Living Guided Inquiry

Teresa Lansford, Lincoln Elementary, Norman OK

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln Elementary Does GId

Welcome fellow designers! I am Teresa Lansford, teacher-librarian at Lincoln Elementary School in Norman, OK. I am about to embark on my 6th year as a school librarian and my 14th year in education. I am a National Board Certified Teacher: Early Childhood Generalist, and received my Masters from the University of Oklahoma. I am a data driven, passionate practitioner, ever on the quest to bring my best to students so I am sure you all can understand how excited I was to learn about Guided Inquiry and what it does for kids.

Our school has adopted GId and ran with it in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. This week I will be sharing how we came to be a school with nearly an entire staff trained in GId, who all think in terms of GId, and who have utilized the process with both student and adult learners. I will share examples of how all grade levels have learned through GId, and how we have enhanced our use of technology through GId.

Lincoln Elementary is a Title 1 school of under 300 students. We have an autism program as well as a DD program. We serve grades PK-5 with two teachers per grade level. Our school is highly collaborative which I believed has helped to promote and support Guided Inquiry. None of us work in a bubble. We have a shared vision of elevating learning to foster creative, innovative members of a community. This has led to us becoming an Oklahoma A+ school for the arts, and winning an OETT grant that allowed us, along with a district bond issue initiative, to be nearly 1-1 in iPads for grades PK-1 and MacBooks for grades 2-5. We are constantly striving to push our students and help them grow beyond the test.

Guided Inquiry gave us the tools to transform how we look at research and think about questioning in our building. I am excited to spend this week sharing with you all that we do!

Giddy for GID!

My name is Elizabeth Walker (everyone calls me Lizzie) and I am the Teacher Librarian at St. George’s School in Vancouver, Canada. I work with about 400 boys from Grades 1 to 7 at our beautiful Junior School.

Like many North American cities, Vancouver is very new – any building older than about 50 years is considered “really old” – so our 1912 former convent heritage building is a truly unique place to work. It’s basically Hogwarts: an imposing grey stone gothic building in the middle of a leafy residential street. Walking through the granite gates and oak door every morning is something I never get tired of. My library occupies one wing of the main floor, and we recently refreshed the furnishings to create a very flexible, kid-friendly, and inviting learning space – a perfect setting for Guided Inquiry.

Oh, just my imposing gothic-revival workplace. No biggie. (Photo credit: stgeorges.bc.ca)

I have worked at the library at Saints for seven years now – in fact, my first cohort of Grade 7s whom I’ve known and worked with since Grade 1 just graduated to the Senior School two weeks ago. It was quite a poignant event for me, marking my own progress as the librarian here.

In my tenure at Saints, I have experimented with a number of educational philosophies and trends – from more traditional “bird units” to Project Based Learning, Inquiry Based Learning, Genius Hour and, of course, Guided Inquiry Design. I had the opportunity to learn about GID from the master herself: a small group of St. George’s teachers met up with Leslie in the Boston area in March 2015 to tour some schools that were implementing it.

From the outset, I knew I liked Guided Inquiry and that it would work well with our students. For one thing, St. George’s is an independent boys’ school, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned working exclusively with the prepubescent XY contingent, it’s that choice in learning is very motivating. Boys need to care about what they’re learning; that Third Space factor is critical. Ergo, projects in the past where teachers have given the students lists of possible topics to research, or have given strict parameters for what information to report, have not always been successful, simply because authentic choice was taken away from the students. The boys would slog through a project on a teacher-selected topic with minimal effort and, in the end, not learn anything significant. Projects like this become a chore.

GID works so well with elementary aged boys because, through the initial phases of the process, they can choose their own area of interest and the direction they want to take their learning. I have used the GID framework (either in its entirety, or the first three phases) in over half a dozen units and projects this year, and it is eye-opening to me how far our boys have gone with topics they are really curious and passionate about. I’ll get into some more details in my follow-up posts this week, but the variety of interests our students have developed is truly astonishing!

Here’s a teaser: any guess what this little creature is? He (or she?) is my Guided Inquiry mascot because he (or she) represents just what kids get curious about when you give them the freedom to explore and learn on their own!

Strange little creature. Photo credit: Alison Murray, ARKive

Strange little creature. Photo credit: Alison Murray, ARKive

Another reason I’ve really taken to GID in a big way is that it is a framework that puts the librarian front and centre (or centER, for you Americans!) of the learning team. Curating sources for students to use in the Explore and Gather phases really ensures that the information they’re accessing is reliable, relatable, and age-appropriate. Gone are the days of teachers letting boys loose on Google: LibGuides, subscription services, pre-selected websites, and – shockingly – books (!) are the stars of the show now. And, with these high quality resources selected for them, our boys learn and practice important research skills like citations, note-taking, and reading for information. Authentically and naturally… and without their librarian feeling like she’s pulling teeth.

One of our Grade 3 students during the Explore phase. Note how no teeth are being pulled. (Photo credit: me)

One of our Grade 3 students reading and taking notes in the Explore phase. Note how no teeth are being pulled. (Photo credit: me)

 

Finally, I like Guided Inquiry because it’s SIMPLE. While organizing the instructional team, planning time and resources can be time consuming, Guided Inquiry itself can be as complex as you wish to make it. In my experience, implementing GID has been smooth sailing because we’ve used resources, people and unit plans that were already there in some form. There was no major investment in supplies or resources (other than some GID books and consulting services from the lovely Leslie) and we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. GID doesn’t need to be a big production, and that has really helped me secure buy-in from many teachers at my school who previously were hesitant to take on “big projects.” And that, in turn, has meant that our students have been able to enjoy powerful, meaningful and FUN (!) learning experiences.

In my next post I’ll be describing some of the Guided Inquiry units I’ve implemented this year, as well as how I’ve stolen the first three phases of Guided Inquiry to beef up pre-existing projects and units at our school. Until then, enjoy these precious first few days of summer holidays!

~ Elizabeth Walker

@curiousstgeorge

This year I scored a microphone to use in the library. It has totally gone to my head. (Photo credit: me)

This year I scored a microphone to use in the library. It has totally gone to my head. (Photo credit: me)

 

Don’t Sit Still

 

This is where we are now.

In the coming year there will be two grades who have gone through a Guided Inquiry Design unit.  I will be working with 3rd Grade teachers to introduce the process to a new set of students.  4th grade will implement at least two units with the students who participated in the animal classification unit.  The 5th grade team does not have a unit planned at this time, but my aim is to target that grade level in August to plan a Guided Inquiry Design unit. This will allow students to stay familiar with the process they learned in the Native American unit.  I will also conduct a unit with 2nd grade because I know that teaching team will readily jump into this design process.  My advice to you is approach a grade level that you know will be willing to learn the process with you (that is what my 3rd grade team did).

When I look at this progress I realize that we will have gone from conducting our first two GID units last year, to having done no less than six in the upcoming school year.  My school wouldn’t be able to continue this growth if we had not started somewhere.  If you haven’t jumped into the GID process I encourage you to give it a try.  My favorite Oklahoman, Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”   If you are like me the right track brought you this far, now we’ve just got to keep moving through a purposeful implementation of the GID process.  We can do it!

Good Luck!

-Stacy

@StacyFord77