…And Away We Go! (Post Two, Part One)

Hello, again! I’m back to talk your ear off about our current unit.  (Warning: I anticipate that this post will be considerably lengthier than my first!)  I want to share what we’ve done so far for each phase of the unit, as well as my reflection on what worked and what I might do differently next time.  But first, a little background.

As I said in my first post, this is my fourth year at Whittier.  Perhaps my favorite thing about our school is that we get to work with such terrific grade-level teams.  I was especially grateful for this my first year (because let’s be honest- I had absolutely no idea WHAT I was doing).  I was lucky enough to have a seasoned veteran teacher on my team- whom I had student taught under the previous spring- and she let me come into her room on our planning period every single day to go over lesson plans in meticulous detail. (Shoutout, Leah! I’m eternally grateful.) Unlike most first year teachers, I didn’t struggle under the burden of designing my own curriculum- it was there, ready and waiting for me.  Together with the rest of our team, we made some changes over the next few years (as all good teachers do), but one thing that remained was our research unit.

And what was that, you  may ask?  The short answer (and I know, because I typed the long one and then realized how boring it was, AGAIN) is career research.  Students looked at the results of their Explore test interest inventory and explored a career database for jobs that were interesting to them, and then followed a formula we gave them to create a five paragraph essay about the job they chose (I’m not really sure if Explore has been a thing other places do, but it’s an ACT-aligned standardized test.  The point is moot anyway, because this year was its last year).

My first year, I had no issues with this assignment.  It seemed challenging for the kids, but I got good results, and we all moved on. But the next year, it seemed that the unit was considerably easier for the students, and (who would have guessed?) they were even more considerably less engaged.  And the NEXT year, those changes were even more pronounced.  The unit was basically cake for my students, and they were bored out of their minds (and I was even more bored grading those papers, which were all about architects and anesthesiologists, because that’s who makes the most money, of course).  I’m not saying any of this to criticize that unit or the teachers that came before us who developed it- I think it was perfect for those students at that time.  But our students are different, and it was time for us to be different, as well.

Okay. So remember those gibberish happy hour conversations with the librarians that I mentioned in my first post?  It was at one of those when I finally posed the question, “Um, guys? Do you think I could do this? Like, in my classroom?” The answer, obviously, was a resounding YES.  When I learned that I would be able to attend the GID Institute (and later, that another member of my team could attend, as well), it was agreed that those in attendance would develop an Inquiry unit around the subject of Natural Phenomena, and THAT is what I want to share with all of you, phase by phase.  However, I think I’m going to run out of room.  So in the rest of this post, I’ll cover Open, Immerse, and Explore, and in a second (and probably shorter) post, I’ll share what we did- or rather, are doing- our kiddos are in Create this week-  for Identify, Gather, Create, Share, and Evaluate. So…away we go! 

Here was our starting question: What are the social, environmental, and economical effects of natural phenomena?  We structured the question this way so that students could choose one of those areas to explore further, OR those three topics could serve as a natural scaffold to students who struggled with developing their own topic.


We used the Dust Bowl as our starting point for the conversation about natural phenomena.  As Oklahomans, our kiddos have all heard at least something about the Dust Bowl, so we wanted to connect to that prior knowledge, as well as engage their hearts and minds with something that, for lack of a better phrase, hits home.  Here was our very first activity:

open1                                            open2

Students wrote for five minutes, and then I asked for volunteers to share.  Although Oklahoma History is technically a ninth grade course, some more advanced students elect to take it in eighth grade, and some of those knew that this was an iconic Dust Bowl photograph.  When they pointed that out, that made a terrific segue into our next Open activity, which was to watch this five-minute Dust Bowl video.  


We also looked  at the following rare Dust Bowl photographs:


My kiddos were interested in the video, but they were REALLY into the pictures, especially of the ones that are of downtown Oklahoma City, since that’s so close to our city of Norman and a place almost all the kids are familiar with. After the video and pictures, in their groups, students had a conversation about how they thought the Dust Bowl affected Oklahoma, and each student wrote one of those on a sticky note.  Then they identified which of our categories it would fit in- economical, environmental, or social, and placed their sticky note on the large poster for that area.  Students then participated in a gallery walk, where they went from poster to poster to read what other students came up with.  

Reflection: I was so happy with the choices our team made for Open.  The students were engaged (my favorite!) and I listened to so many conversations between students as they moved around the room.  To my recollection (it’s been a few weeks!) the only thing that presented a problem was the schedule.  We scheduled one day for Open, and we just barely had time.  In a perfect world, I would love to have more time to spend on this activity.  In my actual world, I would probably look for ways to streamline the activity to fit into that class period and adjust my pacing so the kids didn’t feel as rushed near the end of class.  



After opening with the Dust Bowl, we wanted to expose students to a wider variety of natural phenomena, as well as give them an idea of how our three areas- economical, social, environmental- come into play.  To do that, we designated three days for the Immerse phase.

Day 1: Students had bellwork immediately upon arrival to class.  They were tasked to list as many examples of natural phenomena as they could think of, and then we had a brief share out.



Then we looked at as many examples of natural phenomena as we could! We started with some that are more familiar and moved to more exotic examples.  All the links to articles and videos are below:







As we looked and watched, students generated as many questions as they could think of about any phenomenon that caught their attention.  Near the end of class, we shared our questions first with shoulder partners, then with the whole class.

Day 2: For our second day of Immerse, we had a panel of experts visit our school.  We had a representative from each our three areas- someone from the Weather Center for environmental, a volunteer from the Red Cross for social, and a member of the Norman Fire Department for economic.  Our experts spoke to each class period, and we combined our four classes in the library.  That gave us an audience of about a hundred kids for each presentation.  Our volunteers spoke for about fifteen minutes each regarding their area of expertise.

Day 3: Students were put into their inquiry groups and spent time reflecting on the expert panel.  They identified what they learned from each of the experts and what they were still wondering as a group, and then spent time individually deciding what question most interested them.  They wrote that question on a sticky not and placed it on the appropriate poster- social, economic, or environmental.  Students then participated in a gallery walk to observe other students’ questions.

expert                           expert2

Reflection: Again, I felt like this part of the process went incredibly well.  My favorite day was day one, because the kids were so incredibly riveted by the pictures and videos.  I had reservations at first about designating three days for Immerse, but it really was worthwhile time.  



Our goal for Explore was to present students with a wide variety of curated resources.  To that end, we arranged a rotation of six research stations.  For two days, students moved between three stations in a class period.  The stations were photographs, literature, internet, books, articles, and videos.  They spent a little less than fifteen minutes in each station, and the teacher at the station provided resources for them to explore.  Each student had an adapted version of an inquiry log, as seen below:

                                                                        explore1                                explore 2

Reflection: This was a more challenging phase for me.  I do think the research stations were the way to go- we were able to focus on just one area rather than trying to teach all six, and we were able to divide our classes in half and work with smaller groups.  The challenge was the short amount of time we had with each group.  I struggled because I was teaching the lesson about articles, and they ended up without enough time to actually explore.  When we discussed extending it, the problem we ran into was that stations such as photography were barely able to feel the time they  had.  In spite of the crunched time, I’m so glad we did the research stations.  I’m not sure how we might address that next year, but I do think that we would take the same station approach.  

So, there are our first three phases! As you can see, we were SO busy in class, but it was time very well spent.  Students were engaged, they were moving, they were asking questions all on their own.  I feel like the visual aides may not be of the best quality, so the link below is to the google folder, where all of these resources are stored.


Thank you so much for reading my lengthy post.  I should say that there’s no way I could have dreamed up and implemented this unit all on my own- it would never have happened without these amazing people: Jane Fisher, Leah Esker, and Adrienne Hall (8th grade Language Arts); Cynthia Charboneau (Instructional Coach), Cindy Castell (Gifted Resource Coordinator), and Kristin Lankford and Terri Curtis (Librarian and Library Assistant).  You all ROCK.  Everyone, stay tuned for part two on Thursday!


Getting Started

Happy Monday, GID-ers!  If it’s snowy where you are, I hope you’re staying warm.  As for us in Oklahoma, I’ve barely needed a sweater this week, and we have not a single snow day in sight.  I’m so excited to have this opportunity to share with all of you our exciting Guided Inquiry Unit, but first, a little about me.


My name is Paige Holden.  I’m a third generation teacher from a huge family full of teachers (I’ll leave you to imagine what that does to holiday dinner table conversation).  Aside from my family, friends, and my sweet puppy, my great loves are coloring, reading self-help and young adult realistic fiction books, and watching basically every cop show on Netflix.

I’m in my fourth year of teaching at Whittier Middle School in Norman, Oklahoma (Insert enthusiastic football references here. Which would be great if I knew anything about football). This year, I’m teaching eighth grade Language Arts and Reading for Pleasure, and in the past I’ve taught several reading intervention classes.  I’ve also coached many years of cheerleading.  In my five classes, I teach about one hundred twenty fourteen year olds (I KNOW- but I love them!). That’s a hundred and twenty out of over three hundred eighth graders, and we serve grades six through eight. Our school is home to a little over eleven hundred students total- the largest of Norman’s four middle schools.

Of our students, thirty percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch, about fourteen percent qualify for special services, forty percent are considered gifted, and four percent are English language learners. Because of the diversity of our student population, it’s critical that we incorporate engagement, differentiation, and student choice into our learning environment at every opportunity.

I was first exposed to Guided Inquiry last year because all of my friends are librarians. (No, really.  All of them.) At first all their happy hour talk about GID was complete gibberish, but as I heard more about what they were doing, I was intrigued.  The first thing that attracted me was that Guided Inquiry involved choice and collaboration- two ingredients that are essential in my classroom.

Then, in December, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the team from Whittier that attended the three day Guided Inquiry Institute, taught by Leslie, that was sponsored by our district.  (I have to stop right here and say how lucky I am to work in a district that values and invests in quality professional development, as well as trusts its teachers to try new things in the classroom.) Getting there wasn’t easy, (making three days of sub plans for eighth graders is NO. JOKE.) but I couldn’t have imagined a more worthwhile experience.  I worked closely with a terrific team of collaborators and at the end of three days, we had not only a completed unit and a plethora of new strategies to take back to our classrooms, but also the confidence to try things we’d never done before.

This week, I’ll be sharing information about our Natural Phenomena unit (and why it was such a relief to change from the unit we used to teach!).  I’ll discuss each phase of our process and plans, as well as my reflection on the success of each piece and possible changes I would make.  So, stay tuned and use the comments to join the discussion!


Wrapping it all up

Previously, I shared the beginning stages of our GID project, Challenge and Change.  At this point, students are now in the process of gathering information about their topic, hence the GATHER title for this stage.  This is the part where I as the librarian am the most valuable resource to our students.  As a part of this process, I am also able to meet the demands of my own curriculum though the implementation of mini-lessons.  Each mini-lesson addresses things like database use, keyword searching, Google searching, citing sources and even basic note taking.

After gathering, students begin the steps to determine how they want to share out their information in the CREATE step.  We provide the premise to students that they will be presenting an award to the person they selected for their research.  They are to come up with the name of the award and their research will support the reasoning behind it.

The most practical thing we did in planning for this was to make a very specific requirement.  Their award presentation had to have a VISUAL and a VERBAL component, and they could not be one and the same.  This prevented the painful situation where we sat and watched 100 PowerPoint presentations in a day.  In fact, this year I have banned the PPT completely!  The only option for PPT of any kind is that students could use a single slide to create a digital poster board, or award.  Otherwise, students could create or present however they want.  They can create a poster and give a speech, have a single award PPT slide and read journal or diary entries, they could write a song and make a CD cover for an album, create a webpage and read a poem…the possibilities are endless.  These final projects are then SHARED in our Challenge and Change awards ceremony.  Finally, we have students reflect on the process as a whole, in the EVALUATION step.  Here students respond to a digital survey through Google Forms which asks them to reflect on the process and provide feedback.  We are not that far in our current project, but here are some sample responses from last year. They have not been edited 🙂

What was the BEST part of the project for you?

“I enjoyed researching Bethany Hamilton because she is such a huge inspiration.”

 “My Favorite Part was wrinting the Speach. I like to write. So when I was able to Express my opinion on Malala Yousafzai It was really fun to write.”

 “I liked how we had the freedom to pick what we wanted to do for our project. We could make like actual awards and word clouds to express our freedom with this project.”

 “Putting together the project!!! I liked it because you could put it together and then you could admire it. I hope we can do it again VERY soon!!!”

 What was the MOST challenging part of the project for you?

“When we had chose our 6-7 questions then answer them. Cause if we did not have a response to that question we would have to think of another question.”

 “The most Challenging part was when I had to find the research to match my questions so I would have to read a lot of texts to be able to get the information I need .”

 “The most challenging part was probably writing the speech. I learned so much information that i had to pick and choose what i wanted so i didn’t have 4 pages of stuff!”

 “Choosing my person so many people have inspiring storys and I wanted to explore all of them but sadly i could only could choose one”

As you see in the graphic below of the process, it may seem odd that the steps are not in an evenly spaced track from bottom to top, or even a nice neat row, but it is quite intentional (based on the research of Carol Kuhlthau) and accurate when you look at how students respond to the process as a whole.  You can think of the placement of each block as the excitement level of your class as you being the process.  Personally, my students start off apprehensive, get more excited as we begin the immerse stage and then get overwhelmed a bit when they start to explore.  However, once they narrow their topic their motivation and excitement increases and grows throughout the completion of the assignment.

As the subtitle of this site specifies, this truly is a way of instructing that will change how you teach.  I am so happy to have been able to participate in blogging this week and to have been exposed to the GID process with instruction and guidance from Carol Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes and Ann Caspari.  Each of the research projects which I now develop with teachers, all mirror the process above.  I know that changing how teachers teach a project can be difficult to influence, however my strategy has been to slowly incorporate elements, piece by piece each year.  As teachers see the motivation and excitement of their students grow, as well as the quality of their final product improve, they are more willing to let me slide in a new step.  It is not just the steps which are so valuable, it is also the small strategies and tools which are present in the process which also work to empower students and provide them with the opportunity to reflect on their own thinking and learning, which is truly a life skill.

Good luck to each of you as you being your own journey of discovery with Guided Inquiry Design!




Lets start at the very beginning

A very good place to start. When you read you begin with ABC, when you research you being with OPEN, IMMERSE, EXPLORE.

As promised, I am back again!  This time, though, to share out the project the team of teachers and I developed at the CISSL Summer Institute in the Summer of 2014.  Now that we have returned to school, I have spent this week jumping head first into a GID project with four sections of 6th grade ILA.  Being my former stomping grounds, it is nice to work with that curriculum again, but in the context of library studies.

The thematic unit is Challenge and Change.  Students read a variety of short non-fiction narratives, and stories about characters who have experienced challenges in their lives and brought about change because of those challenges.  For the project, we are connecting directly to the curriculum, by having students explore a person who has experienced a challenge and then how they were able to create change.

We start OPEN with Kid President, who is an engaging and entertaining young man with a debilitating disease, which students soon learn about.  They explore a series of resources (embedded below) and focus on answering questions connected with our theme of Challenge and Change.  The Cornell notes sheet for this exploration can be found using the link at the bottom of the page.

Create your own Playlist on LessonPaths!


The next step is IMMERSE, which we spend a class period working on.  Here students annotate three resources about freedom riders.  This allows students the opportunity to do some close reading and really begin to see some different options for people they could research.  Here, in the past, we have had access to a local member of the community who was a freedom rider, who would take student questions and answer them.  I have since lost that contact and am currently brainstorming some other ways we could incorporate a “field trip” style experience for students in this step.

Currently we are working on the EXPLORE step of the project.  Yesterday, students spent time in small friend groups (they will transition to thematic groups tomorrow), exploring a variety of possible research topics.

This is the most important step in the process, and the one which is left out most frequently!

Truly, it is worth taking the time to allow students to explore the possibilities for research in this step, your brain will thank you when you go to watch or grade the final products.  This step is where your students begin to get excited about their research, because…wait for it… they have CHOICE in who/what they select for their topic.

Today I repeated this line multiple times as we began to transition to the IDENTIFY stage:

Make sure you are selecting a topic you really like, not because your friends like that person, or because it will make you look cool, but because you are going to be truly passionate about them.  You will have to spend the next week with this person, you want to make sure you like them or you will be miserable and it will show in your final product.

You see, it is not enough to just say, here is a list of topics, pick one.  The value in EXPLORE comes when you allow students a “taste” of each of the options.  Instead of choosing blindly from a pre-selected list, students are able to explore the options, watching multimedia content, skimming articles, flipping through the pages of books, and reading book jackets.  Students then use an exploration chart to record those topics which catch their attention and drop those which are not of interest.  (See Explore page in the link below for the chart).  Using the chart prompts students to think more clearly about what they like and don’t like.  Because of this, they are able to select a topic more effectively and efficiently than with previous processes.

As the librarian, it is my job to curate the resources necessary for student success and guide them to the appropriate sources for information.  Purchasing titles which are connected to the theme for our collection, as well as pulling those for the exploration step and gather steps allows us to have some control over the topics, yet still makes students feel like they have some choice during the process.

Here is another quick video of what students were doing on Tuesday of this week for their Explore stage!

Throughout we have been using several of the strategies which get students up and moving and sharing their ideas as well as reflecting on the process.  We use a daily quick write to help students connect with the research as well as make connections to prior readings.  We also apply the community/city partner strategy which has students pair up on paper ahead of time and then when we say, “today you will share with your Decoy or Warrior partner,” they know exactly where to go and it is a big time saver.

More to come of our project as we continue with 52 Weeks of GID!

There are so many resources for this project that they would fill more than just a blog post, so here are the additional resources related to this project.  Please feel free to use under the share and share alike license 🙂

In good company

Greetings fellow GID-ers, or those new to the process!  I will be posting this week and giving you all a taste of Guided Inquiry from tiny, snow covered Havre de Grace, Maryland.  This last week has been quite interesting, as we (teachers and students) have been home bound due to the mega snow storm, which incapacitated the Baltimore-DC Metro area with 30+ inches in about 24 hours!  So, now I am frantically scanning my calendar to determine how we will fit a two and a half week Guided Inquiry project into about 7 class periods…but first, introductions.

My name is Sarah Scholl.  I am a school librarian at Havre de Grace Middle School in lovely Havre de Grace, Maryland.  The town is situated right at the mouth of the Susquehanna river where it meets the northern Chesapeake Bay.  This small historic area is best known for its decoys and small involvement in the War of 1812 when locals harassed the British, who then burned down the town before heading to Baltimore.  History lesson, over…I promise!

Havre de Grace Middle School serves grades 6-8 with approximately 540 students from the surrounding community.  We have a racially and economically diverse population, with 40% of our students receiving free and reduced meals. I have worked at the school for the last eleven years, the first six as an ILA teacher and for the last five as the school librarian.  Curriculum development in library media and its integration into all content areas is an interest of mine which has lead to my work with Guided Inquiry Design.

My first exposure to Guided Inquiry was when I attended my first AASL conference in 2013 (Hartford, CT).  Wanting to learn more about the options for conducting research with my students, while continuing to make it more engaging and meaningful, I selected the session (Letting Go: Challenging Students to Achieve Through Inquiry) which focused on the use of Guided Inquiry.  The four educators who presented were enthusiastic, motivating and so passionate about GID that I could not help but want to run back to my own school and jump in head first!  Then, they said the magic line…this was developed at the CISSL Summer Institute.  In that moment I knew I had to attend this Institute.  I promptly begged my principal to fund my GID adventure and was able to convince two teachers new to GID to join me.

After that, I began to see articles about Guided Inquiry Design in, what was then, School Library Monthly.  I saw articles from that same publication on GID written by Carol Kuhlthau, whose research started it all.  And as I continued to read more about the process, I knew that GID was the direction I wanted to go with the research lessons I was developing for my students.

I was lucky and my principal approved the funding to send myself along with a 6th grade ILA teacher, and special educator to the CISSL Summer Institute!

CISSL Summer 2014 Sarah, Leslie, Ann, Sarah (Me), Mary and Carol

It was an amazing and incredible experience, which I will explain in more detail in my next posting, but it has truly changed how I look at teaching research and begin the planning process with my co-teachers.  When we arrived I found that I was in good company with others who were just as passionate and motivated as I was to take a second look at how students are impacted by the research process and prepared to re-envision research instruction.

This week I will also be in the process of starting a GID project called Challenge and Change with a new co-teacher, and a new group of 6th grade students.  I will be sharing our process, things I have learned along the way and resources, which are readily available for your use.  Please feel free to comment and join in the discussion as the week continues.

How were you bitten by the Guided Inquiry Design bug?