Jazz, Will Rogers, and Saving the Earth – Elementary students Questions in GID

As you might imagine as we move down the spectrum of levels in this “vertical” look at inquiry questions will include more simplistic questions at the elementary level.

In today’s post we have a few student questions from Kelsey Barker from three of her GID units in her Elementary School from last year.

Kelsey is an active GIDer and has written for this blog multiple times. To read her other posts click here.

Photo credit https://www.emaze.com/@AFQCROTQ/THE-JAZZ-AGE

Photo credit https://www.emaze.com/@AFQCROTQ/THE-JAZZ-AGE

Last school year, Kelsey worked with the music teacher on a Guided Inquiry unit on music appreciation. In that unit, the fifth graders asked specific questions about the Jazz Age.

  • What was life like in the Jazz Age?
  • What was the impact of Ella Fitzgerald on Jazz music?

These questions are not the run of the mill fact based questions we typically require in research units for fifth graders. These are interesting questions! Teachers would usually have the content laid out and require that all students find out when the Jazz Age was? Where did the Jazz Age take place? and Who were the main people connected with this? These are not only easy to find the answers, (just Google it) but they are low level factual questions that require no critical thinking to answer. The right questions for inquiry, at any level, are the ones where students need to investigate multiple sources to address them. The questions above can be labeled as great student questions from an inquiry.

Photo Credit http://flyokc.com

Photo Credit http://flyokc.com

The Biography unit! Many states have in their standards a list of famous people that the students in third grade have to know. If they don’t have that list, then students typically have a biography unit at some point in upper elementary. That unit traditionally turns into that Bird Report that David Loertscher warned us about long ago, where teachers have students pick one person from a list and they get the required information about that person, date of birth, young life, challenges and successes and so forth.

In Norman, through working with many teams on how to make the traditional biography unit an interesting inquiry based unit, we have flipped that famous people unit on it’s head. Instead of a list we start with thinking about the concept of a legacy, or what makes people great or famous.  This becomes a natural way into reading many biographies. Through this GID unit students can learn about not one but maybe even more famous people in order to understand the concept of what makes people famous. One student’s real question from that work was:

  • Why is so much stuff in Oklahoma named after Will Rogers?

There you have it! The student actually asked the question that we want them to know! But this time, they have a real desire to find the answers to that question and their learning, as a result, will be much richer than if we had them pick from a list and find stock information about Will Rogers. Don’t you agree?

A small innovation to a traditional unit can make a BIG difference in how students respond and what they learn as a result.  That’s the power of GID.

Photo credit http://www.safetysign.com/products/p7440/recycle-symbol-sign

Photo credit http://www.safetysign.com/products/p7440/recycle-symbol-sign

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! What a great thing to teach our next generation!  Through a first grade unit on Recycling using Guided Inquiry Kelsey and her team’s students came up with their own questions like :

  • How does recycling help the earth?
  • Why do we recycle?
  • What happens when we don’t save water?

These are basic but real questions that the students had.  In the early years of using Guided Inquiry students learn that their questions matter and that they can actively find out the answers to their real questions through research. This forms the foundation on which learning how to learn through inquiry begins and develops over the years.

So ends my week of posts on student questioning!  Many of you will be starting school with students this week… to you, good luck and best wishes on a year full of student questioning and research to you all!

Leslie Maniotes

Author Guided Inquiry Series

Beginning with the end in mind – Student Questions from High School

This week we are talking about student questions, what questions students come up with within the context of a GID unit, and how they relate to and address the content of the curriculum.  With these posts, we hope to inspire you to let go and structure your learning using the GID process so that students are doing the asking.

Let’s start with the end in mind.  I’ll begin with high school so that you can get a feel for the level of questioning that occurs in academic content area courses in high school.  Then I’ll work down through middle school onto elementary to show you how those questions look as well.

So, we begin at Westborough High School in Westborough, Massachusetts.  Anita Cellucci and Kathleen Stoker are a GID learning team extrodinare.  Anita, just this week, was named as a finalist for the librarian of the year award by SLJ and Scholastic! Congratulations to one of our best! And her teammate, Kathleen teaches a course on Psychology and Literature that she described on our blog in April. Their work together is what every collaboration aspires to do, their collaborative work raises above and beyond what either of these two could do on their own.

In their course that was expertly designed using the GID process, students had questions that were personally relevant, interesting, and were centered within the content of the course.  The process of Guided Inquiry support your learning team to get students there.  As you read these questions- see if you can

  1. determine what learning goal Kathleen had for her course
  2. see how students are interested in what they will study
  3. think about what might have been something the students had been exposed to or asked to consider before identifying their question

Here they are:

“How are veterans affected by PTSD and what are some ways they are treated?”

“What is stress? What physical and emotional impacts are there due to stress and what are ways to cope with it?”

“How does music therapy affect an individual mentally and physically, and how can using music therapy benefit the patient over other types of therapies?”

“How are students affected by sleep deprivation and what can schools to do to help students?”

“How does art therapy help in ways that other therapies do not?”

“In what ways can technology be addictive and how can this problem be addressed?”

Through examining these questions, the students connections to their own experiences jump out at you, their interests are clear, and the content is also evident even without knowing the syllabus for Kathleen’s Psychology in Literature class.  It also seems that they had some idea that there were therapies that could help people, and most students were interested in knowing about the problem as well as the solutions that exist for that problem.  Pretty exciting topics and worth sharing with a wider audience, don’t you think!?  To read more about this unit, read Kathleen’s posts from April.  They’ll be doing this unit again this year, so maybe we’ll get a round 2 of blog posts to hear how it went this year! 😉

The next unit offers us a little sneak peek into the book coming out in December as this unit is described in detail there!  The book is Guided Inquiry Design in Action: High School.  In it we have four units of study just like we did in the Middle School book!  The unit Anita and Marci did was described here in Marci and Anita’s posts. They worked together on a Physical Science unit for ninth grade. Through the process they built a large inquiry community with the many sections of this course and they met in the large library 2 sections at a time.  When it came to Identify the students wrote their questions on chart paper that were posted around the library so that all the students could see the variety of interests across all groups in the larger InquiryCommunity.  Here’s a picture of one of the charts.IMG_8371

Some of the students questions

What is the role of gravitational force in our everyday lives? And, in what ways can it be changed into a different form of force?

How do different types of media effect sound waves and how does this relate to communication?

How are Newton’s laws related to earth and in what ways is this information used to explore other planets?

In what ways does the architecture of a building effect it’s stability in the wind?

What is the role of force and friction in field hockey?

How can a figure skater improve by studying physics?

Again, with these questions you can see a direct tie to the content of physical science and physics.  Students have a real desire to know the answer to these questions.  The questions connect to their lives and are bridges to the Third Space.  There is higher order thinking going on as well as interpretation and application of content from the first three phases evidenced in these questions.

I like how a few of them use the beginning frame of  “In what ways… Or what role does…”  Notice, we often say “why questions” are the most open ended, but “what questions” are really useful when students know enough background knowledge to ask a “what question” that will take them deeper into the content, as these do here.

So this sample of REAL questions are examples to you, to calm your fears of students asking off the wall questions that won’t relate to the content of the course.  And to help you trust the process, because when you design units using EVERY phase of GID, students identify wonderful useful questions.

Thanks again to Anita, Marci and Kathleen for sharing their work with me and all of us!

More on middle school questions in the next post!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author of the Guided Inquiry Series

Avoid Cheetah Reports in 8 Easy Steps!

Remember this charming critter from my last entry? My Guided Inquiry Design mascot? This creature is a Pompeii Worm, and the reason it represents the power of GID, to me, is that this animal was selected by one of our Grade 4 students as the subject of his Guided Inquiry project on animal adaptations.


Hello. It's me again. Photo credit: Alison Murray, ARKive

Hello. It’s me again. Photo credit: Alison Murray, ARKive

If you’re an elementary teacher, I’m sure you’ve encountered an animal project in some form. You know the drill… the kids choose an animal and do a little report on it: what it eats, where it lives, etc. This kind of project is a nice introduction to research skills, and because most kids are interested in animals to some degree, there is high motivation. You will find that the vast majority of students will pick pretty standard animals. Wolves. Zebras. Sharks.(Note: when I was in Grade 3, I chose echidnas, thus cementing my nerdiness for years to come. I digress.)

However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that at least 55% of your class will choose cheetahs.

Yeah, we get it, Cheetah. You're very noble. Photo credit: Anup Shah, ARKive

We get it, Cheetah. You’re very noble. Photo credit: Anup Shah, ARKive

Look, I have no problem with cheetahs. They run fast. Their claws are unretractable. They hunt gazelles. They are endangered.  Their cubs are ridiculously adorable.  Cheetahs are LEGIT. I get the appeal. Kids LOVE them.

OMG SO CUTE | Photo credit: Suzi Eszterhas, ARKive

OMG SO CUTE | Photo credit: Suzi Eszterhas, ARKive

But they are so… predictable. I’m sure you’ve marked dozens – nay, hundreds! – of cheetah reports in your professional life. It’s time to move on. Wouldn’t you rather learn about something a little different? A little out-there? For instance… a Pompeii worm?

A cheetah’s got nothing  on a Pompeii worm. (I mean, fine, a cheetah would easily take one down  if, say, a Pompeii worm somehow found itself stranded on the Serengeti. No contest there. I’m speaking more ontologically.)

Team Pompeii Worm | Photo credit: Greg Rouse, ARKive

Team Pompeii Worm | Photo credit: Greg Rouse, ARKive


These guys live in the deep sea in hydrothermal vents. The end of the worm that sticks out in the water has to endure near-freezing temperatures in the frigid water of the deep ocean. So? Lots of organisms live in the deep ocean. The really cool thing about Pompeii worms is the end of the worm that’s in the vent has to contend with blasts of hot water that can be as high as 80 degrees Celsius, or 176 Fahrenheit. How does it survive in this environment? Most animals would poach themselves within seconds, yet these worms thrive in such a hostile environment because of bacteria that live on their bodies that help to regulate their temperature!

Admit it: that’s cool. Or hot. (Whatever.)

How did we discover Pompeii worms? Well, Guided Inquiry guided us to them! The whole process was important, but because we leveraged the power of the first three phases – Open, Immerse, Explore – for this unit, the students were able to explore some carefully curated resources about animal adaptations and make notes on different adaptations and animals that have them. In this way, the boys were exposed to a vast array of animals that they might not know about, and successfully carry out their research. Rather than designing the project around teacher-led discussion on adaptations, the boys discovered the concept on their own and built knowledge themselves.

The provincial learning objective for this Grade 4 science unit was: “All living things and their environment are interdependent.”  The instructional team – the Grade 4 teachers, our wonderful Inquiry resource teacher and myself – decided that the students should learn about how different environments can affect the adaptations that animals have developed to survive. These would be independent projects culminating in an animal “fact file” with a labelled diagram and paragraph.


Fact files on display. Photo credit: me

Fact files on display. Photo credit: me


We started the OPEN phase by projecting a panoramic Google maps photo of Dinosaur Provincial Park in our neighbouring province of Alberta. This park looks very different from our own local temperate rainforest, so we had the boys brainstorm and discuss questions about the environment there. What kinds of animals might you find there that you wouldn’t find in Vancouver? Why? We then went out to our wooded area to take photos with iPads. This OPEN activity got the boys thinking about how environments can impact plants and animals.

We timed this project around the boys’ first overnight outdoor education trip, which became their IMMERSE phase. They spent two days at a local outdoor centre, where most of the programming revolved around adaptations of local flora and fauna. Full disclosure: I did not attend. I stayed warm and dry, but from all accounts, the experience was highly IMMERSive!

After they returned from camp, we set up the EXPLORE phase. Instead of letting the boys go nuts on Google, or wreak havoc on my painstakingly arranged 590s shelves, we gave them only one option: a brilliant website from BBC Nature: Animal and plant adaptations and behaviours This site has an exhaustive list of adaptations, with an easy to read description for each and multiple examples of organisms. We put the boys into Inquiry Circles and had them browse the site, noting down on a specially-created worksheet any animals or adaptations that they thought were interesting.

Because this BBC site has such an exhaustive list of adaptations, and because we gave them free range to browse the site, the boys were learning about everything from behavioural adaptations such as swarming, to feeding strategies like kleptoparasitism! Thus, one young man discovered the Pompeii worm, neatly filed away under symbiosis. His curiosity was piqued. What the heck is a Pompeii worm? (Probably what you were thinking at the beginning of this post!)

After a couple of sessions exploring the BBC site, we helped the boys review their notes and IDENTIFY an animal they really wanted to learn more about, and to write a strong research question about it beginning with “Why” or “How”.

From there, we provided more curated resources for GATHER: the BBC site again, ARKive, World Book, and in some cases, reliable websites that I vetted for those boys who chose an unusual animal with scarce information available.

They CREATEd their fact files and we SHAREd with a big celebratory class session involving small-group informal presentations and a gallery walk of all the files. Finally, the boys were EVALUATEd on the science learning objective as well as a self-assessment on the whole process.

The results? The boys were so motivated and excited each week when they came to the library. The learning was student-centered with each boy striving to answer his own question, instead of following a list of criteria from the teachers. Those pesky note-taking skills were a breeze to teach, and the science learning objective was hit out of the park (ask one of our Grade 4s about any possible adaptation – they know them all!)

Those are all very noble, altruistic goals for the betterment of our darling students. Allow me to be selfish for a moment – of 48 projects completed there was not a single one on cheetahs. If that’s not a career highlight, I don’t know what is.


A-HA Moment

A-ha moments

As I close out my fourth year of the GID project, I am thinking about some of the connections that my students make.  First, I believe that science gets a bad rap.  Yes, it IS hard, but not impossible.  Students seem to have roadblocks in their minds about science and what it really means.  Students were asked to connect their inquiry question with any part of a topic in physics.  As soon as I said the word physics, students’ eyes got huge.  They were not confident they understood what physics was.  As we plugged along with the project this spring, I kept reminding students that they needed to relate their research back to physics.  

But, what did that mean?  These kids were really stressing out.  So, one day, we took out the old-fashioned textbook.  I asked students to flip through the book and see if there were any words/phrases/topics, etc. that they have seen within their research.  The goal was to recognize that physics was embedded in their current research – it was implied through the articles that they were already reading.  

For example, one student came after school one day.  She really was panicking stating that there were no physics connections to her topic.  I asked the student just to tell me, in her own words, what she had been reading.  After the student says that ‘nothing about physics,’ she proceeds to describe the aurora borealis.  I let her speak for about a minute.  I stopped her and repeated one of her sentences….the aurora borealis consists of light (physics) with different wavelengths (physics) and speed of light (physics times two)….  I then asked – what are waves, what about the electromagnetic spectrum?  The surprised look on this girl’s face when she realized that she was already reading about physics and it wasn’t a formal chapter that she had to learn about was fabulous.  

I did, in fact, have several of these types of conversations with my students.  It was great to see the relief and awareness that they had already made meaningful connections.  While the textbook was helpful, conversations were also very important.


Questioning the Journey


Working with GID for over four years, has allowed me to reflect on the patterns, challenges and successes of integrating the Guided Inquiry Design Process in our high school.

One aspect that overwhelmingly starts out as a challenge for content teachers is student questioning.  Historically, teachers are the questioners – choosing the Essential Question or creating a research project with predetermined questions for students to answer. In this type of research, the students engagement can vary.  If it’s a topic that students have interest in, the outputs are more favorable.  In many cases, the outputs will be surface level instead of a  deep meaning-making process.  Jamie McKenzie, author of The Question Mark, a journal devoted to questions and questioning and a thoughtful leader of technology in schools, writes about research in schools in his educational technology journal, From Now On.  He suggests that real problem solving in research begins when we are stuck.  I think the key to helping kids get “unstuck” is to stay with them through it. But, how do we do this in a way that takes into consideration the time constraints, the comfort of the content teacher and the desired outcomes of the research? This is a question that I am still attempting to answer.

In my years as a library teacher, I have developed strategies and gathered resources to help students understand the question building process.  Within the IDENTIFY phase, I work with small groups of students to create their inquiry questions.  In their inquiry reflections from the previous work through the EXPLORE phase, I ask that students create a list of questions that they have about their topic.  I am intentionally vague with instructions – “As you read through and discover information about your choice topic, write down any questions that come to mind.” – by giving students minimal instructions – they are able to follow this mindfully – without worry of creating a question that will be “wrong”.  We then use these questions in our question building session, along with inquiry tools and strategies, to create a solid inquiry question.  Typically, I will work on the question from the aspect of inquiry and then the students will check in with their content teacher to be sure they are on the right track with content.  The key is to ensure that students are staying rooted in their personal interest.  I also believe that it is crucial to not add content knowledge to the question building process – as this sometimes sways the student to change their topic based on what the content teacher speaks about and most often leads the student away from their core interest. My experience has shown that the personal interest of the student will be the sustaining force throughout the challenges within the research and GID process.

Teachers survive the demands of each new school year by creating routines, developing habits of mind and in some instances – by turning on autopilot. One challenge as the library teacher is to keep the current issues within your community in mind when attempting to collaborate with content teachers. Interestingly, questioning is something that can be viewed as “just one more thing” to add to a project that expands the time necessary to work with students.  In my school, I am grateful that there has always been a culture of a day or two with library resources but it is still a paradigm shift to allow more time for instruction throughout the process.  GID gives the necessary framework that allows content teachers a way to envision the space and time necessary to receive the outcomes desired.  When a teacher is able to let go of the fear of the unknown as well as become able to sit with the initial uneasiness of facilitating over instilling information – the shift for student  learning begins.

As the library teacher, my role with questioning and often with GID,  becomes one of co-teacher, collaborator, sometimes hand-holder, always the visionist, often the only believer – that it will all work out okay and we will all take away a meaningful experience. Many students seem to instinctively know this from the start while others are as uncomfortable with the “not knowing” as their teacher.  Good collaboration begins with trust and one can not discount the role that it plays when planning.  I believe that it’s always best to begin where the content teacher is, in other words, baby steps may be necessary – the goal should be to begin the journey! Even the longest and most difficult journey begins with the first step.



Anita Celluci, Library Teacher, Westborough High School


All the colors of GID

One of my favorite aspects of GID is the creativity that is built within the process. I see endless possibility in the ways in which Guided Inquiry Design can be intentionally designed for any discipline.  Like an artist’s pallette, there are infinite colors possible. Looking at the process in this way allows me to really think critically about how the process can help students be motivated to learn, engage in the learning process and develop empathy for other learners.

Over the past four years, I have collaborated to design projects in Science, various English classes, Fine Arts and History.  This past school year, I worked with Academic Support classes and their teachers, Molly Lonergan and Anita Breeze, on a project entitled “Understanding Your IEP”.  Students read and reflected on their individual IEPs and were given activities and strategies that would enable them to read and focus on the parts of the legal document to help them within their daily lives.

As I met weekly with these students, I was able to reflect on the process, their learning, and the barriers to motivation, personal growth and most importantly trust within the classroom.  It was clear to me that before we could engage in research, we would need to create a safe space and the opportunity for curiosity.  Unfortunately, it is often the case that students on IEP’s arrive in the high school in a very different emotional space than is intended.  Many times, these students have not been asked to share their thoughts about their learning, but are often told all about their learning style, the modifications that will best serve them and often – how to think.

Because of these factors, we began the Guided Inquiry design process with activities and lessons based on the habits and attitudes of mind research of Angela Maiers. The GID phases included activities about self-awareness, interest inventories, transition planning, self-disclosure, and crafting personal statements. These activities were done through online inventories and surveys, reading materials to gain knowledge, and self-reflection in the conference room of the library.

The culmination of the project was a Google slides presentation that students were then able to use within their IEP meetings to successfully advocate for themselves as well as a Disclosure statement that can be used post high school.  Students were given the “space” to experience their feelings within this process – GID allows this through the reflective aspect within each phase as well as the ways that each phase acknowledges the emotional aspect of the process.

Like other GID projects at Westborough High School, Inquiry Tools were embedded throughout the project to assist students in moving through the phases, as well as staying organized within the project.  With this group of students, the Inquiry Community became invaluable to the learning as students gained trust with the adults in the room as well as their peers. The collaborative aspect of this learning process was facilitated through the phases of the process.

The  Guided Inquiry Design Process Model was implemented to help students find a course of individual study that would allow them to think about their plans for their post high school lives.  It enabled them to engage in research that is based on their needs and individual growth.

Student work:


Student Example: One person on a student’s “Dream Team” – Angela Maiers speaks of the importance of creating a personal “Dream Team” of individuals that influence your thinking and who’s behaviors you would seek to emulate.

Student reflections:

  1. Today, I thought that the Inquiry Process ran very smoothly. Unlike most people my age, I enjoy each step of the process and take time to consider each part before writing. Last year, I found that the Inquiry Process was very successful in helping me to boost my curiosity regarding a topic that I had very little interest in. For these reasons, I appreciated and still continue to appreciate the Inquiry Process.
  2. My feeling on my IEP: I really don’t like my IEP. I hate how it has disabilities in it. It makes me feel like I am less then other kids that don’t have them. I do recognize that I struggle a little in some classes but i don’t think i need an IEP. I feel like that an IEP is just stating the problems you have, recognizing what  I lack in classes. I think I have a good memory, my reading skills are getting better. I think it can be helpful sometimes, but other times it’s very annoying. I hate the 50% more time on test and things. I just don’t need it. But I love being able you use a calculator.  I want to be treated like normal kids in normal level classes. I don’t want to get all this special baby treatment on how I need more help then all the other students. If i need help i will find help, I don’t need someone constantly helping me with things I don’t need help with.
  3. My IEP is very outdated and not accurate to who I am now. I am a much better student than the old IEP says that I am.
  4. I struggle most with advocating for myself.
  5. Today in class curiosity was investigated. there are many things that had made me think in the Personal curiosity inventory. But none made me think more than the question about what are my questions.

Working with GID in this way, allowed students to access the curriculum in a way that fit their individual needs while giving them valuable information literacy, technology and the process skills to dig deep into an emotional topic. In our follow up meeting, the teachers and I  decided to move forward with GID next year and continue to add depth to the project.Students gained valuable awareness about their own learning as well as traits and qualities about themselves that are sure to help them through the rest of their school career and post high school plans.

I am grateful that the special education teachers were willing to take the time and put the effort necessary to provide this experience for our students.


Anita Cellucci

Library Teacher

Westborough High School

The Flexibility of GID

When I learned how effective Guided Inquiry could be, I got excited about planning a GID-based writing workshop. I focused on Reconstruction because it’s the setting for my book, but the model could be adapted for any historical time period. On my website I’ve posted the materials you’d need to lead this workshop in a middle or high school classroom, and I’ll run through the steps quickly here.

The “Open,” “Immerse,” and “Explore” stages are the same as I mentioned yesterday: show the book trailer, read BROTHERHOOD, ask students to connect to content, and begin to research Reconstruction. When I visit schools, I show a series of photographs, and students point out the details—clothing, means of transportation, food, etc. My favorite is this shot taken at the wall in front of St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA, in 1865. Notice that the people are wearing coats and hats, but most have bare feet.


During the “Identify” stage, I ask students to write a scene based on a newspaper article from the era. I encourage loose, messy, fast writing. I interrupt them with sound effects (church bells, horses, crickets), and ask them to incorporate the sounds into their scenes. The process here isn’t about producing good writing. It’s about entering into the time period vicariously.

Next, students swap newspaper articles and write a second scene—again, loose, fast writing. Then they pause and I ask which scene they liked most. Which did they prefer writing about, and why? What did they find compelling, disturbing, or interesting about the one they preferred? Their answers kick off the “Gather” stage of the GID process—the stage when students begin to ask their own questions. This step is the essence of Guided Inquiry. It’s the reason GID is so effective.

Whether students prefer scene A to B, or B to A doesn’t matter. What matters is that they prefer one. Students will always prefer one. Always. And the moment they articulate why they like one better than the other is the moment they really begin to invest in the subject matter. It’s an exciting moment to watch! They’re given permission to make a choice, express an opinion, and be heard, and the process empowers them.

In the “Gather,” “Create,” and “Share” stages, students’ individual or group projects go in any number of directions, and I leave that part up to the teachers. Some have particular themes they’d like the class to address. For example, in my previous post I mentioned that the teacher wanted students to think about gangs—all types of gangs and the conditions that give rise to them. Or teachers might want students to think about voting rights (who feels threatened by another’s right to vote?). Or maybe students will create and share presentations about citizenship and what it might feel like to live in America today and not be a citizen. Or they might talk about the problem of bullying.

GID allows for flexibility! I began this post talking about Reconstruction, and in only a few paragraphs, I’ve raised a myriad of topics, but that’s because my novel raises them (the Reconstruction-era amendments established birthright citizenship and voting rights; if your class is focused on a different time period, your students will ponder a different set of issues).

From my perspective—hey, I’m a writer, so I have to nudge students to write, no apologies!—an easy exercise in loose writing gets the process going strong. And when students reflect on issues that matter to them, personally, and are in a safe space for reflection, wow! Sharing happens. Listening happens. Learning happens.

I love the way GID promotes a student-centered and student-directed approach to learning (so much more effective than the memorize-and-regurgitate model of my youth). Like I said in my first post, boy do I wish my teachers had used Guided Inquiry when I was growing up. Thank you, Leslie, for inspiring me and the next generation of educators!

The 2016 Collaborative School Library Award

Yesterday I invited you to experience the “Open” stage of the award-winning GID unit developed by two librarians and a social studies/language arts teacher at Carver Middle School in Chester, VA. They based the unit my book, BROTHERHOOD, and posted all of their materials on this Blendspace page so that others can recreate the unit in their schools.

Set in Virginia during Reconstruction, BROTHERHOOD is the story of a white boy who joins the Klan, meets a young black teacher, and comes to question the racial prejudices he’s been taught. The book raises all sorts of questions about identify, race, peer pressure, gangs, etc., and doesn’t provide easy answers. So it’s great for kicking off classroom conversations on a variety of topics.

During the “Immerse” stage of the GID process, in order to connect to the content of daily readings, the students at Carver wrote a tweet a day.

daily tweet.52GID blog

Historians from the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Historical Society visited the school, bringing samples of items mentioned in the book, such as swatches of cloth and a copy of a page from an 1867 newspaper. The time period was beginning to come alive for the students.

During the GID stages “Explore” and “Identify,” students continued to read while researching the post-Civil War era. Then they went on a field trip to Richmond, VA, and walked the streets the characters had walked. In advance of the trip, the librarians asked me to audio-record myself reading selections from the book. I posted the audio files online, and during the trip, students stopped at key locations to listen—via QR codes—to me reading. This was an innovative way to use technology, and got the students all the more engaged. Click on this code to hear one of the recordings:


I visited the classroom and talked about how I came to write BROTHERHOOD—a presentation that includes mention of the Noble Lost Cause ideology, Jim Crow era, and Civil Rights movement. On another day, the school’s safety officer came and presented information about gangs. The class explored reasons why a person might join the Klan or any gang—any group vying for power, control or influence.

During the “Gather” stage, each student’s essential questions led him/her to choose a gang to research further. Students divided into small groups, and for the “Create” and “Share” stages, each group did a presentation about a gang and how they (or society) might stop the spread of that gang. In this way, they progressed through the 7th grade curriculum. For prohibition, for example, one group did a presentation about the Mafia running liquor. For World War II, another group showed how the Nazis gained support by blaming Germany’s ills on the Jews. By the time the curriculum brought them to the present day, they already knew from yet another student presentation that Al Qaida is motivated in part by a rejection of capitalism. I visited the school again, and was blown away by the high quality of the presentations, both from struggling learners and from gifted students. The GID approach excited them all.

Along the way students participated in the GID stage, “Evaluate,” asking questions such as, what surprised me today? What was clear? What was confusing? I love the fact that when you do GID, you don’t leave evaluation to the very end. GID encourages self-reflection at every stage.

This GID unit was pretty involved, and it hit me that some educators might want to add BROTHERHOOD to the curriculum and use the GID approach, but they don’t live near Virginia and can’t easily do the field trip. And that thought motivated me to design a GID-based writing workshop that can be done in any classroom, anywhere. I’ll tell you about it in my next post…

Wait a second, who is the teacher and who is the student?

The things I’ve learned this year with GID are endless.  The students have taught me so much.  As adults who are helping students become lifelong learners, it is important to remember that we are also lifelong learners.  When students are allowed and encouraged to ask their own questions, authentic learning happens.  I knew this, but seeing it firsthand was beyond what I imagined and understood.  The students were enraged at some of the events that happened during the civil rights movement.  They went beyond the who, what, and where questions, and focused on the why.  This is at the heart of lifelong learning.  The students didn’t spit out facts to pacify teachers for grades; they asked the socially conscious questions that could potentially help form who they become as people.  If as educators we can design and implement lessons that end in students questioning such concepts of racism and discrimination, won’t we all be better in the long run?  That’s the goal for me.

When working with students, we are always looking for ways to improve and do it better next time.  This is true for the civil rights movement unit that we did with 7th graders.  While I couldn’t be more pleased with the depth of the questions the students asked, we need to make a few adjustments.  These were mistakes that WE made, not a problem with GID or the students.  As a team, we discussed that the novelty of working with all three classes together was a bit of a distraction for students at first.  One possible solution would be for the students to have more opportunities to work in different groups throughout the year.   Another mistake that we made was not having a note catcher for the students to work on while they were reading and discussing the articles at the stations.  This would help to focus some of those little ones that aren’t necessarily interested in doing what they are supposed to do and provide a bit of comfort for the over-achievers that want to be doing everything right.

One of the struggles that I need to personally work on is time.  To do it properly, GID takes some time.  It takes time to plan and collaborate, and time for implementation.  I think this might be more of a challenge for middle and high school teams than elementary teams.  At the secondary level in our district, students are only in class with a particular teacher for 50 minutes each day.  In order to do a full unit, you need several weeks.  Here is the deal, though.  It takes several weeks IF you only implement in one class.  When working on a smaller unit that I planned with English teacher Paige Holden, we were able to piggyback off of a lesson done in social studies class to drastically cut down on the time needed in English class.  We didn’t have much time in the spring semester with the crazy standardized testing schedule that our students have, but by having social studies teachers do the first two phases of GID, we were able to squeeze in one more unit!  We have 4 days of school left, and we can’t wait to see their final products.  There seems to always be a solution to struggles through creativity and collaboration with colleagues.

Terri Curtis