I just spent a great afternoon with an elementary school staff in our school division talking about inquiry in the classroom. Part of the afternoon was participating in the RAN strategy. (See Reality Checks by Tony Stead). The RAN strategy stands for Reading and Analyzing Non-Fiction and the power of this approach is the connection that it makes to non-fiction texts and research skills. I have used KWL charts with my students and always found that we lost momentum or didn’t ever get to the meat of the process which is the reflection on what we learned. I would find that my students were hesitant to share their prior knowledge of a topic and didn’t really know what they wanted to learn. So, my KWL chart would start out with great intentions but would be quickly forgotten as we moved through our unit.
The RAN strategy provides a structure that is safe and motivating for students. It naturally takes students through a process of inquiry that requires research and encourages wondering. The steps for the RAN are as follows:
- Brainstorm “What I think I know”. Students don’t have to feel like they have to be experts on this topic already and it allows them to share information even if they don’t know if it’s right or wrong.
- Research to determine “Confirmations” and “Misconceptions”. Students cite resources that confirm a fact or fix up a misconception about an idea. I think identifying misconceptions is so important so that students can be able to remove information that is taking up brain space for other, accurate pieces of information.
- Keep track of “New Information” that has come out of the research process and identify any new “Wonderings” that they have after focusing on a topic.
This process could go throughout an entire unit or only take a couple of days at the beginning of an inquiry project. The teacher will be able to determine how much prior knowledge students have about a topic and can help to scaffold and adapt the support individual students may need as they begin the research process.
I have had the opportunity to do the RAN strategy with Grade 1 students all the way up to adults and it has been successful each time. But it has also looked a little different with each group. The biggest difference that I have noticed is that the younger groups have more misconceptions and adults have almost none. I don’t think this is because adults have more knowledge, I think it is because adults have more fear. They don’t want to be wrong so when they are asked to brainstorm what they think they know, they still only write down things they are sure of and they don’t include the facts that they might not have all the answers to. Younger grades just dump their brains out on the page and let it all out! It’s so interesting to see what kinds of things they keep in their little brains. When does the fear of being wrong start? How can teachers help students question and wonder without worrying about being right or wrong?
I encourage you to check out the RAN strategy and give it a try and I would love for you to write a comment about your own experiences with RAN in your classroom.