Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century: Introduction

This is the beginning post in a three part series of posts around the KWHLAQ chart and its use for reflection, metacognition and documenting learning.

A Brief History

Most educators (at least in the English speaking world) first encountered the KWL graphic organizer or “KWL chart,”  during their undergrad university years in educational courses. Educators who have been teaching since before the 1980’s might have been introduced to the popular chart as a teaching strategy in teacher training sessions. According to Wikipedia, Donna Ogle introduced the KWL teaching model in 1986.

Previous adaptations/extensions of the KWL chart include KLEW, which places emphasis on observation and documentation of evidence. (“K” What students know of a topic, “L” -what is being learned, “E” for evidence that supports the learning previously described, and “W” for wondering, which leaves room for further questions).

Another adaptation added an “H” between the original “W” and “L” to create the KWHL acronym to place emphasis on HOW will I find out what I want to know?

John Barell added in his book  Why are School Buses always Yellow?, two more letters to the mix to create KWHLAQ, “A” for What ACTION will I take? And “Q” for What further QUESTIONS do I have?

The Acronym

The acronym “ KWHLAQ” stands for:

K- What do I know?
This step asks the learner to brainstorm what he/she already thinks they know about a given topic. It allows for space to connect previous knowledge to a current topic of inquiry.

W- What do I want to know?
This step embodies the answer to the question of “Who owns the learning?.” It supports self-motivated learning which is a critical component when looking at depth of learning. This step allows the learner to think about their needs and interests and to develop an articulation of deeper level questions.

H-How will I find out?
This step is at the heart of information literacy and the skills to find, analyze, evaluate, connect and curate information that will serve our learning. This step allows for exposure to and amplification of traditional means of locating information (traditionally from books, articles, magazines, online websites) to potentially include information crowdsourcing through a social media network or platform, from images or video searches, through hashtags or video conferencing.

L-What have I learned?
This step is the reflective component in the process. John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from the experience, we learn from reflecting on the experience.” Reflection can be added at the end of the process or be compiled as the process of learning is unfolding. This step allows the learner to stop, look back, look ahead, make connections, make predictions, pay attention to patterns and trends and look for the implications of their learning.

A- What action will I take?
This step connects what you have learned in the classroom to the real world. How will the learner apply their new found understanding creatively in other contexts or with other content? The action taken gives the learning content authenticity. The response in this step will give the student the answer to the question “Why do I have to learn this?”

Q- What further questions do I have? This step helps to reinforce the idea that learning is a lifelong, interconnected process, and that one question leads to another. This step reinforces that we are not “done” when a unit is over, a book is read or a project is completed. Learning is not contained to a single subject area, limited by the calendar age of a learner or the curriculum dictations.

Action Steps

Now that you have looked into the brief history of the KWL graphic organizer, its update to embed 21st-century skills and literacies and identified the meaning of the KWHLAQ acronym,  take a moment to consider what you can do to

Use KWHLAQ chart for your own learning as a lifelong learner
The best way to understand the power of using a pedagogical tool for learning is to experience its power in your own learning process. As you are involved in professional development or specific initiatives, projects or reading a PD book,  take the time to use the graphic organizer to make your thinking and learning visible, document your learning, reflect on your learning and share your learning with colleagues or via a social media network. Be cognizant of how your learning is affected as you are using the KWHLAQ as a structure to guide your process. How could you adapt, use and expose your students to these types of learning experiences?

Use KWHLAQ chart with students
Using the chart with your students provides you with the opportunity to pre-assess and learn more about your students thinking during the process of learning, giving you ample opportunities to differentiate for individual students, use data from the chart to inform further teaching or revise previously created lesson or unit plans.

Word Bank

  • 21st century skills: Skills that are increasingly important for all people to be competent, educated citizens. The 5 C’s of communicating, collaborating, connecting, creating and critical thinking are skills that lead to the capabilities of developing capacity in an amplified way and support 21st century literacies.
  • 21st century literacies: These literacies expand beyond the basic literacy of knowing how to read, write and communicate our ideas effectively. Under 21st century literacies, also known as contemporary, modern or “now”  literacies, we understand global literacy, media literacy, network literacy, information literacy and digital citizenship.
  • Metacognition: The awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. Thinking about your thinking.
  • KWL: Acronym that stands for “What do you KNOW?, What do you WANT to know? What have you LEARNED?” The KWL routine is used as a chart and graphic organizer for students to guide their learning process.
  • KWHLAQ: The extended version of KWL was What do you KNOW?, What do you WANT to know? HOW will you find out? What have you LEARNED? What ACTION will you take? What further QUESTIONS do you still have?” Based on John Barell’s chart from his book” Why are School Buses always Yellow?
  • VTR- Visible Thinking Routine: from Project Zero “ Visible Thinking makes extensive use of learning routines that are thinking-rich. These routines are simple structures, for example, a set of questions or a short sequence of steps, that can be used across various grade levels and content. What makes them routines, versus merely strategies, is that they get used over and over again in the classroom so that they become part of the fabric of classroom culture. The routines become the ways in which students go about the process of learning. “
  • Crowdsourcing: obtain (information or input into a particular task or project) by enlisting the services of a number of people, typically via the Internet.
  • Sketchnotes: are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines (definition from Mike Rohde, The Sketchnote Handbook).
  • Pedagogical Documentation: “Pedagogical documentation is about more than recording events – it is a means to learning about how children think and learn” (Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years )
  • Annotexting: “Annotexting is a process that involves the collection of thoughts, observations and reactions to reading that show evidence of critical thought.

This was the beginning post in a three part series of posts around the KWHLAQ chart and its use for reflection, metacognition and documenting learning.