Individualized Reading Plans and Reflection

As my last post, I’d like to share some collaboration between myself and another English teacher, Michael Jett. Michael requires all of his English students to read at least one book per 9 week grading period and present a project to the class. So we have the usual struggles: students who want to pick a book they’re already read so they can skip the reading part; one wanted to choose Captain Underpants just to be cheeky; some genuinely have zero interest in reading anything.

We devised a system that Michael named the Individualized Reading Plan (IRP). We agreed that each of his students would come to the media center to meet with either me or Karen Hill (fortunately 2 media specialists work at my high school of 1,700!).

To begin, Michael always has his students fill out a reading survey via Google Form. He then shared those results with us. When each student came to the library, we pulled up the spreadsheet and reviewed their answers with them. We had them create some specific reading goals for the 9 weeks. We also had time to provide reader’s advisory individually and help them pick a book to read if they didn’t have one already. In short, it was every librarian’s dream! We repeated this process after the first 9 weeks grading period in order to reflect on their progress toward their goals, to make new goals, etc.

We decided halfway through the semester that recording all of this information on one Google Sheet made it difficult to read (and while I love technology, use it, and teach it, sometimes paper is just easier). Plus, we realized that not every student remembered their reading goals. So we came up with a handout that the students used to write down their goals and specific steps they would take to reach those goals. We even included space for their parents to sign the sheet and write down any comments.

Of course because of things like student absences, tests, assemblies, and life, the timing of these conferences did not always occur in a timely manner. But overall we were all pleased with the process and are looking forward to tweaking it next year. Mostly we were so happy to collaborate with a classroom teacher who put so much faith in the media specialists!

The Individualized Reading Plan process fits into the GID model by emphasizing individualized education, goal setting, and reflecting throughout the entire process. We used the concept of Third Space to connect students to reading material that would interest them, and provided scaffolding for the student who wanted to read Captain Underpants just to be sarcastic. You don’t always just happen to find your next favorite book; sometimes we all need some guidance and suggestions! This is the brilliance of the school library. There is something for everyone that they didn’t even know they were going to love. This process reminded some students that they did enjoy reading (sometimes teenagers need that little nudge!).

Self-reflection is the process that gets our students to that next level. Having them write their own goals and sign their names next to them helps them feel involved in their own education. When they start holding themselves accountable for their learning or lack thereof, we know we are doing our jobs.

Farewell from South Carolina! –Jamie Gregory   @gregorjm

Michael Jett  @mrjett213

Relationships, Dystopia, and More: Literature and GI

Greetings from sunny (finally!) Vancouver, B.C.! My name is Jennifer, and I am an English teacher at St. George’s School. You may have seen posts from other teachers at my school, like Marc Crompton and Elizabeth Walker. These two have GI figured out!

I will say this now: I am by no means a seasoned practitioner in GI but am developing a better understanding of how to incorporate GI practices in the classroom each time I use it. It’s a fantastic tool to keep in your metaphorical teaching tool belt.

Affinity Protocol: Students brainstormed types of relationships and categorized them to open our Romeo and Juliet unit.

I was introduced to Guided Inquiry through Marc, our senior school librarian extraordinaire. Together, we worked on a GI project for my Grade 10s last year that connected Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the concept of relationships to allow students to personalize the play. We also built in protocols from the National School Reform Faculty as our idea to work on this unit together actually came about during our training for this certification. You can read all about it in Chapter 8 of Guided Inqiry Design® in Action: High School.

I also had the chance to meet with Leslie when she came to our school in the fall of 2015 to work with a team of Grade 8 teachers. Our team of nine teachers (teachers of Science 8, English 8, and Socials 8) were trying to plan a cross-curricular, guided inquiry style project. It was wonderful to have her input on how GI could open up the realms of possibility and create both direct and indirect connections between the three subjects.

One Grade 8 student’s “What does it mean to be human?” creation. He compared the anatomy of pigs to humans.

After completing the aforementioned GI units with my students, I was left with some questions that I wanted to try to address the next time I attempted a GI unit. My questions included:

  • How can I ensure that the creation is clearly linked to the literature we are reading?
  • How can I check in with students about their understanding and progress without over-assessing?
  • What is the base that students need to complete to be successful? How can I ensure less motivated students are on track and successful as well?

These questions arose from both the collaborative unit with our Grade 8s and Marc and I’s unit with my Grade 10s. For example, with our 8s, we sometimes had too many steps for the students and it actually slowed them down rather than propelling them forward. With my 10s, the creations were thoughtful and, for the most part, well-researched, but there weren’t enough references to Romeo and Juliet to demonstrate understanding of the play.

This Grade 8 student created a 3D printed brain accompanied by a PowerPoint to explain what it means to be a human intellectually.

This week, I am going to be sharing my Grade 11 English unit on Fahrenheit 451 with you to share my newest discoveries and perhaps some viable solutions to the challenges I mentioned. We explored the dystopian narrative, and the students used this understanding to write their own. Students had ideas that ranged from a post-WWIII era to the post-climate change charred earth and even schools of “un-learning.”

Stay tuned for more about this unit and my reflections and learning!


Jennifer Torry

English Teacher

St. George’s School

Aldine ISD Online Resources Cultivate Guided Inquiry!

This year I am attempting a new Guided Inquiry project.  I meet with fourth graders in the computer lab two days a week for an hour for inquiry based lessons that are planned with the Guided Inquiry Design model.

The first lesson I have designed and implemented is one stemming from a State of Texas 3/6 grade reading list called the Texas Bluebonnet program.  The Texas Bluebonnet Program publishes a new list of books from a wide range of genres each year.  Students in 3-6 grades read at least five books and then vote on their favorite at the end of January.  The winning author is honored at a luncheon at the state library conference and a group of students are invited to present the author the award.

One of the books on the list this year is Space Case by Stuart Gibbs.  The introduction in the book is a letter to the reader that welcomes them to the first permanent human habitation on the moon.

I used this letter/introduction as the Open to our first GI project.  I then had students spend a few minutes thinking about what it might be like to be sent to live on the moon.  We opened a Google Doc and students jotted down notes, thoughts, ideas, and questions.  Must not forget the questions!

Boy were the questions, thoughts and ideas good ones!  As was the enthusiasm from the students.  At first the students weren’t sure what to write and so, one by one questions started coming out.  I would answer their questions by saying something like “Wow, that is a great question, write it down!”  I also did some of my own wondering on my paper; things like I wonder what it’s like on the moon…do they have a day and night.  I only put a few on my Google Doc and that sparked the ideas, thoughts and questions.  I also was sure to say, “These are my thoughts, I’m sure most of you have different thoughts than mine.”

I then introduced the students to 3 of our district online resources such as Britannica, Scienceflix and PebbleGo.  I had them look at the sites; explore what was on them about the moon.  It was so thrilling to see the students excited about using the online resources rather than “Googling it.”  I fully support Google; don’t get me wrong, but our fourth grade students need a place to go to find legitimate, readable sites on their level.

I can’t tell you how often the students get stuck in Immerse and Explore phases when they use Google, at first.  I watch them Google a phrase, often misspelling it, find thousands of websites and proceed to open then close them without reading the first word.  They move on to open, close, open, close over and over and then get frustrated.  Or, I see students immediately go to images to learn about, say natural resources and spend hours looking at photos without actually learning any specific details.  Therefore, it was exhilarating to see them excited about their searches and the information they were oohing-and-ahhing over.


The next class period, I introduced three more district and state sponsored online resources and allowed them to continue exploring to see what they could find about the Moon and potential life on the moon.  On the third class meeting, I showed the students a clip from Discovery Education of a modular unit that has plans for use on the moon.   I allowed students then to continue exploring other video clips about life on the moon, life in space, space travel, etc.

We again logged into Goggle Drive to take notes and document questions and thoughts as they were exploring.  Students were motivated to ask if they could go back to a previous website, or if they could try new ones, and were excited over the details they were finding.  I had students ask if they could use specific information databases they knew about that I didn’t introduce, or explore others listed on our district online resources page.  The energy for this project is high, even for students who don’t necessarily gravitate toward space or space travel topics.  Equally exciting, when I gave them 10 minutes of “free exploration time in district sponsored games and resources” for working so hard, more than half of them chose to stay in the online resources tab to either explore other interests, or continued exploring space topics.

When reflecting upon the lesson with the first group of students, I added a step or two here and there with the next group.  I wanted to have students record their thought processes and add a reflection piece as well.  Therefore, we had a mini-lesson about logging into our district Google account, opening a document, brainstorming thoughts, adding a title, etc.  Students used a Google Doc to jot down thoughts, ideas, questions, and reflections before, during and after exploring online resources.  So, see I do support and use Google for education!

We have not finished this unit, our next step will involve a minilesson on academic honesty and citing sources.  We then will begin to actually search for answers to our questions, now that we have a good idea of which databases and online resources will be most helpful.

Tara Rollins on twitter

Change is Difficult but Possible

I am the first to admit that I move slowly when starting something new. Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, spoke to our community last week and I realized, very late in life, that I am sometimes scared to take a risk. This is very enlightening since I just celebrated a later milestone in the aging process and thirty years ago would have scoffed at anyone who told me that I was risk adverse. So, I will assume as a result of this new revelation, it took me over a year to absorb, plan and implement GI into my teaching strategies. I mulled, ordered all the books and read, I read more, and I searched for enlightening commentary on the internet, and after some time decided to approach the freshman class teachers to rework the Tangled Web project that was in existence before I took over this position.

While I knew this was a step in the right direction, from experience I know that in order to facilitate change I need to approach teachers thoughtfully. Change is difficult in the teaching world so I have developed a strategy whereby I present a change as an improvement not just change for change sake.

The Tangled Web project is a cross-curricular adventure in research during the second semester of the freshman year. It provides a venue for research skill instruction from the librarian and writing instruction including MLA style from the English teacher. Making it cross curricular gives the girls opportunities to have a topic that can fall under any of these areas: biology, religion, world geography, and English literature. Topics are drawn from a hat; the content is graded by the subject teacher and the writing/MLA is graded by the English teacher. At the time of my intervention, biographical in nature, the research was not challenging and the products quite boring. Students may learn how to navigate databases and resources, take notes with annotated bibliographies, write and footnote in MLA style but they never really enjoyed it and I felt they did not really learn anything.

I start my classes on research with this quote from Carol Kuhlthau. “Uncertainty is the beginning of learning.” So after a few years with this project, I realized that the students were not experiencing uncertainty. They already knew how to write a biographical report and even with the “how has this person influenced the world?” question, were not challenged to think. Joyfully, I found that these teachers felt the same and in addition were terribly tired of reading the same boring papers year after year. Note to self, approach change from that perspective. “You must be so terribly bored reading the same papers year after year so let’s shake it up.”

We started shaking it up a year ago when we began brainstorming this change. We began by ditching the biography approach and looking for authentic learning that would require the girls taking a risk with exploring the unknown. I began a search for concepts in each area of study and after planning sessions with the teachers we decided on the following:

English Literature – Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, Homer, and French Revolution
World Geography – Control of Kashmir, Maori of New Zealand, Cambodia/Pol Pot regime, Keystone Pipeline, and South African Apartheid
Biology – HeLa cell discovery, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, equilibrium between inhabitants of ecosystems, exotic species, and emerging infectious diseases
Religion – Process of beatification, Wall separating Bethlehem from Israel, Pope John Paul II and communism, Anti-Catholic sentiment in US and the rise of Catholic Parochial school system, and Growth of monasticism during the Roman Empire

With these concepts and some very broad starting questions, we launched into the process with an ISP lesson, introduced the broad questions and the students drew from the hat, and then began Exploration with the assignment to take these conceptual questions and explore them for homework and return the next day with the first wave of developing broad search terms and keywords. The best quote of the whole lesson was when one student drew her question, read it and exclaimed, “What is Pol Pot?”.

Jean Pfluger

Tomorrow: Exploration to Formulation

Beginning with the end in mind – Student Questions from High School

This week we are talking about student questions, what questions students come up with within the context of a GID unit, and how they relate to and address the content of the curriculum.  With these posts, we hope to inspire you to let go and structure your learning using the GID process so that students are doing the asking.

Let’s start with the end in mind.  I’ll begin with high school so that you can get a feel for the level of questioning that occurs in academic content area courses in high school.  Then I’ll work down through middle school onto elementary to show you how those questions look as well.

So, we begin at Westborough High School in Westborough, Massachusetts.  Anita Cellucci and Kathleen Stoker are a GID learning team extrodinare.  Anita, just this week, was named as a finalist for the librarian of the year award by SLJ and Scholastic! Congratulations to one of our best! And her teammate, Kathleen teaches a course on Psychology and Literature that she described on our blog in April. Their work together is what every collaboration aspires to do, their collaborative work raises above and beyond what either of these two could do on their own.

In their course that was expertly designed using the GID process, students had questions that were personally relevant, interesting, and were centered within the content of the course.  The process of Guided Inquiry support your learning team to get students there.  As you read these questions- see if you can

  1. determine what learning goal Kathleen had for her course
  2. see how students are interested in what they will study
  3. think about what might have been something the students had been exposed to or asked to consider before identifying their question

Here they are:

“How are veterans affected by PTSD and what are some ways they are treated?”

“What is stress? What physical and emotional impacts are there due to stress and what are ways to cope with it?”

“How does music therapy affect an individual mentally and physically, and how can using music therapy benefit the patient over other types of therapies?”

“How are students affected by sleep deprivation and what can schools to do to help students?”

“How does art therapy help in ways that other therapies do not?”

“In what ways can technology be addictive and how can this problem be addressed?”

Through examining these questions, the students connections to their own experiences jump out at you, their interests are clear, and the content is also evident even without knowing the syllabus for Kathleen’s Psychology in Literature class.  It also seems that they had some idea that there were therapies that could help people, and most students were interested in knowing about the problem as well as the solutions that exist for that problem.  Pretty exciting topics and worth sharing with a wider audience, don’t you think!?  To read more about this unit, read Kathleen’s posts from April.  They’ll be doing this unit again this year, so maybe we’ll get a round 2 of blog posts to hear how it went this year! 😉

The next unit offers us a little sneak peek into the book coming out in December as this unit is described in detail there!  The book is Guided Inquiry Design in Action: High School.  In it we have four units of study just like we did in the Middle School book!  The unit Anita and Marci did was described here in Marci and Anita’s posts. They worked together on a Physical Science unit for ninth grade. Through the process they built a large inquiry community with the many sections of this course and they met in the large library 2 sections at a time.  When it came to Identify the students wrote their questions on chart paper that were posted around the library so that all the students could see the variety of interests across all groups in the larger InquiryCommunity.  Here’s a picture of one of the charts.IMG_8371

Some of the students questions

What is the role of gravitational force in our everyday lives? And, in what ways can it be changed into a different form of force?

How do different types of media effect sound waves and how does this relate to communication?

How are Newton’s laws related to earth and in what ways is this information used to explore other planets?

In what ways does the architecture of a building effect it’s stability in the wind?

What is the role of force and friction in field hockey?

How can a figure skater improve by studying physics?

Again, with these questions you can see a direct tie to the content of physical science and physics.  Students have a real desire to know the answer to these questions.  The questions connect to their lives and are bridges to the Third Space.  There is higher order thinking going on as well as interpretation and application of content from the first three phases evidenced in these questions.

I like how a few of them use the beginning frame of  “In what ways… Or what role does…”  Notice, we often say “why questions” are the most open ended, but “what questions” are really useful when students know enough background knowledge to ask a “what question” that will take them deeper into the content, as these do here.

So this sample of REAL questions are examples to you, to calm your fears of students asking off the wall questions that won’t relate to the content of the course.  And to help you trust the process, because when you design units using EVERY phase of GID, students identify wonderful useful questions.

Thanks again to Anita, Marci and Kathleen for sharing their work with me and all of us!

More on middle school questions in the next post!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author of the Guided Inquiry Series

The Flexibility of GID

When I learned how effective Guided Inquiry could be, I got excited about planning a GID-based writing workshop. I focused on Reconstruction because it’s the setting for my book, but the model could be adapted for any historical time period. On my website I’ve posted the materials you’d need to lead this workshop in a middle or high school classroom, and I’ll run through the steps quickly here.

The “Open,” “Immerse,” and “Explore” stages are the same as I mentioned yesterday: show the book trailer, read BROTHERHOOD, ask students to connect to content, and begin to research Reconstruction. When I visit schools, I show a series of photographs, and students point out the details—clothing, means of transportation, food, etc. My favorite is this shot taken at the wall in front of St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA, in 1865. Notice that the people are wearing coats and hats, but most have bare feet.


During the “Identify” stage, I ask students to write a scene based on a newspaper article from the era. I encourage loose, messy, fast writing. I interrupt them with sound effects (church bells, horses, crickets), and ask them to incorporate the sounds into their scenes. The process here isn’t about producing good writing. It’s about entering into the time period vicariously.

Next, students swap newspaper articles and write a second scene—again, loose, fast writing. Then they pause and I ask which scene they liked most. Which did they prefer writing about, and why? What did they find compelling, disturbing, or interesting about the one they preferred? Their answers kick off the “Gather” stage of the GID process—the stage when students begin to ask their own questions. This step is the essence of Guided Inquiry. It’s the reason GID is so effective.

Whether students prefer scene A to B, or B to A doesn’t matter. What matters is that they prefer one. Students will always prefer one. Always. And the moment they articulate why they like one better than the other is the moment they really begin to invest in the subject matter. It’s an exciting moment to watch! They’re given permission to make a choice, express an opinion, and be heard, and the process empowers them.

In the “Gather,” “Create,” and “Share” stages, students’ individual or group projects go in any number of directions, and I leave that part up to the teachers. Some have particular themes they’d like the class to address. For example, in my previous post I mentioned that the teacher wanted students to think about gangs—all types of gangs and the conditions that give rise to them. Or teachers might want students to think about voting rights (who feels threatened by another’s right to vote?). Or maybe students will create and share presentations about citizenship and what it might feel like to live in America today and not be a citizen. Or they might talk about the problem of bullying.

GID allows for flexibility! I began this post talking about Reconstruction, and in only a few paragraphs, I’ve raised a myriad of topics, but that’s because my novel raises them (the Reconstruction-era amendments established birthright citizenship and voting rights; if your class is focused on a different time period, your students will ponder a different set of issues).

From my perspective—hey, I’m a writer, so I have to nudge students to write, no apologies!—an easy exercise in loose writing gets the process going strong. And when students reflect on issues that matter to them, personally, and are in a safe space for reflection, wow! Sharing happens. Listening happens. Learning happens.

I love the way GID promotes a student-centered and student-directed approach to learning (so much more effective than the memorize-and-regurgitate model of my youth). Like I said in my first post, boy do I wish my teachers had used Guided Inquiry when I was growing up. Thank you, Leslie, for inspiring me and the next generation of educators!

The 2016 Collaborative School Library Award

Yesterday I invited you to experience the “Open” stage of the award-winning GID unit developed by two librarians and a social studies/language arts teacher at Carver Middle School in Chester, VA. They based the unit my book, BROTHERHOOD, and posted all of their materials on this Blendspace page so that others can recreate the unit in their schools.

Set in Virginia during Reconstruction, BROTHERHOOD is the story of a white boy who joins the Klan, meets a young black teacher, and comes to question the racial prejudices he’s been taught. The book raises all sorts of questions about identify, race, peer pressure, gangs, etc., and doesn’t provide easy answers. So it’s great for kicking off classroom conversations on a variety of topics.

During the “Immerse” stage of the GID process, in order to connect to the content of daily readings, the students at Carver wrote a tweet a day.

daily tweet.52GID blog

Historians from the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Historical Society visited the school, bringing samples of items mentioned in the book, such as swatches of cloth and a copy of a page from an 1867 newspaper. The time period was beginning to come alive for the students.

During the GID stages “Explore” and “Identify,” students continued to read while researching the post-Civil War era. Then they went on a field trip to Richmond, VA, and walked the streets the characters had walked. In advance of the trip, the librarians asked me to audio-record myself reading selections from the book. I posted the audio files online, and during the trip, students stopped at key locations to listen—via QR codes—to me reading. This was an innovative way to use technology, and got the students all the more engaged. Click on this code to hear one of the recordings:


I visited the classroom and talked about how I came to write BROTHERHOOD—a presentation that includes mention of the Noble Lost Cause ideology, Jim Crow era, and Civil Rights movement. On another day, the school’s safety officer came and presented information about gangs. The class explored reasons why a person might join the Klan or any gang—any group vying for power, control or influence.

During the “Gather” stage, each student’s essential questions led him/her to choose a gang to research further. Students divided into small groups, and for the “Create” and “Share” stages, each group did a presentation about a gang and how they (or society) might stop the spread of that gang. In this way, they progressed through the 7th grade curriculum. For prohibition, for example, one group did a presentation about the Mafia running liquor. For World War II, another group showed how the Nazis gained support by blaming Germany’s ills on the Jews. By the time the curriculum brought them to the present day, they already knew from yet another student presentation that Al Qaida is motivated in part by a rejection of capitalism. I visited the school again, and was blown away by the high quality of the presentations, both from struggling learners and from gifted students. The GID approach excited them all.

Along the way students participated in the GID stage, “Evaluate,” asking questions such as, what surprised me today? What was clear? What was confusing? I love the fact that when you do GID, you don’t leave evaluation to the very end. GID encourages self-reflection at every stage.

This GID unit was pretty involved, and it hit me that some educators might want to add BROTHERHOOD to the curriculum and use the GID approach, but they don’t live near Virginia and can’t easily do the field trip. And that thought motivated me to design a GID-based writing workshop that can be done in any classroom, anywhere. I’ll tell you about it in my next post…

Singing a New Tune

A.B. Westrick here. I’m the author of BROTHERHOOD (Penguin Young Readers). If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d be writing and speaking about GID, I might have said, “Huh? GID, what? Guided Inquiry Design? You must have me confused with someone else. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Brotherhood COVER ARTNow it’s 2016, and boy am I singing a new tune. I wish my teachers had used Guided Inquiry when I was growing up. I’d especially have welcomed it in history classes, which I generally found to be dreadful. Having to memorize dates and names of dead white guys and strategies that won or lost wars? Spare me. Please.

But I’m not going to post here about history, not really. Only kind-of. I write fiction—not the first outlet that comes to mind when educators talk about GID. But as it turns out, my novel inspired two middle school librarians and a 7th grade social studies/language arts teacher at Carver Middle School in Chester, VA, to plan a dynamic GID unit. Next month—on June 25, 2016—during the AASL Awards session at the national ALA conference in Orlando, that team is going to receive the Collaborative School Library Award. Go, team!

So, how did it come about that fiction inspired their GID unit? Well. Read on. For today, I hope to make you curious, just as GID encourages you to do with students during the “Open” stage. Check out my book trailer (only 53 seconds long):

And if you want the full experience of the “Open” stage of the Carver Middle School unit, read chapter one of BROTHERHOOD. (Here it is at Amazon.) I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity!

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the “Immerse” stage and the rest of this GID unit, but if you’d like a sneak-peek, check out this “Blendspace” page. (I also link to the “Blendspace” page from the “Teachers” page of my website.) The Carver team posted everything there, including parental permission forms.

In my next post I’ll go into detail, and you’ll see that the unit was rather involved. The students loved it. But when it occurred to me that some schools wouldn’t have the resources to do the whole unit, I developed a scaled-down version that’s essentially a writing workshop based on GID. And history. Yes, I have to come back to history. (My book is historical fiction.)

WestrickABIn my third post, I’ll talk about the writing workshop, and you’ll see that it’s not about teaching history as much as it’s about getting students excited to ask their own questions about history. What I especially love about GID is the way it encourages students to lean how to learn. More tomorrow…

“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

Taking Chances

“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” –Albert Camus

     No longer under the yoke of Senior Project, we found ourselves with massive gaps in the curriculum. For the first time ever, I was not the only one teaching senior English, so Stephanie Tinberg (first-year teacher) and I sat down to discuss how we would most like to teach the standards left dangling by the hasty departure of Senior Project. It didn’t take us long to brainstorm a diverse list of activities/assignments/texts that would make fantastic additions to the curriculum. At the heart of all of our ideas was Guided Inquiry.

     In an attempt to expand the worldview of our students, Stephanie and I decided to experiment with a new genre: the podcast. Stephanie introduced me to the Serial Podcast produced by This American Life and hosted by Sarah Koenig. The podcast explores the case of a young man convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Seeing the story of a 17-year-old who had actually been tried for and convicted of murder was eye-opening. More impactful than a man their age going to prison was the reality that he may have been wrongly convicted. Koenig follows the information from the case and conducts her own investigation as she attempts to discover what actually happened that January day in 1999.

     Sometimes in life, everything aligns to create a teachable moment like no other. Serial provided exactly that moment. Adnan Syed’s case was back in the news as we studied it. Because of new evidence unearthed by the podcast and a follow up podcast titled Undisclosed, Syed had petitioned for a post conviction hearing. It was granted. As we finished listening to the podcast in class, the actual young man from the story, now in his thirties, went back to court to possibly receive a new trial. The students were riveted as they watched this actually play out on the news and social media. The outcome of the hearing has yet to be determined, but students ask almost daily if there are any updates.

     Guided Inquiry provided the perfect approach for students to explore this case and what it revealed about humanity, the justice system, and the idea of right and wrong. Students used the Guided Inquiry framework to conduct their own investigations into nearly every facet of the case. Because so many groups have worked on Syed’s behalf to uncover the truth, many of the primary documents from the case are available online including police reports, autopsy reports, police notes, depositions, and even evidence photos. We invited lawyers into the classroom to discuss what elements are required to craft a reliable defense. We invited the numerous teachers around the building who had also followed the podcast to join us as a Serial Support Group for students to discuss their theories and frustrations. Our ultimate goal was to share our findings in a sort of “closing argument” style presentation complete with an evidence board that allowed students to take their audience through their investigations and evidence.   

     When I spoke with my students upon completion of the project, I was surprised by their reactions. For the first time in my seventeen-year teaching career, my students declared that they wished they could have done MORE research. MORE! They wished they could have worked in small, supportive groups to go deeper into different elements of the case. They wanted real answers from this real experience. Eventually, a judge in a Baltimore courtroom will supply those answers. Now, we are at his mercy.

     Our new focus on Guided Inquiry provided a chance to change for the better. We don’t practice it perfectly yet, but we are getting better with each new teaching unit. Our reflection is key to improving our teaching, but reflecting with our students has also proven to provide immeasurable growth. Most of our students appreciate our attempts to approach learning in new ways and also appreciate the opportunity to shape how that learning takes place in the classroom. Others are surprisingly fearful of new strategies and the freedom that comes with change.


Jennifer Danner


English Department Chair

Jonathan Alder High School

Plain City, Ohio