Exploration to Formulation

One clarification for yesterday’s post, once the girls had their questions and understood that the homework would be exploring for information, time was spent introducing library resources for this task. We use EBSCO Discovery Service as our gateway to the library collection and databases. Since this type of search is new to most freshman students, instruction was specifically how to locate research starters and e-reference collections.

Day Two was very successful. The freshman were prepared with their handout completed and each had learned something about their topic identifying interesting, surprising, and unusual information. They identified questionable or controversial information and aspects they might still not understand. The final task on the homework had them identify two questions they might pursue as they continued their research.

The rest of the instructional period was spent practicing the development of key terms and using them in searches interspersed with instruction on narrowing search results using the database tools. By doing this within the class time, I was able to assist, reteach, and feel confident that the students were heading down a successful path. They practiced using synonyms and suggested subject terms from the database. We also reviewed the use of Boolean terms and other search strategies for the students with a limited amount of search experience. They used a handout to record their results using a concept cloud and by the end of the session had developed 2-4 successful key words with which to continue their Exploration. For myself and the classroom teacher, it was a time to work one on one with students and to identify where additional instruction/practice might be needed. Students were asked to complete this practice for homework and begin reading with the purpose of narrowing the concept/ topic to answer the questions they had formulated on the first handout the previous night.

The next day, Day Three, we moved on to the first phase of formulating a focus with a demonstration. Taking my own topic of interest, I modeled the next step of narrowing the concept/ topic to a focus. After listening to and watching me work, the girls were put into pairs and given time to “talk it out” with their partner. In an all-girls school, talking is a very successful strategy as there are not many girls who do not like to talk.  As the teacher and I listened in, we heard the student actively engaged and reflecting, building on what they had learned, and genuinely interested in continuing learning.  While they did not all come away from this exercise with a focus many of them understood what they needed to do next. We also observed a sense of stress release among them as they realized that each was in the right place and were not alone.

Upon completion of the “talk it out” exercise, we reviewed the next phase of Collection and how it would be a different sort of search and gather pertaining to the focus. We also reiterated relevance and redundancy as closure tactics. This ended our three days of instruction/practice on a Friday so that the students would have the weekend to absorb and maybe even reflect.

Next: A Week of Collection

Making it Personal (Part 3)

We all know the value of a great PLN. I only wish there were more hours in the day so that I could devote more time to learning from, and sharing with, others!

One of the most important things, I believe is to share personal experiences. I don’t use twitter as much as I should / could, I have a number of feeds to my email from TL networks, but these tools are both avenues for short, sharp pieces. I wanted to find a way to demonstrate to my students the desirability of creating a positive digital footprint, and I realised that I could use a blogging platform to share my personal experiences with Guided Inquiry at the same time. So I created a Digital Dossier to document my professional pathway, but with specific focus upon my GI journey. If you would like to have a look you will find it at http://myprofessionalpathway.weebly.com/  It is very much a work in progress; time is the enemy again! If you click onto the “more” tab, the “Guided Inquiry” there are some practical examples of where and how I have used GI at my school.

Making it Personal (Part 2)

In my last post I spoke about the value of Third Space at the Identify stage: allowing the personal interests and passions of the student to find synchronicity with the curriculum. Allowing students the opportunity to select an area of personal interest, and to allow them the choice of presentation mode goes a long way to ensuring engagement, a quality product and a wonderful sense of achievement and improved self-esteem for the student.

So can “Third Space” be applied to the Open phase? At this beginning phase, surely the “Hook” to engage all students with an item of personal interest would be impossible to find. And isn’t that the aim of Immerse and Explore: to allow students time and space to find their area for study? So, is “Third Space” relevant during Open?

To me, finding the “Third Space” during Open is all about asking students to become personally involved with the topic. They are not asked to find a specific area of interest yet, but engaging activities in this phase still employ the same principle: of connecting the student to the topic, and making it “relatable”. I have tried to employ this principle when working with a Year 5 (10 years old) class who were studying the Gold Rush in Australia in the mid 1850s. The objective of the unit was to consider the effects of the Gold Rushes upon the people involved: the miners, their families, those who plied a trade on the fields, the government etc. This clearly required a level of personal empathy; as this was somewhat out of their immediate experience (!), I tried to think of how to engage them with their heart, and not their head. So I devised an activity where they would adopt the role of a miner. We provided groups with a map, and a box of goods. Some boxes contained useful items, others not so; some contained a miner’s licence, others not. We spray painted some rocks gold, and “buried” them in an area of the school (in long jump pits, inside tyres, behind posts etc. They were then given 20 minutes to try their luck! I posed as the Licence Inspector; those without licences were sent to gaol! Some found little, others a lot; some stole in order to get rich! (just like the real thing!) The students were amazingly engaged, and most of all, during our de-brief, they demonstrated that they had a very good understanding of some of the difficulties the miners encountered, and the feelings that they might have experienced. They were now ready to learn!

open-gold-rush open-gold-rush-2


GID and US History

One of the things I love most about my job as a middle school librarian is that I get to work with every department and every grade level. I work with some departments more than others, and a goal of mine this past school year (since it was only my second year there as librarian) was to work with my seventh-grade United States History staff. They were looking for a way to assess the end of a recently-taught unit, 1890-1910, using their class sets of laptops. We tossed some ideas around and I introduced the idea of Guided Inquiry, with which they were unfamiliar. After a quick overview, they were sold. We decided to pose the question to students: Which event, person, or invention from this time period had the most effect on its time period, today, and will have the most effect 50 years from now? We chose the outlet Padlet.com, a free online curation site, to display their work (which was also unfamiliar to them), although students were able to use any platform they wished to display their ideas.

After some quick instruction in finding resources – they all had to be digital – and reminders for how to cite digital sources, students reviewed the time period, their notes from the unit, and did some research into some possibilities. Students had a few class periods to work on their projects. I assisted occasionally during these work times, answering questions and also asking some that would fine tune their thoughts.

On the day their projects were due, students had the opportunity to review each other’s work, filling out a peer-response form that asked about what the project did best, places for improvement, and general comments. Many of the students remarked how much more they learned about topics by looking at what others had done. The creativity of students was outstanding! See below for an image, and here to see some of the best ones.


Looking back, I liked that this project generally followed the GID process, but we made it a bit more casual for my first attempt with a new department and their first attempt with both GID and Padlet. When asked at the end of the project, students said that this was one of the best end-of-unit projects they did and that it was so much more engaging than a test or another paper/pencil assessment. Students completed the research process,including citations, but in a digital way and on a topic of their choice. The teachers stated that some projects were better than others – which is normal in a middle school classroom – but students were consistently on task and engaged with what they were working on. The teachers also agreed that this project is something they would do again this next school year, and that the quality of work was better than typical assignments/projects they had assigned earlier that year.  If I were to change anything about this project, it would be to delineate more of the process, perhaps curating a few resources for them on the time period and pointing students to databases (and perhaps doing some instruction on advanced Google searching) that could give them some more ideas.

As a librarian, I appreciate that GID gives me additional opportunities to collaborate with teachers who are looking to transform their students’ learning. It helps the staff to see for themselves that I don’t just check out books but I am an instructional partner as well. Sometimes teachers know it in theory, but it’s assignments like these using GID that help reinforce that to them. I’m looking forward to doing this project again (and hopefully others!) with them during this upcoming school year!

Rachel Grover

Adopting and Adapting

My last post was about carrying out a Guided Inquiry unit in its entirety, from Open through to Evaluate. Even though it’s a very structured framework, one of the best aspects of Guided Inquiry is that it’s not dogmatic. It is flexible enough that many of its components, especially the first three phases, can be applied  to projects that are not Guided Inquiry projects per se.

Earlier on the blog, Leslie discussed her visit to St. George’s in the spring, when she visited our Grade 7 reimagined science fair, the Wonder Expo. Even though the Expo follows a very teacher-directed plan, we adopted the Immerse and Explore phases of GID to help our students determine a topic. In years past, the students were simply told to “pick a topic” and given very little, if any, guidance . The result was that those boys who struggled to find a good topic were instantly behind their peers in terms of carrying out their experiment, analysing the results, and putting everything together into a report and poster board.

And – Shock! Horror! – the boys would also frequently do their “background research” (a bibliography with three sources was required as part of their report) the day before the science fair! When I, affronted librarian, questioned one boy why his background research was the very last thing he was doing, and maybe he should have done it before he even began his experiment, he burst into tears! The science fair caused a lot of stress.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve begun immersing the boys in science in the fall, well before the March due date, to build background knowledge and curiosity. This year, we hosted “Wonder Wednesdays” where we invited in scientists and watched videos on interesting topics to get their scientific juices flowing. We also made an annotated bibliography an early deadline. I created a LibGuide and instructed the boys in how to use the databases, so they were able to explore sources and ideas well before deciding on their final topic. The result? No crying in the library! Adopting some of the stages of guided inquiry into current projects can really help boost student curiosity, motivation and confidence.

The Explore phase is a really great idea to inject into traditional projects, even if teachers don’t have the time or inclination to do a whole GID unit. Late in the spring, the Grade 2 teachers approached me to pull some books on animals for a mini project the students were carrying out on animals. It’s a pretty standard animal project: pick an animal you like (CHEETAHS!), find information in a book, and write about your animal.

Instead of just checking out our animal books to the teachers, I invited the classes into the library.  I made a simple sheet with four boxes and space to write the name of an animal, draw a picture, and write down the book title. I selected the more “thematic” animal books rather than books about single species. Titles like “Biggest and Smallest Animals,” “Unusual Creatures” and “The Little Book of Slime”. The boys rotated around the tables, browsing through books and noting down the name of any animals that seemed interesting to them, along with a quick sketch and the name of the book so they could find it later. Massive success! The boys didn’t feel pressure to pick a random animal, they learned about all sorts of interesting creatures and were able to determine which books had “just-right” information, and which ones might be too difficult or too scant on information. Plus, they got a taste of keeping simple citations. Having an Explore session in the early part of this project really made it successful for both the students and the teachers.

I can proudly announce that I’m a Guided Inquiry evangelist now! Guided Inquiry Design has had a profound effect on my teaching, my relationships with my colleagues and, most importantly, my students.

Elizabeth Walker


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.


GIDesign @ BCPS: Our Journey Begins

Hello fellow Guided Inquiry fans!

I’m Kelly Ray, a Library Media Resource teacher with the Office of Digital Learning at the Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). I’m so excited to  provide a district-level perspective, by sharing how Guided Inquiry is transforming student research and inquiry in our large public school system!


BCPS is the 25th largest public school district in the U.S. and 3rd largest in Maryland, with 175 schools, programs, and centers. At the district’s annual Summer Curriculum Workshops, our Library Media team collaborates with content curriculum writers to design standards-aligned research tasks. Since 1998, we have designed Online Research Models (ORMs) which structure the research process, integrating information literacy skills development and content learning for students. You can see our current inventory of Online Research Models (for extended, in-depth research, labeled ORM) and Slam Dunk research models (for brief, focused research, labeled Slam Dunk) here. *Please excuse any broken links in these models; our team will be updating links over the summer. For years our ORMs were structured according to our own process model, which was inspired in part by Dr. Kuhlthau’s ISP. Our original ORM steps were: Scenario, Task & Product, Assessments, Gather & Sort, Organize, and Conclusion. These steps evolved only slightly until 2012.


In July 2012, I participated (along with our since retired Coordinator, Della Curtis) in the CISSL Summer Institute at Rutgers, where we were introduced to Guided Inquiry Design. At the end of the first day of the Institute, we knew that GID would be transformative for our BCPS ORMs. That very evening, we worked well past midnight (yes, really!) to begin designing a new ORM using GID. The result was An American Student in China, a research model for high school students participating in our BCPS Chinese Cultural Exchange Program. Each year, a group of students spends part of the summer visiting and attending school in China. As part of the program, students must research a topic of their choice related to that experience. We had been asked by our Office of World Languages staff to develop a new ORM for this research task. Part of the reason for their request was that students had been producing low-level “topical” reports on landmarks they had visited, like the Great Wall of China or the Terracotta Warriors— reports with little personal significance or reflection, about topics they could have researched without actually visiting China.

We designed An American Student in China by incorporating the 8 phases of GID with our existing ORM steps. Since this GID-aligned ORM was first launched for the 2012-13 school year, students have been better able to identify a research focus and question that is personally meaningful and relevant to their own interests and experience in China. Office of World Languages staff has reported that students’ projects have been more varied and unique, including topics like Chinese family life, traditions, education, music, and pop culture. *Unfortunately I do not have examples of student research products to post here now, but I will try to get access to some of these to share later.


After creating that first ORM at the CISSL Institute in 2012, we re-formatted many of our existing Online Research Models to incorporate GID. We’ve paid deliberate attention to Third Space—something that our previous ORMs were lacking. Some of our early ORMs included Scenarios with introductions like, “Congratulations! You’ve been selected as a member of the Board of Directors of the Smithsonian!” (SERIOUSLY? How many middle school students would really relish that prospect?) Since adopting GID, our ORMs endeavor to engage students in the Open phase by making more relevant real-world connections to their lives. In addition, our former research Scenarios typically included only one link to an article or video for building background knowledge and connecting to content. Our ORMs now provide more resources and time for these important activities in the Immerse phase of the process. We’ve worked to provide more resources and choices for students to “look around,” “dip in,” and “explore interesting ideas” in the Explore phase, BEFORE they Identify an inquiry focus/question and move forward into the Gather phase. We’re encouraging our content curriculum collaborators to allow for greater student choice in how they’ll Create to communicate and Share their knowledge with others. And we’ve built into our ORMs the crucial opportunity for student reflection and self-evaluation during the Evaluate phase.

orm_IdeclareSince 2013 we have dispensed with our original ORM steps, and have been using the 8 GID phases exclusively to design research tasks for all grade levels and content areas. See these examples: Act Now! Supplies Limited (Grade 5 Library Media/Environmental Science); Power of the Pen: Writers as Agents of Social Change (Grade 6 GT English Language Arts) and Epidemic Experts (Grade 7 English Language Arts); and I Declare! Founding Fathers Sound Off on Contemporary Issues (Grade 11 English Language Arts). These Online Research Models are included in content curriculum guides, where teachers are encouraged to collaborate with their school’s library media specialist to integrate information literacy skills instruction at identified “zones of intervention.”

Based on feedback from school librarians, teachers and students across the district, we know that Guided Inquiry Design has transformed the student research experience in BCPS to increase their engagement in the inquiry process, helping to facilitate their successful acquisition of skills aligned to the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, the Framework for 21st Century Learning, ISTE Standards for Students, and Common Core State Standards … not to mention content standards like the NGSS and C3 Framework.


Stay tuned for my next post, where I will share some of our team’s professional development efforts and other resources we’ve developed to support the use of Guided Inquiry in school libraries and classrooms across our large district.

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


Process to Practice

Hello from Westborough High School, Westborough Massachusetts!

In the early days of teaching, I learned quickly that letting students ask questions – that I didn’t know the answer to – was a sure way to keep curiosity an integral part of learning – for students as well as their teacher.  As a library teacher, I have always looked for engaging ways to infuse this questioning into the research process.  I became very interested in inquiry based teaching strategies that allowed students to delve deeply into a topic of their choice very early in my career.

My true experiential teaching with inquiry began with middle school students on a fixed library schedule.  The schedule gave the opportunity to work closely with these students, their thoughts, and their research journals.  I created “research stations” that moved them through the process of research at their individual pace and ability. I had learned about  Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process, among others,  in a graduate school  and enjoyed putting these processes to the test with my middle school students.

Fast forward a few years, to my current position as Library Teacher at Westborough High School. Again, looking to bring process to the practice of research, I continued to delve into inquiry based teaching strategies and to promote curiosity, engage students in asking questions, thinking critically, and solving problems. As teachers approached me with projects, I probed for projected outcomes and discussed with colleagues about the shift that could happen with this type of learning.  

When the opportunity arose to apply for the CISSL Summer  Institute at Rutgers University, I knew that we needed to try for a spot with a team from WHS.  I was able to gain the trust of Marci D’Onofrio (a science teacher), Kathy Stoker (an English teacher)  and Carol Cavanaugh, (the assistant principal at the time) to apply to become a GID team.  The Institute was instrumental in shaping our pedagogy around inquiry.

And so begins the journey…


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!