Walk into most elementary classrooms and you will see graphs, charts, notes, predictions, important overarching concepts, and essential vocabulary words. You will also see, in all likelihood, numerous KWL Charts. For those who may not be familiar with the acronym and/or concept, a KWL chart is a commonly practiced strategy that classroom teachers use to activate background knowledge, allow for students’ input, and to highlight learned content. The acronym itself stands for: Know (What we already know about a topic beforehand), Want to know (What we want to know or learn over the course of our study), and Learn (What did we learn over the course of our study). KWL charts are the staple foods of a healthy elementary classroom.
However, KWL charts fall short in two critically important categories, especially when it comes to instruction in the sciences: proof and never-ending inquiry. Where is the proof or evidence of your learning? What particular sources can you identify to highlight or solidify learned concepts? Additionally, the traditional KWL chart seems to sweep any idea of continuous learning under the rug. Once you have “learned” something that is the end of the process. This closed-minded approach fails to accurately represent both the ideas of science as inquiry and the nature of science. Part of the beauty of being human is our innate capacity to build our new knowledge off of our background knowledge. We are always adding to our knowledge base. Scientists are always hypothesizing, collecting evidence, readjusting their hypotheses according to the data, and collecting more evidence. The process of learning is a never-ending cycle, not a linear model. Learning doesn’t simply end.
Enter the KLEW method. Take a minute and predict what this acronym stands for. I’ll give you a hint: Think proof and never-ending cycle of learning.
- K – What do we know? (A similar start to the KWL method.)
- L – What have we learned? (Why am I reading about this new acronym again?)
- E – What evidence do we have? (Ah! I see now!)
- W – What do we still want to know? (Wow. I see why you brought this to my attention.)
There are two distinct differences between the traditional KWL format and the KLEW approach. As I mentioned above, traditional KWL charts lack any opportunity for students to show their collective evidence that has aided in their understanding or mastery of content. Evidence is essential in science instruction today. However, it is equally important that we, as classroom teachers, demonstrate and articulate just how important evidence in the field of science. By dedicating an entire column to related proof or evidence, students not only see the overall importance, the process of always providing supporting evidence is being engrained in their educational habits.
Additionally, the KLEW format demonstrates that learning is never-ending. This idea is central to science instruction. In a similar way that the KLEW format allows for classroom teachers to articulate and exemplify the importance of providing evidence, so too does this final column. While traditional KWL charts are always advertised as “working documents,” meaning new content can always be added as new information is learned, the KLEW format explicitly articulates this expectation. When students fill up the final column with additional questions, they are demonstrating that new knowledge always leads to new questions. In other words, they are demonstrating to themselves the underlying idea in education that learning is never-ending.
While I have only experienced the KLEW format in a science classroom, I believe the strategy has a place across content areas. Specifically, I can see applications in language arts (a character study), social studies (while diving into current events), and mathematics (solving complex word problems).
While I am not attempting to bash the KWL chart strategy, I do believe that the KLEW format is superior. Think of KLEW as KWL 2.0. As our society is consistently changing and access to information is becoming easier, it is important that classroom teachers ingrain appropriate strategies to allow for students to excel. We need to develop successful 21st Century learners. Encouraging students to always find evidence and consistently ask and revisit questions are two essential life skills that can be addressed using the KLEW strategy.