“I’m Not a Teacher, I’m an Awakener!” Greetings from Massachusetts!

Happy Spring!  My name is Kathleen Stoker and I am an English/Journalism teacher at Westborough High School in Westborough, MA.  I have been teaching high school and college students for twenty years–four years in New Hampshire and the past sixteen years in MA.  I currently teach Journalism I and II, sophomore English, and a senior seminar.  And oh my gosh, where does the time go? And yet, after all these years in the classroom,  I still find it refreshing that I continually am inspired by colleagues who continue to dig deep in their classrooms for ways to motivate and engage students in the learning process.

Early on in my teaching career, I read a quote by Robert Frost that has remained at the heart of my teaching–“I am not a teacher. I am an awakener.”  Of course I teach my students many things–but at the center of my teaching is my goal to awaken my students to their passions, interests, curiosity, skills, multiple intelligences–the list goes on.  And that is where Guided Inquiry Design comes in…

Two summer ago, my school’s amazing librarian educator Anita Cellucci (@librarywhs) was providing me research support for a senior seminar I teach called Psychology in Literature.  Anita asked me if I had heard of GID because she thought GID would work perfectly with the type of research I was asking my students to conduct.  She took the time to conference with me by providing an overview of the process. She then shared her copy of Guided Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century by Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari.  Before I knew it, I was hooked.

There are many many reasons why I am interested in GID; however, for this first post I will highlight my top two reasons.  The first one is Kuhlthau’s Model of the Information Search Process.  I don’t think I had ever read about a research process in which the educators connected the research steps to students’ feelings in the process.  When I studied the model I felt a great sense of validation. Here’s why:  for a good part of my teaching career, I have had to spend time proving to some colleagues the importance of teaching, observing, and acknowledging emotional and social knowledge, intelligence and skills in our students.  Students actually feel many emotions in their learning process–let alone the research process.  To see the work of Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari was not only refreshing, it was life-changing for me as a teacher.  I could now offer my students a vocabulary in which we could communicate back and forth how they were feeling.  For example, often students feel confused and frustrated when they are exploring sources to answer their GI question(s).  To be able to validate students’ feelings by saying these feelings are normal helped the students stay with the process versus in previous experiences students may have quit, started over, or attempted to plagiarize as an escape from the challenges of the assignment.

I then asked Anita to help me implement GID with my Psychology in Literature students the following year.  But wouldn’t you know, later that month, Anita shared with me that her application for a team of educators from our school to study at the GID summer institute was accepted!  Later that summer, Anita, a science teacher, our assistant principal, and I drove down to Rutgers University for an intense study of GID with Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari.  The professional development opportunity was amazing!  We ourselves went through the GID, step by step.  We were able to work on our GID curriculum to take back to our schools.

The second reason that drew me to GID was the awareness of third space.  “In order for students to be able to create understandings of their own, educators must bargain by listening to them” (29).  Third space is an equal interaction of personal experience and curriculum content.  Often at the high school level, our focus is strictly curriculum with little recognition of “the students’ world as first space.”  I have had many a conversation with colleagues arguing that yes, curriculum is important, but the students’ world is equally valid.  How can I expect a student to fully access the curriculum if I am not acknowledging the experiences or non-experiences with which my student is living?

For example, this past semester one of my seniors named Michael chose to conduct his Guided Inquiry research on addiction.   It was an emotional journey for Michael because he shared early on in the journaling portion of the immerse step that he had a couple of close family members who were addicts.  GID gave Michael permission to move through the steps with fluidity, adaptability, and support.  When Michael got “stuck” in the gather phase, Anita and I could offer him support.  The reason he got stuck in the gathering phase of his research on addiction was because he was learning all about the symptoms and effects.  This knowledge was bringing up a lot of emotions and personal experience.  Fortunately, Michael was ready to face therapeutically his personal experiences and he asked if I would connect him with our school adjustment counselor.  The GID process worked for Michael because he was able to access the curriculum while acknowledging his very personal experience.  Anita and I were so grateful that we could support Michael through the research to the level that he was ready to ask for help.

So as shared earlier in my post, awakening students’ minds and hearts are very important to me.  GID provides a vehicle for educators to awaken their students in one of the best ways possible–by acknowledging students’ feelings, thoughts, and experiences while interacting with the curriculum.

Kathleen Stoker