list? explain.
- are there items you might cross off your list after this exercise? what are they?
This is messy, but it is all about the idea that students are part of a research community who can help each other. I always leave time for some social dynamics. I have five or more students in each of my classes who are not native speakers. This allows them to practice speaking and the repetition allows them to feel more and more comfortable as they work with their classmates. Often students discover what not to research. Others find something else that someone else shared seems to fit their needs. By keeping the exercise as open as possible, keeping the initial conditions simple, then I believe that the resulting mess can be extremely productive.
Anything here can be adapted. Participants can be facilitators. You can vary the tempo of the “switching”. In other words, it can be a game with no definite outcome in mind. Whatever comes will come. If it fails, ask them why it fails. In fact make sure you include time for an exit slip at the end for feedback for making it better and make sure you use that feedback to begin the exercise the next time you use it.
I love this technique. It can be fast or slow. It can be interrupted or completed. It is adaptable. It gets students moving forward and ‘keeping on’. And best of all you can move the class toward community and conversation. Always be connecting is my mantra and this little tool is a happy way to do that. But remember the advice of weightlifters: all lifting programs work until they don’t. They will come to view this as routine if you use it willy nilly. Make sure you vary it or better yet have other ‘music’ in your conductor’s repertoire to mix it up.
Terry Elliot says: I am a father, a husband, a farmer and a teacher. I have taught K-12 for ten years and university for ten years. My areas of interest are digital rhetoric and composition, tech pedagogy and connectivist MOOCs. I have been a tech liaison for the Western Kentucky University Writing Project, a facilitator for three years for the National Writing Project’s CLMOOC, and a tech advisor for my university’s technology advisory group. I have several online presences including my blog here: http://impedagogy.com/wp/ as well as on Twitter: @telliowkuwp or @tellio . My current interests include online research methods, RSS technology, multimodal rhetoric, and social annotation.