From Australia

Hello, this is my first blog post on the 52 Week GID Challenge. Thanks for setting it up Leslie, it has made interesting reading!

My name is Margo Pickworth and I am the Teacher Librarian at Shore Preparatory School, a very large independent school in Sydney, Australia. My role as the teacher librarian involves not only managing the school library resources, but planning units of work with classroom teachers to implement syllabus documents, particularly with a focus on inquiry.

I first became interested in Guided Inquiry when Ross Todd spoke fondly of the work of Carol Kulthau in his visits to Australia. I was then fortunate enough to attend the CiSSL Summer Institute at Rutgers in 2014. Since then I have attempted to implement Guided Inquiry in my own context. There has been some ups and downs some of which I will share over the next few posts.

View from top1-2Circ desk1-2

Adopting and Adapting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Walker

@c@curiousstgeorge 

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)