Cheese Fondue, Guided Inquiry, and Other Awesome Things

Happy Monday… and Happy National Cheese Fondue Day (nope, I’m not kidding)!

Kelsey Barker

I challenge you to name another job that involves Lorax mustaches.

My name is Kelsey Barker and I am a teacher librarian at Eisenhower Elementary School here in Norman, Oklahoma. That’s right… we are back in Norman, where we have been working hard as a district to implement Guided Inquiry at all levels. I’m so excited to tell you all about the awesome things we are doing here, but first, a little about me.

I guess you could say education is in my blood: I am the child of two public school teachers-turned-administrators (not sure what happened to my business major sister), and despite insisting for 22 years of my life that I would NEVER be a teacher, I find myself in my second year at Eisenhower and loving it every day. Ike is a great place to work: we have a motivated, hard-working staff, supportive administration, and this year, we are undergoing a major renovation. That means a brand new library, complete with Makerspace rooms, is in my future! We serve about 615 students from a huge variety of backgrounds, and a relatively young teaching staff means that we are working in a constant mindset of growth and innovation. Fortunately for me, this means that the teachers in my building are willing to try new ideas all the time!

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Cards and pictures from my students on National School Librarians Day.

When I’m not working at Ike or on projects for the Oklahoma Library Association, I enjoy reading an eclectic mix of children’s, YA, and adult books, doing yoga, going out to eat with my husband (Leslie’s right… we have a lot of great restaurants here!), and spending time with my friends, who double as my mastermind group.

Growing up in Oklahoma in a teaching family, I have no illusions about the state of public education here. Right now, we are facing our worst budget shortfall in years, and it is hurting Norman schools badly. Just last week, we found out that we will not have library assistants next year. For me, this means I will have to get creative with how to keep my current standard of teaching while also managing the daily administrative tasks of the library. While that seems daunting, it also motivates me to work harder to continue doing innovative things and providing the best possible learning experiences for my students. Thankfully, I work in a district that is constantly working to promote learning for students and teachers alike, and will continue to support movements like Guided Inquiry going forward.

For me, Guided Inquiry is all I have ever known: I was introduced to GID through professional development with other Norman Public Schools librarians in the fall of 2014, when I had just started at NPS. I hear talk of the Big Six and other methods from my fellow librarians, but for me, it has always been Guided Inquiry. We read the book, and I immediately fell in love with the idea that, through the process, students take ownership of their own learning. I could easily see how the elements of engagement, relevance, and especially student choice lead to those outcomes that all educators are aiming for every day. I was excited to try it out!

Over the course of last year, I began slowly implementing pieces of the process. Using only the book and the PD we had done, I designed my first Guided Inquiry unit last spring, using first grade as my guinea pigs. Looking back on this unit after completing the 3-day PD with Leslie in October, it’s embarrassing how many important pieces of the process I missed! But we were trying, and even with incomplete, imperfect lessons, I could see the magic of Guided Inquiry coming to life with my students, and I was sold.

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First graders using PebbleGo in the GATHER phase of my very first Guided Inquiry unit

After teaching that unit (and presenting it at a district conference), I became an unofficial champion of Guided Inquiry, especially for use with primary grades. My first unit was designed for first grade mostly because of the willingness of the team and the fact that 3rd-5th grades were testing that month, but it was obvious to me that this process WORKED, no matter the age. That’s why, when it came time to choose a classroom teacher for the Guided Inquiry Institute our district sponsored in October, it was important to me to choose a primary grade teacher to join our Gifted Resource Coordinator, Instructional Coach, and myself. I wanted to prove to everyone else what I had already seen first-hand.

Team Ike at the Guided Inquiry Institute in Norman, October 2015. (Leslie now has her own matching Ike shirt). From left: Maggie Allen, Gifted Resource Coordinator; Karen Campbell, 1st grade teacher; Lisa Raiber, Instructional Coach; Kelsey Barker, Teacher Librarian; Leslie Maniotes

Team Ike at the Guided Inquiry Institute in Norman, October 2015. (Leslie now has her own matching Ike shirt).
From left: Maggie Allen, Gifted Resource Coordinator; Karen Campbell, 1st grade teacher; Lisa Raiber, Instructional Coach; Kelsey Barker (me), Teacher Librarian; Leslie Maniotes

If I do say so myself, Team Ike killed it at the Institute. We developed an in-depth study of the impact of human beings on the environment for first graders. This science unit falls in April, so we are just getting started with it now, but I am confident it will be an awesome learning experience for our kids.

Team Ike planning away at the Guided Inquiry Institute!

Team Ike planning away at the Guided Inquiry Institute!

As Leslie told you last week, I’ve led a few more Guided Inquiry units at Eisenhower since the institute, and I would say we are on our way to having school-wide Guided Inquiry implementation by the end of the school year.

In February, I was asked, along with four other NPS librarians, to be a part of a team developing a Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science curriculum. It has been an awesome experience so far, but I’m going to leave you in suspense on the details. You see, it just so happens that next week’s 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry guest blogger is a part of that team, too, and we have decided to shake up the format and spend the next two weeks taking turns telling you about our experience. Tomorrow, you’ll hear from Buffy, who won’t tell you that she is one of the most incredible librarians out there, mentor to many and admired by everyone who knows her. I’m excited to share these weeks discussing our science unit with her, and as readers, you’ll get to see two different perspectives on the same idea.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have some cheese fondue…

 

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Eisenhower Elementary School

Norman, OK

Final thoughts from Connecticut

Challenges

Right now, there are some challenges that I hope to work on over the next year or two.

First, my schedule is a fixed schedule, meaning that all my classes come one time per week for 45 minutes, without their teacher. I do have a few blocks that are free and I use those for collaboration whenever possible. Also, because I am in one school 3 days a week and the other school 2 days, I often miss team meetings, etc. because I am simply in the wrong building that day. This makes collaborating more difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.

Some teachers and I have really worked to make collaboration work. We have planned together (sometimes electronically), had me start a unit in the library, they take it from there in their classroom, and back and forth until it is completed. Sometimes we have been able to use my free blocks together and then doing different parts in library and in the classroom. At other times, our tech integration specialist has started the unit in the classroom and then worked with the students and me in the library. It’s really helpful to have one person who can be in both places. This spring, our technology teacher and I are working together, so that I am doing the first phases and he will help students with the sharing part. We enjoy a challenge! But I have frequently talked with my administrators about moving to a flex schedule that would allow for better collaboration and student learning.

A flex schedule would also eliminate the problem I often have of seeing classes only once per week. This makes it very difficult for students to really maintain a focus on what they are learning. Instead, I would love the ability to meet with a class every day (or similar) until the project is completed. Sometimes, like last year when I missed 7 Mondays in a row due to snow days and holidays, I have classes that simply miss entire projects. Again, not impossible, but difficult.

Working with my K-2 students, another challenge is simply that many cannot read or write very well yet. Technology has provided many work-arounds, such as using PebbleGo or Worldbook which will read aloud to them, using pictures and having me dictate their words, and our latest love – Seesaw.me which allows students to type or draw a picture and then record their thoughts. I do want to be sure that they are having a balance of using both print/paper and technology, so that is constantly on my mind.

 

Further wonderings

Makerspaces and STE(A)M are very much a part of many librarian conversations these days. I very much want to carefully consider how Guided Inquiry Design can support student learning.

In addition, with the new NGSS and Social Studies standards being adopted, our curriculum director and the rest of our technology and information literacy specialists are looking to see how GID complements them.

Finally, I wouldn’t be a librarian if I didn’t talk a little about the books to use! This morning on twitter, the post was about a 2nd grade teacher’s Top 10 Picture Books to Introduce Units of Study, and I thought, “How perfect!” There are some books that just beg to be used to get kids thinking. Curating lists of books like this is another way that I can help get an inquiry unit off to a terrific start!

It has been such a pleasure reflecting on my own learning and work with Guided Inquiry Design this week. I am very much looking forward to reading the future posts! I will be attending CISSL summer institute this summer with a team of teachers (woo hoo!) and am thrilled to be able to really dig deeper myself into GID and how to create the best learning opportunities for my elementary students.

Many thanks —

Jenny

Starting Small

This year has been a learning year for me in regards to Guided Inquiry Design. Throughout this year, I have been trying out the beginning phases, Open, Immerse, and Explore. I am certainly not doing them perfectly, but I felt that this year it was important to begin to try. I used to get very stressed out that my primary students were not completing whole projects. In the last year or so (thank you CCSS), I have stepped back and instead, tried to include lots of smaller opportunities for using different parts of the research/inquiry process. I am going to share some of these throughout this post.

In October, as part of their study of mammals, my first graders and I read a fiction story about a bear and students began to wonder about whether bears would actually do the things written about in the story. I’m not sure if this is OPEN or IMMERSE, but either way, it got us thinking. We took time to think about what they already knew about bears. First graders think they know a lot. Bears eat people, hibernate, eat fish, eat berries, have brown fur, that sort of thing. It was amazing that once we got some of the basics out of the way, they were ready to learn more.

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Next we spent a lot of time looking at lots and lots of print books and digital resources such as PebbleGo and WorldBook Online to learn more (EXPLORE). After each library time, we added new questions to a class list. Take a look at some of the types of questions that these 6 year olds had now! I believe that taking the time to let students do this kind of learning led to much deeper thinking and questioning.

During another 1st grade lesson, I was interested in the students’ ability to generate questions about a topic. I showed a quick Youtube clip of Bugs Bunny and the Tasmanian Devil. This added a little humor to the lesson! I then asked the kids what did they wonder about Tasmanian Devils? I collected their responses via a Google form (I did the typing). Questions had a wide range (What do they eat? and What color are they really? to Do they really look that angry in real life? and Why are they so weird?) I was only using this as a quick assessment, so we did not take it any further, but I can imagine that the questions would get better and more in-depth if we had spent time in the EXPLORE phase.

A favorite book I like to read with Kindergarteners around this time of year is Possum and the Peeper by Anne Hunter which is about a spring peeper frog who is making a LOT of noise. They are astounded to find out at the end that it is such a tiny little animal which is making a gigantic noise! This is a perfect way to IMMERSE students as they begin to think about the new season of spring and the changes that happen in the world around them and to the animals living in those habitats. Once we read the book, I begin to use a variety of resources to build more background knowledge. Nationalgeographic.com has a terrific section on spring peepers, complete with the sound it makes! It also has photographs of the peeper next to a paperclip. I feel that connecting these 5 year olds with things they can relate to is so important. A goal I have this year is to try and use inquiry circles by having the students choose an animal from the spring peeper book to find out more about.

While not a phase of GID, another activity that I have done this year with the Ks is based on an idea from Daniels and Harvey’s Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action. Students work in small groups and myself to browse through books or digital media about a topic. We used the topic of rainforests since they were learning about evergreens in their classrooms and I wanted to connect the different types of trees and animals they might see in each type of forest. As they were reading and looking at pictures, if they found something they were wondering about, they would circle the words “I wonder” on their paper. If they learned something new, they circled “I learned.” Beneath this, they would draw a picture and I scripted their words. I want even my littlest learners to understand that both pictures and words can help you to ask questions and learn new things.

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THE CURRENT PROJECT

At this point in the school year, I often want to do inquiry or research with my students. They have used their library, class and tech time to learn about all kinds of resources, become better readers and thinkers, and good questioners. I also look for opportunities for my students’ learning to be shared not just among themselves or our school community, but to the wider world as well. I am taking advantage of a collaborative effort between librarian Shannon Miller and Cantata Learning called Celebrations Around the World. It is a global project in which students learn about and share in whatever way they choose, about celebrations of their choice. This works well for me since I teach at two schools, whose curricular focuses are slightly different.

I also wanted to have students investigating something besides animals or states, but that would still be really interesting to them. 1st grade classes have a One World focus in their classrooms and will be selecting a type of celebration such as Valentine’s Day and investigating how it is celebrated in other parts of the world. The 1st/2nd graders have been studying Brazil with their classroom teachers and we will be exploring similar celebrations in other South American countries. The 3rd/4th grade classes will be researching National Parks which are celebrating their centennial birthday this year.

OPEN – All grades began by listening to and singing along with the Happy Birthday interactive book from Cantata Learning. The words were sung in English, Spanish and also shown in sign language. Because it is a song that everyone knows, the kids just joined right in. Including the different languages was a great hook, because it got them thinking about other cultures and celebrations other than just our traditional U.S. holidays.

 

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IMMERSE – Each grade level is reading a picture book that starts getting them thinking about their topic. This week the 1st & 2nd graders read the book I Lost My Tooth in Africa, which is a true story about a girl who loses her tooth while visiting family in Mali. Instead of what my students are used to (money), the girl in the story receives CHICKENS! This really intrigues my students and even more so after reading the author’s note explaining how the story came to be. My classes of 3rd/4th graders will be reading The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barbara Rosenstock. This is a fictionalized story of the camping trip that President Roosevelt and John Muir took in Yosemite in 1903, which eventually led to the establishment of our National Park system. I expect to have some terrific conversations about why this happened and it’s impact.

With the 3rd and 4th grade mixed classes, I will be using a form of inquiry journal to begin to have students record thoughts and ideas.

EXPLORE – For all groups, the next step will be to browse through many different resources as they begin to develop their inquiry questions.

When this inquiry project is finished, we will be adding the student shares to the Celebrations Around the World Google Slides. Not only will we be learning a lot, but we will be able to share with participants from around the world. I am really excited to see where the students go with this!

Reading this post over, I can see that I have been learning a lot over the course of this year and still have a lot to learn. It is a process for sure, but it is a great challenge too!

Looking Forward in Connecticut!

There are a lot of things I am looking forward to as March begins here in central Connecticut. My daughter’s 9th birthday comes tomorrow. College basketball’s March Madness. SPRING – can we really get through this winter with only 2 snow days? But one of the things I most look forward to is having a nice chunk of time to do some focused learning in the library with my students.

My name is Jenny Lussier and I am an elementary school library media specialist in Durham and Middlefield, CT. I work in two schools, a PreK through grade 2 school (next year it will be up to grade 3) with about 200 students and a Kindergarten through grade 4 school with about 240 students. My library classes are on a fixed schedule, with each class coming once a week for 45 minutes. Before becoming a librarian, I was a classroom teacher in grades 5 and 6 for 11 years.

I have always been a reader (you will always find me sharing book ideas with anyone who will listen). Technology has also been a major interest for me, beginning way back with the first Apple computers and continuing today as I love exploring new things, like robots! Growing up, my family culture was always about learning and discovering new things. But as a teacher and librarian, I found research to be the most challenging area with which to help students.

Since I started in the library 8 years ago, I was convinced that elementary students, especially our K-2s, could do research, especially through the inquiry process where they were asking their own questions. Isn’t that what young children do? I remember the “Why? Why? Why?” phase of my own kids. So why was it that when they arrived at school that we stopped letting them?

Fast forward to the Common Core being introduced. Imagine my excitement to see the expectation of research included in the standards, including the importance of “short and sustained research projects”. But I was still looking for the best methods to use with my students. While attending American Association of School Librarians (AASL) national conference in nearby Hartford, CT in 2013, I began to hear about Guided Inquiry Design and how effective it was. The November/December 2014 issue of AASL’s publication Knowledge Quest featured the topic of Inquiry, including a number of articles featuring Guided Inquiry Design. I began to informally add Guided Inquiry into the research my students were doing in library class and sharing with teachers. The resource I used and still love is Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey Daniels and Steph Harvey, which has some terrific ideas. I also worked with a middle school colleague Laura D’Elia on a presentation for AASL 2015 called Get a GRIP!: Guided Research Inquiry Process, sharing our experiences with Guided Inquiry Design.

A colleague and I attended a webinar with Leslie Maniotes in September 2015 and were simply blown away by this model. We were so excited that we brought the library and information technology specialists together along with our curriculum director to create a learning community to learn about various inquiry models, but especially the Guided Inquiry Design framework. We also ordered and read Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. In November, I attended the AASL conference in Columbus and went to every session I could find about Guided Inquiry Design. (I got to meet Leslie too!) I brought many ideas and resources back to our PLC.

So now, I am looking forward to using my library time in collaboration with what classroom teachers are doing this spring. I look forward to learning more about and trying out GID with my students. I am also looking forward to more of this collaboration about GID with some amazing educators!

More to come later this week and Go HUSKIES!
Jenny

Experimenting with Guided Inquiry in primary school

In this second post of my week in 52 weeks of Guided Inquiry I want to tell you about some of the observations I did during experimenting Guided Inquiry in Finland. As I wrote to you my background is in school libraries. In Kaarina city I had collaboration with two schools, where I connected with two teachers who were eager to try out new ways of working. One of the schools were Finnish speaking and the other was Swedish speaking. With the latter school we had already done a project for a national reading program in form of a reading diploma with exercises done also with a tablet computer.

In these two schools we tried out GI in following groups and subjects:

  • Geography project with a combined class of student in the 4th, 5th, and 6th year students
  • Space project with 5th year students
  • Human biology with 5th year students

We entered Guided Inquiry from information seeking perspective and tried to work on amplifying the information seeking process according to Guided Inquiry Design. We did not use inquiry circles or journals. I am not going to present every project individually, but rather listing some issues that were interesting along the project. The last one, human biology, was the only one I did some information gathering of during and after the project.

Information literacy is used in universities, but the concept has not reached the primary or secondary schools in Finland. Information seeking instruction or information literacy instruction are not a part of teacher studies per se. Surely teacher students are seeking information for their own needs, but it is another business to instruct the students at class. Information seeking instruction is quite often considered to be the job of a librarian. And it is usual, that in the 7th grade a librarian comes to visit the class for 45 minutes during the year to show how the local public library database works. We do understand, that this is not enough. It is usually not combined to some actual learning situation. This is not advancing the information literacy skills of the Generation Z or post-millennials, whose understanding of information environment is totally different than those of the previous generations. We clearly are in need of other kinds of methods.

You have surely been reading about the Finnish schools during the years: Why are Finland’s schools successful?

Finnish education chief: We created a school system based on equality.

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Picture: Jonna Hellsten-Impivaara

And an American on Fullbright scholar in Finland 11 ways Finland’s education system shows us that “less is more”.

I am not going to go into how Guided Inquiry would change the education as such but rather concentrating on how this would change our perspective of information seeking in Finnish schools. I will not refer to any studies in this blog post. Several of my writings in my own blog refer to same sources. There are several studies that are showing that students tend to look for facts and also, teachers tend to make assignments so that one can carry it out by finding facts. We all know that the digital native reference is a myth and thorough deep information seeking is not common in daily classroom situation in Finland. I often like to refer to the ‘Principle of least effort’ by Zipf in 1949 as well. It feels oftent that the result is more important than the journey.

Here are a list of some observations I want to take up:

  • First of all, the students were puzzled about the Open phase. Where are we going with this?
  • They were not used to seeing the librarian in the classroom. (!)
  • As the students relaxed, the Immerse and Explore phases were cozy, they really got interested and talkative!
  • They found it very difficult to come up with research questions, it was nothing they really had done before. They usually get the assignment from the teacher.
  • At a very early stage they just insisted on starting to write the actual presentation, which indicated to copy/paste information behavior.
  • They all had their booklet where they draw the mind map, writing up keywords and search terms and wrote down the sources they wanted to use. Information management in form of managing sources is poor. Inquiry Journals would have been perfect here for them as well!
  • Mapping out the topic of their choosing was very difficult for some of the student. The mind map could be as large as 8 notebook pages.

But, then positive things from the feedback questionnaires.

  • Students liked the new way of doing things!
  • There is still some curiosity left in a fifth grader!
  • On a scale 1-5 they rated themselves in self-evaluation to 3,9
  • Most difficult phase was presentation!
  • They were learning about information seeking right then and there, while working.
  • They did see, that one needs several sources (to find out which animal was sent to space first!)
  • Second and third most difficult phases were coming up with a topic and structuring it.
  • They strongly felt that they learn something new, it was a different way to learn and it was fun!
  • The teachers was happy that she had finally gotten a partner and she learned too!
  • The students learned to see the librarian in some another role than just lending books and the professional role of the librarian was changed.
  • This way of working brought also long term effects as the students started to use these methods even in the following assignment.

These were the major issues I wanted to take up. The overall feelings of trying out Guided Inquiry were very positive and supportive, both from the students and the teachers. Me as the librarian in the project just loved working like this! Being among the students, involved in their work, guiding them and making an intervention when needed. Giving the student the freedom of doing research, they do manage it. In my mind Guided Inquiry is an excellent way of working, already from the primary school all the way to gymnasium. Now even more important than before.

In the third blog post I will tell you about the educational change we are going through in Finland, about the new core curriculum, and how do I see Guided Inquiry fitting in. And it would fit perfectly!

Best greetings,

Anu