Living Guided Inquiry

Teresa Lansford, Lincoln Elementary, Norman OK

Since our staff started the year with the understanding that the Guided Inquiry Process was the way we were going to structure our learning through research for the entire year, there was never any turning back. For those who had not yet been through formal training there were times that we dipped into the process without developing a complete unit. Students had opportunities to get excited about a topic through Open, develop a common vocabulary through a rich immerse activity, or explore an area of interest in an inquiry circle. As these small steps were successful, there was much more interest in developing entire units to address concepts with students. They saw how much  more engaged students were under this process.

Our teachers immediately valued the ownership students had of their work. One fifth grader in particular had spent a previous unit sitting with arms crossed refusing to work. When she had the power to ask her own questions she was fully engaged.

Our fourth grade teachers implemented a wave unit. When we went to form inquiry circles it just happened that most of the special education students ended up wanting to focus on the same area. We took notes using Popplet.com. They created a web to connect their areas of interest. At the end of one session we zoomed out and a student proclaimed “We know all that?” Jaws dropped a bit as these students realized how much they had learned and came to understand that they had valuable contributions to the larger group’s understanding of waves. Seeing these students thrive who previously may have floundered would have been enough of a selling point, but we consistently saw added value across all demographics. All students were challenged to grow at some point during the process.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of our principal, by the end of the first week of school all staff had embraced the idea of Guided Inquiry, by mid year we were engaging students with units across all grade levels, by the end of the year we had a staff that lived and breathed Guided Inquiry.

Our practice is more than just units of study in a framework. When it comes to research and questioning, Guided Inquiry has become how we think. When our leadership team was tasked with leading professional development for our site, they looked to the Guided Inquiry framework to develop the PD. We have went beyond just using it with our students because we see its universal value. At Lincoln Elementary we give our students a voice, ensure they have choice, and live a growth mindset in order to encourage students to have one as well. Guided Inquiry has been an invaluable tool to help get us there.