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Folder Walk

by Virginia Lockwood, staff developer and consultant, District 2 New York City

Grade Level: K-2

Topic: Shark Unit

A description of the "folder walk," seen in the video clip of Virgina Lockwood's classroom.

One of the most important things to consider during an inquiry is how to document the learning throughout the process. One way is to establish folders as a place for students to organize their efforts. They need to plan for action, collect their thoughts, questions, "wonderings," and ideas, and gather other things such as articles, brochures, maps, and other artifacts connected to the inquiry.

I typically introduce the idea of a folder about a week into our first inquiry of the year. I gather all of the students' work in a large folder. Then, I engage the students in a conversation about what I've noticed, having read lots of their work. By this point, they have already met in partnerships and shared some of their initial thinking in small groups, so I usually have them share with the whole group some of the ideas they have heard from other student scientists in the room.

Next, I ask them if they think it's a good idea to have their individual science folders, since all their ideas are smart, and so varied. We discuss some pieces together and share thoughts about what we notice the scientist doing to "think on paper." We discuss the variations in the use of sketching, drawing, labeling, writing, jotting, etc.

Every time the class is engaged in the inquiry time of our day, the students have their folders with them. They may be working on a clipboard or in a book using sticky-notes to jot ideas, but the work will ultimately be added to the folder. Time needs to be scheduled for students to share their folders in partnerships or in small groups on a regular basis. (I usually allow for this at the end of an inquiry time or first thing in the morning.) This sends a message of expected accountability. It also stretches the students' thinking by exposing them to ideas they may not have thought of. If the learning community has been carefully cultivated, this is a fantastic opportunity for children to debate, defend, and clarify their ideas.

As often as possible, I take moments to share examples of things I discover in individual folders with the whole class. I am looking for things like life connections that connect to the inquiry, "noticings" that lead to new "wonderings," letters that may lead to social action, lists of questions, plans to gather new data, etc. This is essential if we want to provide many entry points into authentic work in order to engage each and every scientist in the room. The "folder walk" can happen very early on and throughout the study. The folder that will be shared should be very carefully and purposefully chosen by the teacher and agreed upon by the student. It should also be shared publicly with the entire class. I explain to the students that we are "checking in with one of the scientists in our class." I try to highlight the variety as well as the clear purpose for the pieces included in the folder.

The child whose work is being shared should be actively involved in the "folder walk" and should be questioned about the thinking behind certain entries. I try to speak during the share with a tone of total expectation. Our youngest scientists need to know that we maintain a high standard for their level of engagement regardless of their learning styles.

The folder walk is a powerful structure in the inquiry classroom. It has the potential to:

* reinforce the expectation of engaged and rigorous involvement

* highlight a variety of ways to "think on paper"

* model ways for students to share their work with each other in productive ways

* strengthen the learning community in the classroom

* push the level of thinking about the topic being studied

* build on the belief that research can often lead to social action and/or outreach

* celebrate the work of a variety of students from a variety of learning styles

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