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Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century

July 21, 2011 21st Century Learning, Featured Carousel, Learning 25 Comments

One of the take aways from the Curriculum Mapping Institute this past week was that it brought an upgrade to THE trusted KWL (Know, What to Know and Learned) Chart to the forefront. It seems a no brainer…one of those things… “I should have thought about it”… So what is this upgrade all about?

An “H” snuck into the Acronym!

  • What does this “H” stand for”?
  • Why is this an upgrade for the 21st century?

I started out by searching Google, which immediately wanted to correct my search term and showed me  the traditional “KWL chart” results. I had to re-affirm that I indeed wanted to find out more about KWHL charts. (The nerve…!)

The  top search results turned out mostly downloadable files for templates, which was quiet interesting as there were several explanations in these tutorials what the “H” could stand for:

  • HOW can we find the answers to these questions?
  • HOW can we find out what we want to learn?
  • HOW did the learning take place?
  • HOW can we learn more?
  • HOW will we find the information?

In direct relation to our quest to bring Information literacy in the 21st century to our teachers and students, the “HOW will we find the information” sticks out right away for me. A chart, that points out “knowing HOW to get to information”, which  highlights essential skills in the Information age, seems of vital importance when planning lessons and units as well as teaching the process to our students.

My Twitter network was much better in helping me extend my search for KWHL.  The tweet from my friend Chic Foote from New Zealand even revealed a further extension by including “AQ” to the mix: Apply and Question.


OK, so we have doubled the length of the original acronym. We have a total of three new sections in the famous chart.

The search for “KWHLAQ” immediately took me to Maggie Hos-McGrane from Switzerland (How could I have not ended up at her excellent blog Tech Transformation? :) ) Maggie wrote a great explanation post about the letters that make up the Alphabet Soup- KWHLAQ.  Maggie is putting the acronym in relationship to the PYP (IB Primary Years Programme) model at her school? She assigns the following explanation to the three “new” letters in the acronym

H – How will we find out the answers to our questions?  Students need to think about what resources are available to help them find the answers.

A – What action will we take?  This is another way of asking how students are applying what they have learned.  Action is one of the 5 essential elements of the PYP and it is an expectation of the PYP that inquiry will lead to responsible action initiated by students as a result of the learning process.

Q – What new questions do we have?  At the end of a unit of inquiry there should be time to reflect on whether we have successfully addressed our initial questions and whether we have come with with other questions.  Actually, if the unit is successful I believe there should be more questions – we should not be “done” with learning.

As Maggie used the PYP model as the base for her rational of the expansion of the traditional KWL chart, I am looking at it through the 21st century skills and literacies lens.

H- HOW will we find the information to answer “What we want to know?”
Information Literacy is one of literacies educators and students seem to have the most trouble with. Not being able to find the information we need or having to wonder if the information is accurate often gets blamed on the OVERLOAD of information being produced and disseminated online, as well as the fact that ANYONE can contribute. We need to have the skills to be able to deal with the amount of information by learning how to filter that information through a variety of means. What better way to integrate the “H” into our learning inquiries in order to find, evaluate, analyze, organize, curate and remix information.

A- What ACTION will we take once we learned what we set out to learn?
There used to be a time… (when I was at school) that information was set in stone (well, it was written in black and white on paper, bound in a book). I could not really add my perspective or new information that I learned from my teacher, family, friends or from experience to the “book”.  Issues that we learned about, where (mostly) far removed (time and geographically) from our reality. How could one student accomplish change beyond their immediate surroundings? How could one student affect change? The reality of feeling helpless beyond our neighborhood has changed. Tools to reach and collaborate with a worldwide audience are available and free to use. Making students aware of their power and the opportunities available to take action is imperative.

    Q- What QUESTIONS do we have?
    The “Q” immediately brought Bill Sheskey’s quote from the book Curriculum21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs to mind.
    Bill has summed up the upgrade of the KWL-chart for me. It is not about delivering the answers anymore. In the 21st century, being able to ask the questions (and continuing asking)  is the skill we need to instill in our students. Learning is not confined to a textbook, the walls of a classroom or peers and experts who are physically in the same location. Learning is open ended…we strive to be life-long learners. Why would a chart end with the question “What have I learned?”. Let’s leave the chart open ended with “What (new) questions do I still have?

    I have learned in the past that when planning with teachers in upgrading their units, chart templates have been a welcomed addition. It creates a manageable overview of what we need to consider as we strategically upgrade to the 21st century. Using templates also can show, over time, the different skills, literacies and roles to empower learners that have been touched upon. Templates such as these, when used consistently, can support teachers as they are struggling with 21st century fluency.

    What are your thoughts on adding the “How to find the information?”,”What Action will you take?” and “What new Questions do you have?”?  How do these additions relate to good practice in education for the 21st century?

    How have you used KWL, KWHL or KWHLAQ charts in planning and/or with your students?

    Currently there are "25 comments" on this Article:

    1. I love how you incorporated 21st century thinking into something we already do! Absolutely fabulous!

      One thing I like to do with any version of KWL is to add an “O” at the end. The “O” stands for “Organize” — What I mean by that is, take the KWL chart and organize it into a mind map/bubble map (or outline) placing the bits and pieces into organized categories. It really helps the students reflect, process, and bring all the new ideas together in something that makes sense to them. So very constructivist, I know.

      Thanks again for this post!

      Kind regards,
      Tracy Watanabe

    2. Bonnie says:

      We’ve adapted our KWL chart to incorporate Tony Stead’s philosophy of recording ‘What I think I know’ in the K column. It is interesting how many misconceptions students have on the topic they are studying.

    3. John Golden says:

      I like the idea of the columns to organize, but why wouldn’t your questions go under what you want to know? Also not sure I see the difference between How am I going to find out and actions to take. But I really like the idea of H – should help metacognition. Then L could be what did I learn about my questions and how I did it.

    4. Sue Hellman says:

      I think the W should be some sort of ‘Why’ question to help students connect the new learning to what they know in a personally meaningful way. We should be making time to go into the reason for the learning : why is this of value to me? why do I want to go to all the trouble of learning this? why is it important, significant. or useful?

    5. Jane Krauss says:

      Backing up to KWL (but not ready to suggest an added letter)… It’s important to examine the “Know” a bit right on the spot. Ron Ritchhart in the Visible Thinking group at Harvard suggests adding a step– When you ask kids what they know, follow with “…and what makes you say that?” This reveals certainty or may lead to investigation (“Let’s see if we can find out”) It’s another chance for metacognition and I think it’s a worthwhile step.

    6. Shelley says:

      Brilliant! Like you, I’m asking myself why I haven’t thought of this already? It seems so obvious. I will be using this chart in my Computer Lab this year. It will help both students and teachers to understand what I mean when I talk about research and information literacy, and put it firmly at the forefront of their thinking. I think I’ll stick with KWHLQ though because the A part is problematic – many communication tools & resources are blocked in my district, AND, teachers don’t want to spend the time in place of “pressing standards-based curriculum that will be on The Test.”

    7. tsasser says:

      Why not use the A to have students ask, “What action am I going to take as a result of what I’ve learned?” It’s nice to learn new things, but it’s even better if they can do something with what they’ve learned–like make changes in their community or school or share their new knowledge with others.

      • tsasser says:

        Sorry, I meant to add this as reply to those who feel like the A doesn’t fit into the new paradigm. Obviously, the article points out the action should be a result of the learning that has taken place;)

    8. Arnold Flint says:

      This article highlights how dependent we are on Google as a source to find reliable information. i agree with Sue, “why” could also be used as well. How about R for results at the end of it?
      It is great that it helps Kids to think deeper into learning and analyzing.

    9. [...] I was reading through some of the feeds in my Google Reader, I came across this blog about the KWL chart.  I thought yeah, maybe we should add the H for how will I find the answers to [...]

    10. [...] Collaborative Time to Reflect on 1-6 in the classroom or your area (perhaps KWHLAQ) [...]

    11. Kate Todd says:

      Hi Sandra
      Reading your article is food for thought. I have been using the KWHL chart for a little while now, which I got from http://www.readingquest.org/pdf/kwl_mod.pdf, as I liked the format. Your article highlights how to use this chart more effectively in my classroom, so that the students use this as a reference point for their learing. I have only been using it as a way of getting them to think about the topic. It seems adding the “A” and “Q” it becomes a whole learning process that students participate in. Definitely something to ponder…

    12. azim says:

      I like this version as we need to add action as this work needs to be authentic and apply to real life. The Q at the end is also critical as new learning should bring new questions…. perhaps this should be a sort of circle map as this continues to stimulate new learning. This reminds me a bit of the Big 6 information literacy thinking.

    13. @HowePrincipal I first heard about it this Fall &I just findmy Ss apply it better with the A at the end. This is source
      http://t.co/kosL8r0Q

    14. Worth a look back. How is a great q. Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century | Langwitches Blog http://t.co/VvgwEQ36iZ #etmooc

    15. Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century http://t.co/9rZCGBJeCv

    16. “@DanLaw7: Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century http://t.co/BrzIpEbWg8”

    17. @MllyMrphy says:

      Make Your KWL Chart More Current and Relevant
      Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century http://t.co/yUtzwUFoIi

    18. […] it is the same blog post I read which inspired me to first use the chart to guide my PBL project: Upgrade Your KWL Chart to the 21st Century. Through this chart, I found that my students were most interested in doing some sort of project […]

    19. […] and curious about the topic.  I like the updated version with “H” for How can I learn. Here is a link to a blog describing […]

    20. […] and curious about the topic.  I like the updated version with “H” for How can I learn. Here is a link to a blog describing […]

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