The Questions that Drive Me Forward

At the end of the day, there are always more questions than answers and this is what keeps pushing forward to learn more.  Guided Inquiry and Deign Thinking were never intended to work together, but they do have interesting similarities that can be leveraged to benefit each other.  But what are the challenges that present themselves when using these models either together or individually?

The first that comes to my mind is in the process of helping students to find their Third Space.  How do we better connect students with topics that are meaningful to them?  I’ve spent significant time with students who just can’t seem to find that topic that has personal meaning within the curricular domain that we are studying.  I’ve had students who flip flop between projects as they try to find that one design problem them that they really need to solve.  Guided Inquiry certainly has some ideas that support this process through the Open, Immerse and Explore phases and these can be leveraged in or before an Empathy phase in Design Thinking but there always seems to be one or more students who are so connected to the game of school or disconnected from the subject matter that finding Third Space seems to be impossible.  They just want to be told what to do and they will go off and do it.  Give them a hoop, and they will jump through it.  What can we do for them, hopefully without devoting so much time to one or two students that we neglect the rest of the class?

Creating and Prototyping require skills.  There is a second domain of learning that is required for a student to be able to make anything.  We spend years teaching students how to write an essay.  When they are asked to write a paper on topic X, they know what to do, but what happens when we say, “OK, make whatever you want to demonstrate your learning.”  Or if we say, “Here’s the problem.  Make something that solves it.”  We need to structure the Create/Prototype phase in a way that at least helps the student take inventory of what they know how to do so that they can apply the right skills to the problem at hand.  I have had students jump into projects only to find out that they don’t have a clue how to go about what they’ve set out to do.  I’ve also had students hell-bent on presenting something in a way that demonstrates their skills in making in a particular way but is completely ineffective in demonstrating their learning of the topic.  What structures can we put in place or how do we otherwise support these students so they don’t get overwhelmed, lost, or simply default to an essay or powerpoint because that’s the only thing they know how to do?

Finally, where does an inquiry unit really end?  The dream is that a student will become so connected with a topic that there are more questions that come from their research or the product that they build is simply version 1 of a long line of constantly improving versions.  Our assignments turn into their life’s work.  But we don’t have time for that.  We need to move to the next chapter in the textbook or next unit in the curriculum.  How do we support the students when they do get it right in a transformative way?  What can we do to build that next unit so there are opportunities to reflect on their work in different ways and continue to follow their passion?  I know that this is highly situationally dependent and one jurisdiction will be more tightly prescribed in how they move through the content of the course than the next, but isn’t this the Holy Grail of teaching?  Isn’t this what it’s all about?  Once the student does make that meaningful connection, how do we continue to support them to follow their interests as far as they can take them?

I’ve enjoyed sharing my thinking here on the 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry blog.  I know that I have clarified my thinking in some areas through the act of writing them down for you, and I truly hope that at least one person has got something out of it.  I’d be curious to know what you thought of any or all of the last three posts and would love to continue the conversation here in the comments, via Twitter (@marc_crompton) or even through email (  And if you’re ever in Vancouver, come by the school and we can show you what we’re up to!

Thanks for reading,

Marc Crompton

Musings on GID vs DT

Last post, I talked briefly about the relationship between Design Thinking and GID.  Today, I’d like to dig a little deeper into that relationship and look at how these two models can complement each other.  As we will see, each model has its strengths that can support the other assuming that the context is right.  One thing to keep in mind through this discussion is that the origins of each model are significantly different and so the emphasis is different in each.  Guided Inquiry came out of the recognition that student research projects were ineffective and often caused students a range of unintended emotions.  Carol Kuhlthau’s research looked at identifying how (or if) students were engaged at various points of the research process and looked at ways of increasing that engagement.  Almost exclusively, the typical medium for demonstrating one’s knowledge was the research essay.  The Design Thinking model came from an attempt to understand how folks who make new things work.  This looked at trying to codify the often messy process that someone building anything from a car engine, to a lemon juicer, to a prosthetic might use.  While these are very different processes – and one might argue that the way one person operates within a research or design process might be very different from another carrying out the same task – there are enough parallels to make the discussion fruitful.

Let’s start at the very beginning.  After all, it is a very good place to start!  Both Design Thinking and Guided Inquiry begin with open collection of information.  This begins with a broad spark from some experience that kicks the process into gear (Open in Guided Inquiry, the design brief in Design Thinking).  Guided Inquiry breaks this process into three phases – Open, Immerse, Explore – and allows students a period of loosely guided wallowing in the topic in order to build genuine connections and interest.  We recognize that the topic is likely brought down from on high by the teacher, but every attempt is made to ensure that the student sees a real connection with their own life.  Likewise, Design Thinking uses an Empathy phase.  This is a very human-centred process that builds understanding of the needs of the users of whatever is being designed.  This will include interviews and other forms of research that simply build an understanding of the problem.  While this phase is typically human-centred, I find that there is also an element of research here as well.  To understand other’s needs and to truly understand the problem, there is likely some straight-up book or web research that digs into the concepts behind the issues.  For example, if one is building a prosthetic hand for someone else, one needs to understand how the hand is going to be used (an office worker might have different needs than a rock climber), how materials affect the way the hand can be used, and perhaps what other designs may have been used in the past to address similar issues.  Of course, an understanding of the bone and muscle structure of a normally functioning hand would be immensely useful!

Next, comes the definition of the problem.  In GID, this comes in the phrasing of the ultimate question being addressed and may look like a driving question, a research question, a thesis statement or any number of carefully wordsmithed structures.  In Design Thinking, this is the definition statement and can come in the form of a question that starts with, “How might we…” or it can look more like a statement that reads “User X needs Y because of Z.”  In both models, we spend time building broader understanding in order to come to a point where defining the problem is effective.  There are plenty of stories of designers who, after an effective empathy phase, define the problem in a way that the end user had never thought of, but on reflection, addresses the true nature of the problem better than the use ever could have.  The solution is something far different than was originally expected.  Likewise, a teacher might have an idea of what directions a student might take a GID unit, but until the personal connections with the topic are made, the ultimate direction of the projects can be surprisingly different!

Once we have our definition, the paths of the two models diverge a little.  In Guided Inquiry, this is where we get down to the work of gathering and digesting information for our research.  In Design Thinking, we can think of the Ideation phase as a process of gathering as many possible solutions to the defined problem as possible.  In GID, the ideas come from others; in Design Thinking, the ideas come from ourselves.  You might think of Gathering as focusing your thinking while Ideation as a process of widening your thinking, although that would only be partly true.  The purpose of Ideation is to consider all possible solutions and then pick the “best” one for the next phase.  While the process is somewhat different, it points in the same direction.

The fun begins in the Create/Prototype phase.  Both of these are where the learning manifests itself into some creation, whether that be a written paper or physical product.  Both involve the playing with ideas that are a result of the previous phases and articulating thinking in a way that will ultimately be shared with others.  It should be pointed out that in both models, the apparent linear sequence is somewhat of a fallacy and I would say, no more a fallacy than between the gathering of ideas and the articulation of them.  An essay writer will find that there are remaining questions that need to be answered and will go back and gather more information as much as an engineer might get to a certain point with a prototype and realizes that the idea simply won’t work and needs to go back to the ideation phase.

Finally, the work needs to be shared and reflected on.  In GID these are the Share and Evaluate phases.  In Design Thinking, we test the prototype and that process, in all likelihood, involves testing against the users’ needs and sharing it with those users.  GID promotes the idea that this sharing should not be the private handing in of an essay to the teacher but sharing learning back to the community of learners in order to extend and deepen everyone’s learning.  In Design Thinking, that sharing is more dependent on the situation.  If the design problem has been presented by a single person, then maybe the sharing is back to that individual.  Usually, there is a larger user group that the prototype is tested with.  The essential point in this is that the purpose of sharing is different.  GID shares to deepen community understanding while Design Thinking shares in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the solution.

It strikes me, as I write this, that GID is might be typically good for thinking about concepts while Design Thinking might be good for thinking about things.  I’m sure that this is a drastic over-simplification, but there is some truth in it.  GID can be used to solve problems by building something, but the nature of the research is primarily conceptual.  You might be trying to understand people’s perspectives or the reasons behind something.  The results of that conceptual research might be manifest in writing, physical objects or virtual simulations, but the concepts are at the focus.  In Design Thinking, the thinking is more about how we make something to solve a problem.  It can be a subtle distinction, but the emphasis is important.  The kinds of things one thinks about when building a solution to a problem might be what materials are best to use, how we connect those materials, what function our object needs to perform and how the design serves the function.  Clearly, there are concepts underlying all of this, but the concepts serve the process where in GID the concepts are the process.  Again, this is likely a drastic generalization and many examples can likely be brought forward that show the weakness of this argument, but I think that there is some use in at least exploring this comparison.

Once we understand the strengths of each model and how they relate, we can use that knowledge to build even more powerful units in particular areas.  Of course, there will be situations where one model stands on its own brilliantly and would likely be made weaker by forcing ideas of the other into it.  But there are situations where the combination is even more powerful.  The research ideas behind Open, Immerse, Explore and even Gather can underpin the Empathize piece for those Design Thinking processes that require more academic underpinnings.  Likewise, the ideas behind Empathize can support more socially based GID units.  Of course, given that Design Thinking is often about building a solution to a problem, some of the prototyping ideas can help similar Create phases of GID.

Next post, I’ll look at some questions and issues that I’m having with both models.  It seems that the more that I explore, the more questions I have!


Marc Crompton

Introducing: Marc Crompton

Well… reintroducing, really!  I’m a Teacher Librarian at St George’s School in Vancouver, BC.  That’s right, the same school as the divine Curious St George!  While she’s at our Jr School (grades 1-7), I see the boys when they come up the street to our Sr School.  Yes, I used the word “boys” purposely as we are a single-gender (boys) school.  You might be interested in my posts (1,2,3) from last year where I talked about work with a grade 10 Social Studies Class and how I look at other tools as they work in conjunction with GID, such as NSRF’s protocols.

To put things in context, I’ve been at St George’s School for 25 years.  I was likely hired, in part, because I’d played rugby in high school, but I was brought on as a music teacher and have yet to spend a day on the rugby pitch.  In 2009, some different opportunities opened up at the school that I thought that I’d try my hand at.  I started leading an educational technology cohort of teachers and took on a very “part-time and temporary” role as our school librarian.  Since then, I’ve completed my MLIS at San Jose State and am permanent and very full time…  In the past year, I’ve also taken on the creation and administration of a grade 10 STEM program.  Through this time, I’ve written a number of articles for Teacher Librarian magazine, co-authored a book on Collection Development with Dr David Loertscher and, most recently and pertinently, have contributed chapters to Leslie’s High School edition of the GID book series.  I also have a personal blog that I’m recently not contributing much to, but if you’re more interested in the kinds of things that I think about, you could head over to Adventures in Libraryland.
My journey in GID started in a meaningful way, when Leslie was kind enough to organize a trip to Boston for myself, Curious St George and two of our Sr School Social Studies teachers to check out two schools who were deeply embeded in the ways of GID.  The teachers and librarians at Lexington and Westborough High Schools were amazing hosts and we had a chance to talk in depth with students and teachers about their experiences with GID in conjunction with some great chats with Leslie to help put it all in perspective.  From there, we came back to Vancouver and started implementing the model and spreading the gospel.  Since then, I’ve worked with teachers at our Sr School in Social Studies, English, Computer Science, and Languages to design and implement GID units.  Some were successful and some were less so, but all engaged students in meaningful ways and made research relevant.

In my own teaching, I’ve been looking at instructional design models that focus around building or making physical manifestations of student learning.  My current STEM cohort works most overtly with a Design Thinking model that has come out of Stanford’s dSchool.  This is not to say that I’ve abandoned GID however.  My experience and knowledge of the GID model has informed everything that I do within the Design Thinking model.  I actually see a strong correlation between the two models and I think that aspects of GID truly make Design Thinking, when used as instructional design, much more effective.

In a nutshell, the emphasis in Design Thinking is in the creating a solution to a problem.  In many ways, it is akin to Problem Based Learning.  What GID brings to the process is the stronger research structure and documentation of thinking.  While every one of my students thinks in terms of the Design Thinking model and are adept at adapting that model to a variety of situations, they are also using the tools of GID in their Inquiry Journals (blogs), and how they approach their Immerse and Explore phases.

My next posts will look at this relationship between GID and my students’ use of Design Thinking.  Likely, my last post will look at our current process and investigate how explicit use of GID concepts will allow us to improve the work that they are doing in a few key ways.  I hope that you’ll enjoy reading and I encourage you to push back and challenge me as we go.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I likely have even fewer than I think I do!


Marc Crompton


And the Results Are In!

I did my first guided inquiry project this fall with two of my freshman ELA classes.  The general topic was on civil rights–connecting the movement of the 1960s to the civil rights climate in society today.  Partly due to it being my first GID project, we did not assign a final paper, project, or presentation based on the research, which on the one hand seemed to make things a little easier on me, and on the other hand felt a bit like cheating.  My students were confused, too.  Although we had a good vision for the project, a lot of it was planned as we went along since I was also learning as we went along, and we never planned a final product assignment.  My teacher librarian helped me understand that with GID, that was an acceptable option.

I have always claimed to be someone who appreciated the journey more than the destination and the process more than the product, but it seems different when you are responsible for teaching, although it shouldn’t.  One of the things I discovered during this guided inquiry is that I like to see what my students “got.”  “What did they get out of it? Did they get something? What did they get?”  I am curious.  I want to know.  I want to see it, even if I don’t always want to grade it.

At the end of the project, I had no regrets about not having assigned a traditional paper or presentation, except for the fact that I didn’t feel like I saw enough of what they got.  On the other hand, I didn’t exactly put a lot of time into reading their research notecards, either!  We did ask the students to complete a final reflection in writing.  It’s just that for me, there wasn’t enough about what they learned, content-wise, in their reflections.

That being said, I am definitely satisfied enough to do this project again in a similar way.  I am looking forward to working with our teacher librarian, Anita Cellucci, again because I know that her guidance will help me evaluate, adjust, and fine-tune the process.  I am also hoping to come across some other good ideas for guided inquiry projects.  I am planning to read Leslie’s high school edition of Guided Inquiry Design in Action to help inspire me.  

Meanwhile, here are some of the noteworthy reflections from the students who were the founding participants of our civil rights GID project.   

How did what you found in your research help you understand what is going on today?

  • It made me realize that although we believe that segregation and inequality are no longer an issue, it still appears in many ways. Seeing the similarities in many of the deaths and protests that occur now, and that did occur in the past demonstrates that the United State’s hasn’t evolved as much as we thought.
  • I found a lot of information about the current rights for LGBT members. It made me think about how blacks, women, minorities used to be discriminated against and now the world is trying to create equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexuals, and transgendered people.
  • I researched in the areas of black power in the time of the 1960’s and I have studied how that movement has shifted into the U.S. today in the form of #BlackLivesMatter. The use of technology allows protesters today to spread their powerful words for equality.

How did knowing that there was no paper to write affect how you felt about your research?

  • It helped me focus more on the research and instead of thinking about making paragraphs it helped me focus more on the overall understanding of the inquiry project, and answering the topic question. Knowing that there was no paper to write helped me focus on understanding the main idea.
  • It made me a little less stressed and allowed me to look at a more general view of the topic as well as allowed me to develop a lot more ideas and opinions about the topic rather than just focusing on one.
  • Well, instead of really directing my research to a certain topic and narrowing down the different branches of civil rights, I kept my research broad and I was able to learn a lot more than I would have if there was a paper at the end.

Describe how you felt about working on this inquiry project a) when you first started, b) as you were gathering information and c) as you discussed your research with your classmates.  

  • When I first started this inquiry project I was a bit confused, I didn’t really fully understand the question. While I was gathering information I was a bit frustrated because at first I didn’t know if there was a final product or not but as soon as I learned that there wasn’t, the researching became a lot easier. At the end of the project, I felt that I had learned quite a bit about civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement and I felt that I had done a good job with the research.
  • While discussing my research with my classmates, I realized that I had very much enjoyed completing so much research on different components of the large topic of civil rights. I have gained so much more knowledge surrounding the topic and can say that overall I liked and appreciated this inquiry project.
  • As I discussed my research with my classmates, it helped a lot because I got to hear what other people did with the project, and sharing my ideas and having Mrs. Cellucci ask me questions about what I found helped my understanding of what I found a little better.

Thanks for reading!  –Susan Smith

High School ELA Civil Rights GID


I really didn’t mean to leave the last blog as a cliffhanger.  But on that note, to pick up the story, we left our hero taking the plunge into a Guided Inquiry Design project on civil rights…and no worries, we all lived happily ever after.  

So the notorious science project from 2015 was an aberration, really, in a school which had been successfully using Guided Inquiry Design in several disciplines for a couple of years already.  One reason that the freshman reaction to that particular science inquiry was so loud is because almost every freshman in the school was doing it at the same time.  That, and a variety of other non-favorable guided inquiry design circumstances combined for a kind of perfect storm.  The silver lining, though, for me anyway, was that it really prompted me to investigate Guided Inquiry Design and then, more importantly, to partner with our extremely accomplished teacher librarian for tons of help and guidance with the whole project.  

Even without knowing the particulars of Guided Inquiry Design, a guided inquiry project on civil rights appealed to me as something that would kill a lot of birds with one stone.  I wouldn’t have to worry about appearing to have an “agenda” on social and political issues, I wouldn’t have to review and gather the right sources, and my students could come to their own conclusions based on their own research.  Plus, I could feel like my students were getting exposed to important information about the past and about our world today.  Such a project would satisfy an ideal of creating authentic assignments, it would connect literature with life, it would satisfy a research requirement, it would promote intellectual curiosity, it would just about walk the dog and build strong bodies 12 ways.  Still, there was a lot to think about and plan out beforehand, so I was fortunate to have our teacher librarian expert to walk and sometimes push me through it.  

It was my first Guided Inquiry project.  It was a lot.  I guess those are my disclaimers.  

I learned a lot.  I will do it again.  I guess those are my claimers.  

I’m not going to lie.  There were times when my teacher librarian partner looked at me like I had two heads (I wanted to let the kids use social media for research, somehow), and I know there were times I thought she had three heads—and I couldn’t understand any of them (She wanted to just give the kids a bunch of magazines and newspapers to look through! And forget about the differences between open, explore, and immerse or the five kinds of learning rubric—what are you talking about?).  But, we were successful in the end, and sometimes we even still speak to each other when we can’t avoid it (kidding!).  

We started with the idea or the prompt.  I wanted students to compare the original Civil Rights Movement to the things going on today.  I had even seen some articles with titles like “Are We Having a Second Civil Rights Movement?” so I wondered if they could research that question and support or deny it.  Anita and I talked through some of my thinking and she helped me come up with the essential question: what are the similarities between the time of the original Civil Rights Movement and today, and how can we use this information to understand the climate in the U.S. today?

One of my favorite pieces of the project was one of the early stages. Umm… yes, it was definitely one of those early stages.  We created stations. One station had several photos of then and now (like a 60s protest photo and a picture of Colin Kaepernick).  One had an article from The Atlantic relating to racism and the presidential election.  The third station had a great video (that I found on Facebook) about the women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement.  The next day was even better!  In planning, Anita had watched me hem, haw, argue, and stress out for about 20 minutes straight, and then she decided that we should gather up a bunch of current magazines and newspapers from right there in the library where we stood, and have the students go through them in search of items related to civil rights.  I was incredulous.  I never thought they would just find things if we didn’t already know what was in there, but I went along with it, with absolutely no faith.  Luckily, Anita plowed on, because I  ended up loving it.  My honors students found a bunch of relevant articles and pieces.  The movie Loving was out (about an interracial couple who wanted to get married, which was against the law, and went to court), there was an article about local discrimination in housing, an article about immigration, and a bunch of other great things that I can’t remember.  I just remember that I was amazed at how wrong I was, and excited for all the topics the students seemed to be engaged in.  There was even something just pretty cool about seeing students reading newspapers.  None of the groups ran out of civil rights connections, and the sharing afterwards helped everyone to see how many different topics were included under the idea of civil rights today.  Check, check.  

My college preparatory level students who were doing the same project did not do as well with the newspapers and magazines, interestingly.  One kid got lost in the paper, and he and several others seemed to forget what we were looking for.  When we shared, he talked about what he had found interesting in the obituaries.  Although the students themselves were content, we decided to give this class one more day with that early stage of the process.  It’s noteworthy that these projects can be fluid and adapted for the students’ needs.  These guys needed a little more, so we found four videos and did another station session.  One video was the part of the Eyes on the Prize documentary that featured the story of Emmett Till.  One video was from an episode of What Would You Do? that featured a woman being denied service at a bakery for wearing a Muslim headscarf.  One video was about a transgendered teen who was an activist.  The final video addressed the Dakota pipeline protests.  Adding an extra day with some pre-selected content made a big difference for this class, I think.

Although there were other aspects of the project that I really appreciated, like how easy it was to read students’ notecards in Noodle Tools, I think those introductory sessions were the highlight for me.  I even used the same sort of station format for a lesson with my senior film class.

I could certainly say more about the project in its various stages, but I’m so long winded, and I have said the things that seem most important to me.   Definitely not a cliffhanger–I will try to talk about the results of our project in the next post.  

Susan Smith


How Facebook, the NCTE, The Secret Life of Bees, and My Pissed Off Freshmen Got Me Into Guided Inquiry


My name is Susan Smith (yes, that is my witness protection program name), and I teach high school English in the suburbs of Boston, MA.  This year I took the plunge and did my first guided inquiry project. This is how I got there. (Warning, I tend to make short stories long.)

I have taught all four high school grade levels at one time or another, but I have taught freshmen every year for the last ten years.  One of the novels we do in freshman English is The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, which takes place during the Civil Rights Movement.  Although we definitely do some activities related to the historical context of the novel, as the years have passed I have been more and more itching to do something beyond teaching kids about civil rights in the 1960s.  I have wanted to have some discussions and increase awareness of how those events and those issues are not just “what it was like in the old days before things got better like they are now”— if you know what I mean.  Sometimes in speaking about racism and social injustice, I feel like I am teaching them racist and homophobic and sexist content that they may have never thought of before—almost like I am teaching it TO them instead of teaching them about it.  Like if I talk about how there is a history of a stereotype of lust and violence around black men and white women and how white men have (created and) reacted to that stereotype (as in the story of Emmett Till), I am teaching them terrible concepts that they never thought of before (and didn’t need to know?).   Still, it is important stuff.  Recently, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, with the increased awareness of cases of police brutality and institutionalized racism and voter rights discrimination and so many other social justice topics and issues, I have felt more compelled to figure out what to do.  

In September of 2015, the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) put out a statement to English teachers that basically said that it is somewhat of a moral responsibility to address and discuss with students what has been going on—to discuss racism in our country and our history  ( Paragraph six in particular, and this line—“In addition to the revolution on the ground, we seek a parallel revolution in curricula, instructional models and practices, assessment approaches, and other facets of education that would lead to a future free from the barriers of prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and bias”).  The NCTE piece helped me feel more confident, so I found some articles related to current day racism and social justice, including the wealth equity gap, the school to prison pipeline, and even the Syrian refugee debate.  We read and discussed the articles in class and I felt somewhat more satisfied.  At the same time, I heard from some teachers that they didn’t feel comfortable having a social or political “agenda” in their curriculum.  They were uneasy about teaching kids things that might contradict the beliefs of their parents.  

Then, over this past summer, as so many social issues cropped up in the news and in popular discourse due to the upcoming elections, I saw more and more compelling posts and articles in my Facebook feed.  I learned a lot, and I again felt a desire to bring such topics to my students.   I just wasn’t sure what and how.  I knew that I could possibly put some time in and gather and curate some articles and posts from various figures that were popping up in my feed and educating me—like New York Times articles and Shaun King posts and stories about Black Lives Matter, but I just felt unsure of what to gather, and ultimately, how exactly to present or integrate those items  into my curriculum.   

That’s where I landed this fall—still with these ideas in the back of my mind, and chewing on what to do with my thoughts and my impulse to do something more deliberate with my students.

They say that there is no bad publicity, and although there are other reasons that guided inquiry was on my radar, probably the most memorable reason is because my 2015 freshmen hated it.  I heard their chatter before class started. Usually I don’t pay attention to it because it is a bit of a boundary for me; I feel like they should have their semi-private social time when they can get it.  However, the freshman chatter about the science inquiry project was fairly constant.  When it began to seem that they had been griping, stressing-out, and commiserating with each other about the science inquiry project (their first guided inquiry experience) for months on end, I finally asked them about it.  Given the chance to vent, their volume nearly blew my hair back.  On the other hand, though, anything that arouses that much passion in a 14 year-old can’t be all bad, right?  So I talked to them about it, and I talked to some other teachers about it, and nearly a year later I talked to our media specialist about guided inquiry.  In the end, in spite of, and because of, the notorious science project, I put all the pieces together and walked right into my own guided inquiry design project on civil rights.

Americans Who Made a Difference: Popplets, Paper People, and Videos!

In my previous post, I referred to our first Guided Inquiry unit with 2nd grade, Americans Who Made a Difference. For this post, I will describe the unit in more depth.

In our 2nd grade Social Studies curriculum, students were learning about such people as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, George Washington, Ruby Bridges, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Cesar Chávez. For Open experiences, I really like to use tangible artifacts or some other type of real object if possible. I was able to gather an object to represent most of the above people, and set them out on a table. They were only numbered, and the students tried to guess the important person that each object represented. This was a fun hands-on way for them to start interacting with the people from history, and it also gave them an opportunity to interact with each other and discuss the meaning of some of the objects.

For Immerse and Explore, each student had a basic Inquiry Journal on which to write down some information. Their journals included a place to write down the names of 2-3 people they had browsed, and the sources where they read about each. Most students were able to get some good ideas about who they wanted their units to focus on through this process, and then were were ready for Identify.

After students had identified the person they wanted to learn about, we proceeded on to Gather. Students had a four square research page to use as an organizer for their thoughts and information. Many of the 2nd graders needed a lot of scaffolding for this process. Thankfully our extended inquiry teaching team included our resource teacher and assistant who did an excellent job of helping some of the students find the information they needed and get it recorded. Students worked in small groups, using books and online resources for their information. Most students’ subjects were readily available in books and PebbleGo, but there were a few that required a little advance research on my part so that we would have appropriate information for them. Once we had gathered information, we were ready for the real fun!

For Create, we gave the students four choices of projects to make to share their learning: life size cutout paper people on which to write their information, Popplets, Wordles/Tagxedos, or dress up as your person and create a video. There was a fairly even split among the projects the students chose, with the exception of the paper people. Many of the students chose this project. We laughed because when they had their paper people spread out on the tables working, it looked like we were having mass surgeries in the library!

Share was then fairly easy to do with the computer based projects: we printed out the Tagxedos/Wordles, shared the Popplets, and I sent home instructions so that parents could view their child’s project at home. The classes were able to watch the videos that were made, and they all really enjoyed this. We shared the paper people by hanging them on the walls in the hallway outside the library and their classrooms. This raised a buzz among the younger students, who look forward to the year when they get to do this project. Here is one of the projects in which the student chose to share her information through a video:

At the current time we are in the Gather phase of Americans Who Made a Difference, and the students are so engaged. I am very excited to see what lies ahead when they start pulling everything together to Create and Share their information!


Trisha Hutcherson, M.L.I.S.

Monroe Elementary

Norman, Oklahoma

Using GID Inquiry Logs with Elementary PBL Projects

When Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) decided to embrace PBL, we worked with the Buck Institute for Education ( for training and implementation. BIE shows that PBL is a way to engage students, improve learning, helps develop critical thinking skills, promote creativity, and improve communication and collaboration among students (and teachers!). Librarians are essential in making this process work because of the elements within Buck’s framework, especially the Sustained Inquiry element (


One of my AMAZING elementary librarians has embraced PBL and GID in her school. She uses LibGuides as her platform for all student PBL projects ( – look under the Projects tab) so all their work to help with all 8 elements are there for students. Tracey uses resources from Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School when students are researching in the library. Leslie adapted the Inquiry Log for a PD she did on student engagement using GID as an example of how to really build students’ metacognitive skills. Tracey (and other AMAZING librarians in CCPS) are using these tools to help enhance and support student inquiry for PBL and other research projects.

Tracey’s school is one of our first who were trained in PBL, so she and her fellow teachers have had lots of practice and reflection on how to make their PBL projects engaging and have the rigor and relevance for the subject matter part of the project. Here are some examples of how students are using the Inquiry Log:

And what do the students say about these GID tools?

C – The inquiry log is helpful because you can look at different sites without taking notes.

N – The inquiry log is helpful because it helps me decide which sites I should use to find the information I’m looking for. It also helps me pick a subject to use. Another way it helps is it helps me decide which facts I can use.

K: The inquiry log helps because many people can’t remember what they read in the websites. Instead of forgetting, you can put the facts on the inquiry log and remember what you read.


Success is when students feel successful and encouraged to dive deep into what they want to learn!

Lori Donovan is a National Board Certified Librarian and is the Instructional Specialist for Library Services for Chesterfield County Public Schools, VA. She holds a master’s degree in education with a specialty in school library media programs and a Graduate Professional Endorsement in Educational Leadership from Longwood University. She has published several articles in Library Media Connection and co-authored Power Researchers: Transforming Student Library Aides into Action Learners by Libraries Unlimited. She can be reached at or follow on Twitter @LoriDonovan14.

Other blog posts:;;

NAMI Speakers “Open” Students to GI

For my final blog this week, I would like to discuss the importance of the OPEN phase which is defined by the GID process as:

*invitation to inquiry

*open minds

*stimulate curiosity

For the past three semesters in my Psychology in Literature senior seminar, my GID collaborating Librarian Educator Anita Cellucci and I have invited guest speakers from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI; to share their lived experience with mental illness.  And each semester students continually offer positive feedback on how the speakers educate and inspire them.  By having our guest speakers Eliza and Megan share so candidly about their experiences with their own mental illnesses, students are invited to ask questions,  open their minds to erase the stigma of mental illness, and stimulate their curiosity to engage in a Guided Inquiry topic of their choice related to our course.

After Eliza and Megan visit, we ask students to engage in some reflective writing.  Below are the questions we ask and I’ve included three different students responses.

Please write a 1-2 paragraph reflection that expresses your thoughts, feelings, opinions about the visit from NAMI yesterday.

How did this visit and the presenters/presentation:

* validate your thinking?

* clarify mental illness/mental health issues?

* erase stigma?

* create empathy?

Please include any other thoughts you have on the topic.

Student 1:

“I thought the visit from NAMI was extremely helpful and enlightening. I had already known a lot about mental illness, mostly from my Psychology classes. After listening to Eliza and Megan, all of the missing pieces that hadn’t been clarified were clarified. Their presentation also changed the way I think about many aspects of mental illness, specifically stigma and treatment. Their stories were more impactful.  I used to view depression very negatively because every time I read or watched something about mental depression, it ended badly. I also had a family member who killed himself because of depression. From the NAMI presentation, I now know that it is possible to get “cured”, and that negative stigma has gone away. I also now feel a great deal of empathy for those affected by mental depression, and for those who are affected by someone else who is battling depression.

Over the past few months I’ve had more negative emotions than normal. I’ve felt scared to tell someone because the environment around me makes it seem that feeling negatively makes me an outcast. These thoughts make me feel lonely, like no one understands how I feel. After Megan and Eliza shared their stories, I realized that I’m not the only person that has negative thoughts and feelings. For that, I am grateful that I got the opportunity to listen to the NAMI presentation. It has also helped me to acknowledge the support system that is available. I think this presentation should be available to not only the Psychology in Literature classes, but all Psychology-related classes and any other seniors who would be interested.” Zak

Student 2:

“In respects to the visit from NAMI during class yesterday, the topic of mental illnesses and disorders seem to be more of a comfortable topic to recognize. Having others come in and present about this topic that people usually are afraid of or try to avoid really helped me recognize the fact that we shouldn’t be scared of mental illness. Continuing to ignore the heavy topic won’t help those who unfortunately suffer from the different mental illnesses. From sharing the dark days, to coping skills, the presentation helped further support the fact that we should be talking about this problem. I strongly believe that removing the stigma surrounding this issue is essential for the progression of help for those who suffer from mental illness. With more presentations like NAMI presented, as well as availability for classes such as psychology in literature, there is hope to erase the stigma and go in the positive direction for awareness of mental illness. As well as eliminating stigma and broadening education around the topic, the NAMI presentation successfully opened my eyes into the real life of those who struggle with mental illnesses.” Tara

 Student 3

“The visit from the National Alliance on Mental Illness yesterday was an amazing opportunity for all of us, living with mental illness, or have had some kind of contact with people who have any mental illness, to connect with other people and understand their story and how they came out, or still trying to come out, of a very dark hole. One thing that kind of soothes my soul is knowing that I am not alone and that someone somewhere is going through the same kind of thing I am going through. For me, “putting a face to the story” is more than just a connection I make. It is physically existing with another person who is cut out from the same piece of cloth as me and not only listening to their story, but walking with them completely till the very end. To me, this presentation was like looking in a mirror, but instead of seeing my dark thoughts, I’m seeing familiar storylines that have the “alternative ending” and that makes me happier than I can ever say. I think presentations like that are extremely helpful and vital especially to younger kids. In nature, children are easier to be around with and to talk to; they don’t have any preconceived notions and they are more likely to be empathetic. When we don’t do anything to feed that spark of theirs, to encourage them to do more and get better at it, we are slowly pushing them to fail and alienate anyone who is different. It is not a surprise that a lot of people think of mental health illnesses as excuses, “getting sucked up” and that they are totally irrelevant and not real; hence it’s all in your head. It saddens me that to this day people still think that we are making things worse for ourselves and that we can easily snap out of it. You cannot snap out of anything. Sometimes it’s like getting sucked up in a dark hole and even though you’re trying, really trying, you still cannot find a way out. For a lot of people the faint light comes from the outside and for some of us you have to shine that light for yourself. And that is totally fine…” Nadine

The students’ reflections are by far the most personal responses of the semester.  The NAMI speakers literally OPEN up our students to analyze, reflect, and prepare for the last part of our course:  Guided Inquiry. When we first began GI, I created a cool power point presentation for the OPEN phase that reminded students of all the literature we explored throughout the course as a way to spark their interest in a topic.  And although, the power point was a decent option, inviting the NAMI speakers is by far a better Open to stimulate students.  I have often enjoyed brainstorming anticipatory activities to introduce a project and the fact that GI emphasizes the importance of the Open phase is so validating. The Open phase is a motivating, empathic, and energizing way to being Guided Inquiry.

I will end with one more student quote.  Maddie shared the following about the Open in an end of the semester reflection.

“The NAMI speakers were a really powerful part of this course and certain things that they said are notions that I will carry with me for a very long time.” Maddie

Kathleen Stoker

English/Journalism Teacher

Westborough High School

Westborough, MA

twitter:  @stokerkathleen


The Imperfect Educator and GID

So as much as I would love to say all of my GID students’ stories are successful like the one I shared in my last blog post, they aren’t–especially when you take into consideration no two students are the same when it comes to their social emotional learning.  Then there are external factors such as high and stressful expectations from the school and family community that can negatively impact students’ learning.  Oh and yes, there is the imperfect teacher factor.

I want to share the emotional process I recently went through in reflecting on the successes and failures of last semester’s Guided Inquiry in my Psychology in Literature senior seminar course.  For this blog, I am focusing on the failures.  Now when I use the term failure, I am using the definition “the omission of expected action” versus “lack of success.” I also want to make it clear that the failures aren’t related to the phases of GID as much as the human factor brought to GID.

So my Psychology in Literature students were nearing the end of the Create phase when I began to acknowledge that I had made a lot of inaccurate assumptions with this particular group of students with whom we were working.  The students with whom Anita (our school’s librarian educator) and I were working were overall a high functioning group–this is true.  And therefore, I felt I didn’t have to worry about them completing their individual assignments for GI.  However, I realized when I checked the note-taking app that our students use for their research called Noodle Tools (which offers a 30 day review of an individual student’s work flow) that a lot of my students waited to the last minute to complete their research and final product.

I felt duped and taken advantage of.  I felt like I failed the mission of Guided Inquiry–I hadn’t sufficiently guided my students.  They had continued to engage in their old research habits of procrastination.  So gratefully Anita and I had a heart to heart, thoughtful reflection on what I had assumed:

*I assumed that because I had developed a safe, mutually communicative relationship with my students over the semester that the openness would transfer to GI.  I assumed the individual students would approach Anita and me with questions versus us going to check in with them.

*I assumed students would balance their time between GID and an independent book group I had assigned at the same time.

*I assumed students would utilize their time to complete their final project which was a google presentation using screencastify.

*I also assumed because a lot of the students were stressed with their overall academics that we should extend their research time–assuming that they would benefit from more time to engage in their deep dive of research. However, even with an extension, some of the students still waited until the last minute to gather their research.

Well I was wrong on all of my assumptions.  Hence, the imperfect teacher factor.

And admittedly, I began to get very teary-eyed discussing with Anita how I felt not only did my students fail in terms of not meeting what I perceived to be our expectations, but I had failed as one of their teachers of this process.  Anita and I then discussed:

1.  Maybe I had become too comfortable with GI that I assumed my students would naturally be comfortable with the process as well.

2.  Maybe I got lazy. (I said this comment, not Anita.)

3.  Maybe I hadn’t expressed fully to Anita that I wanted her to truly have as much input in the GID process as a lead teacher–meaning for us to honestly share for example that we needed more guided check ins with our students.

And then Anita gently reminded me–

4.   Maybe I was forgetting to be reflective in the fact that some students take longer moving through the social emotional phases of inquiry, so perhaps maybe some students’ procrastination was in fact part of the GI process.  And this point did register as we’ve had at least several students during each course hesitate because their GI is very personal; and therefore, it takes them longer to digest the information.  Anita pointed out a lot of the psychology-based, topics students choose to delve into over the course of approximately four weeks are very emotional for the students to process.

As I read through our students’ final reflections, I did note that every student shared that he/she learned a lot from the GI process.  This information gave me reassurance to not go to all or nothing thinking about this round of GI with our students–to really see their experiences as learning opportunities for me as their teacher.

Anita also encouraged me to be gentle with myself as this imperfect teacher can suffer from internal perfectionism.  She and I started a shared google doc to record our thoughts, feelings, experiences on what we want to do differently next semester.  For example, we plan on going back to more frequent guided check-ins with our students. I also will not assign an additional reading assignment during GI.  And we will stick to our initial due dates, because although we recognize the other academic pressures students are facing, we are confident in the allotted time we give them to move through the phases.

And of course we will continue to acknowledge that each student moves through GI at his/her own social emotional learning pace…and I have learned we teachers also move through GI at our social emotional learning pace as well.

Kathleen Stoker

English/Journalism Teacher

Westborough High School

Westborough, MA

twitter:  @stokerkathleen