This blog post by Sylvia Chard
The strategy known as KWL (which was originally designed to help students approach the reading of texts) is of questionable value in the context of a project. What seems to help teachers most for real world investigations through the Project Approach is EKWQ (which is more like a tongue twister than a mnemonic!).
E is for Experience; K is for Knowledge; W is for Wonder; Q is for Questions.
In the first phase of a project the teacher takes the role of an ethnographer, someone who finds out about the experiences of a group of people and learns by various strategies how that group of people construe those experiences, that is, their knowledge.
Throughout the first week or more of a project, the students reflect on their experiences of the topic and share what they have experienced with their classmates. This sharing is facilitated when the students first reflect on and represent their experiences in some way. The can tell stories, write, draw pictures, label drawings, make paintings and collages, make clay models, construct with blocks, role play, etc.
They can also research their classmates' experience through interviewing each other and doing surveys to find out about each other's experiences. This research of their classmates involves students in rehearsing interview techniques, taking notes, data collection and representation of the group's collective experience in graphs and charts of various kinds. In these ways the students share and deepen their prior knowledge.
The teacher's role is to support the use of a variety of investigative and representational strategies. S/he also has a special responsibility to encourage the students to reflect on their experiences and explain them. As students explain their experiences they develop theories about how and why things might be the way they remember them. During the first phase of a project interest can be developed in the topic especially because the students are the experts. They know what they have experienced and they reflect on what they know.
Throughout this process students wonder about the different experiences and explanations their classmates offer. The teacher's ethnographic role extends to coordinating the work produced so that all can become aware of what has been learned and can develop a collective baseline understanding. This basic knowledge can be the foundation of the collaborative research process ahead of the students in the second phase of the project.
The wondering is a by-product of the growing interest the students experience in the topic of the project. Out of the wondering comes the desire to question. In these times of immediate, electronically available answers to questions, the question itself becomes increasingly important.
KWL may be a good strategy for the reading of texts, and perhaps also in thematic units, but it is not enough for a project and can even inhibit the development of interest, which is built to last in the early part of a project. If a mnemonic helps you to remember the process, the following is the one: EKWQ (even if you may have to practice it in the shower!)
This Blog post is written by Sylvia Chard and updates a section on the former web site. Reference will be made to this EKWQ blog post in the Study Guide (download free from the top right part of the home page).