All Aboard! (6th Grade Urbanization)

Every teacher brought their own talents to the table as we worked on our session plans together. Some were excellent at locating resources, some liked writing the session plans, and all imagined the project through the eyes of their students, and suggested ways to adapt it for their students’ needs. Everyone came up to speed on the topic more quickly because we worked together – just like what we hope for when our students work in inquiry circles. We spent most of our planning time on the OPEN, IMMERSE, and EXPLORE phases, and so we entered those phases with materials and activities in hand. Teachers didn’t march in lockstep through the project, of course, but it gave everyone a framework they could refer to along the way.

Suzy Menafro Palmer is one of the 6th grade ELA team who wasn’t available to attend the Institute last summer, but was completely on board from our first meeting, and enthusiastically dove into planning and resource gathering as we prepared for our adventure. In hindsight, she offered her impressions of the unit (shown in blue):

The “Open” part of our Urbanization Unit was probably my favorite. Listening to my students be such little experts about their town was so impressive. I couldn’t believe how knowledgeable they were about the history of Metuchen. It was clear that their parents explain ideas to them like taxes and population increases, and they went on and on about what a great town they live in. They were so proud of their downtown appeal, the family oriented sense of community that has been established here, and their reputation for being “The Brainy Boro”.

We looked at maps of Metuchen over the years from the 1800’s to a more current map. Something that sort of took me by surprise was when it was evident that most students really weren’t familiar with reading maps. Once they understood what they were seeing, they were really intrigued and made some great insights about how the town has changed over the years.

What’s really exciting about GID is the opportunity for us to see how it connects to our students’ lives, and to see them as experts in things we otherwise would not have know about, and cross-curricular opportunities.  Suzy then went on to describe part of our Immerse phase:

We also did a walk around the school to see how the building has changed over the years. The students identified how there are different bricks indicating that there are additions to the building,  and there are new lockers that were clearly an afterthought because they don’t match the lockers already in place.

Explore

In our “Explore” phase students were in groups reading articles about the subtopics of urbanization. This was so well organized by the team of teachers who put this together. It went seamlessly, and the students were really interested in all of the topics. Some of them even cheered when I gave them the folder for “Trends in Migration” (I was in shock). Ideas that I thought they would be totally bored by, they were excited! I have to say… I did have an exceptional class of 6th graders this year who are very task oriented, people pleasing, high achievers. However, I was still pleasantly surprised they were interested in the topics as they were.

…and then Identify…

When it came time to get even more specific and come up with their research questions, I was again impressed with the variety and specificity they came up with for questioning. They were interested in animals, war, drones, flying cars, city gardens, and so much more. One of my students even wrote a paper about how advancements in technology for cities with apps like Uber have decreased the number of DUI’s in a certain city.

There were some students who really went above and beyond, and then there were some students who were pretty basic and surface level with their research with little insight. But that’s sixth grade in a nutshell! Some kids are just more engaged and capable of taking it to another level, and some of them just aren’t there yet, and I’m really okay with that. I was happy that they found a topic they were interested in and worked start to finish.

The Gather phase required lots of flexibility, since so many students needed to share resources, and technology was at a premium, because we were in the midst of standardized testing. We spent a lot of time negotiating for the use of laptop or Chromebook carts (and not always successfully). Books were on a cart that stayed in the library, and students came down to borrow them as needed.

Amazingly, we didn’t misplace one book or headset in the process!

Everyone seemed to understand that other classes were working with these materials – there was definitely a sense of a community of learners throughout the 6th grade.

Next up: Create, Share, and Evaluate

Suzy Menafro Palmer, 6th Grade ELA teacher and
Maryrose Little, Librarian
Edgar Middle School
Metuchen, NJ

Slow and Steady: A long road to GId

Metuchen is a lovely historic town in central New Jersey, at the crossroads of transportation in our state. Metuchen is a small town, encircled by Edison Township. Just how small is it? Even lifelong NJ residents might not know exactly where it’s located! Some people may recognize Metuchen as a stop on NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor line, an exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 1, or Interstate 287.

Metuchen has a walkable downtown, and tons of local character and community spirit – arts & craft festivals, parades, community programs for all ages at the local public library, summer programs at the schools, the list goes on!

Metuchen is proud of its history, and protective of its tree-lined streets graced by historic homes – the tree canopy is even protected by local ordinance. 

Our District has four schools, with Edgar Middle School as home to 750 students in grades 5-8. Edgar School sent a team of four to the 2016 CISSL Guided Inquiry Summer Institute at Rutgers University: Dr. Tiffany Jacobson, then-Supervisor of English & Social Studies; Melissa Kovacs and Kristin Bruno, 6th grade ELA teachers; and Maryrose Little, librarian (me!), with the intention of designing a 6th grade ELA curricular unit to be used in the spring of 2017.

How did we find ourselves at CISSL Summer Institute? The short answer: an amazingly supportive, approachable, and open-minded principal and supervisor. The longer answer: a long and circuitous route that began in 2008, when I first learned about Guided Inquiry Design in the Rutgers MLIS program.

In my mind, Guided Inquiry Design is not a solo act. In my first SLMS position after graduation (‘08), I didn’t manage to find a collaborative partner willing to dip his/her toes into GID with me, so Guided Inquiry lived only in my head and on my librarian bucket list for years. It was kept alive by sessions at our NJASL annual conference, where I listened to other school librarians describe their collaborative partnerships, and how their students benefitted from Guided Inquiry experiences. “Maybe someday”, I thought wistfully, with a touch of envy.

When I moved to Metuchen’s Edgar Middle School in 2014, I looked across all four grades to try to understand how research was taught – from our 5th grade Explorers project to the 8th grade ROGATE program. Over time, I spoke with administrators, librarians at our other schools, teachers, and our Director of Curriculum about how we teach our students to perform research, K-12. Did I mention I love research? Along the way, I read Guided inquiry design : a framework for inquiry in your school, and peeked in on Dr. Maniotes’s edWeb webinars, where I learned another CISSL GID Summer Institute would be offered in July 2016. Maybe someday was here! But how to make that happen for us?

My principal Kathy Glutz listened patiently and thoughtfully as I described Guided Inquiry, then suggested I reach out to Dr. Tiffany Jacobson, our ELA and Social Studies Supervisor – what better content areas?  Dr. Jacobson invited me to join in curriculum mapping with the 6th grade ELA team, who hadn’t yet mapped their non-fiction text unit, and we continued to talk about Guided Inquiry – what grade, teachers, and content area made the most sense to approach?

Ultimately, Tiffany asked me to describe Guided Inquiry and the CISSL Summer Institute to the 6th grade ELA team during one of our mapping sessions.  I spoke briefly, showed the team this blog (thank you, Leslie and bloggers!), and floated the idea of attending the upcoming Summer Institute. Our facilitator, Deanne Opatosky, hadn’t previously heard of Guided Inquiry, but she immediately recognized its value, and made connections to our locally-developed Metuchen Common Research Cycle used at our elementary school. Of the teachers who expressed interest, two were available during July: Kristin Bruno and Melissa Kovacs. All the stars had aligned in Metuchen, and it looked as if we were heading off to the Summer Institute!

Well, not so fast – there was that pesky little detail of actually applying! We brainstormed to come up with a topic that our students might find interesting. Most of us didn’t know the term “Third Space” yet, but we knew enough to make a start. We thought about Metuchen’s history and current local “issues” – what kinds of things might families be talking about over dinner? What was going on in Metuchen that our students might care about? None of us live in town, which made it a bit tricky, but something we see daily is our school bursting at the seams – there are not enough classrooms for our student body, plus there’s more building going on in Metuchen. Is the lovely little history-laden town going to lose its small-town feel? Is the character of Metuchen, which keeps families living here generation after generation, changing?  We chose ‘Change’ as our idea, wrote our proposal, mailed it off, fingers crossed, and were thrilled to learn we’d been accepted!

CISSL Guided Inquiry Design Summer Institute was an amazing experience – if anyone reading this is on the fence, go for it! We were treated to an opening which included Dr. Kuhlthau’s review of her career and findings, which powerfully set the stage for our learning. Every librarian in the room knew what a treat this was; by the time she’d finished speaking, so did everyone else. We worked hard over our 3 days, and by the time all was said and done, our ‘Change’ theme had morphed into ‘Urbanization’. Additional curriculum-writing time over the summer resulted in a 8-10 week curriculum unit, intended for use by all 6th grade ELA classes. 180 student researchers at once! An ambitious plan for what we hoped would be a powerful learning experience.

Our unit was set for 4th marking period – no pressure, right? Our September and November in-service days were spent with other teachers who were interested in inquiry-based learning – an opportunity to share what we’d learned at the Institute, but had yet to practice in the classroom. But how could we bring the rest of the 6th grade ELA team fully on board with GID and our unit? As marking period 4 approached, we asked for one day to meet to hash out all the remaining details, and give ELA teachers who hadn’t attended the Institute time to wrap their minds around the process and the curriculum unit. At the end of that day, we had well-defined session plans for Open, Immerse, and Explore, including resources to share.

Fourth marking period was then upon us, but 6th grade PARCC testing and spring break caused our 8-10 week long unit to be pared down to 7 weeks. At the beginning of May, we boarded the GI train, each of us feeling various amounts of trepidation and preparedness, but curious to see where the journey would take us.

Details of our adventures in coming posts!

Maryrose Little, Librarian
Edgar Middle School
Metuchen, NJ

Anatoly Sukhanov [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

GID Transforming Student Research @ BCPS

In my last post, I referenced a few examples of our BCPS Online Research Models (ORMs) for extended, in-depth research, which our Office of Digital Learning Library Media team has been designing using the eight phases of the GID model since 2012. I’d like to share in a little more detail how one of our ORMs was completely transformed at last summer’s 2016 Curriculum Workshop using the GID model. In 2001, our BCPS Office of Music requested a research model on Native American music for the Grade 8 American Music curriculum. As a library media specialist on the ORM curriculum writing team that summer, I co-designed an ORM titled First Music, First Nations—it was the first research model I ever designed. Courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I can show you the Webpages for the original 2001 version of the “First Music, First Nations” ORM — even though I’m extremely embarrassed to do so!


As you can see, we were using our own research process steps at the time: Scenario, Task & Product, Assessment, Question, Gather, Organize and Conclude. This ORM has a nice poem at the top (but no connection to the poem is made anywhere in the process), and lots of “cutesy” clip art of Native Americans, drums, etc. The Scenario and Task & Product were NOT authentic or engaging —how many 8th graders would seriously be excited at the prospect of being a museum curator for the Smithsonian Institute? Students were asked to select from 5 research topics about traditional Native American music (Instruments, Pow-wows, Dances, Songs, or Ceremonies), take notes using resources including targeted Websites, and create a “display” of some sort; usually students made a diorama or something like that. Believe it or not, this ORM remained virtually unchanged (except for updating broken resource links) until summer 2016. THEN, with some new leadership in the Office of Music and new state learning standards for Music education, our team was asked to do a much-needed revision last summer.

The result was the new ORM, Native Dreams: Contemporary Native American Music. This research model benefitted in SO many ways from our use of the GID model.

First and foremost was our consideration of “Third Space” to make real-world connections to the content for students. We focused on contemporary Native American music artists and framed the research around the overarching Inquiry Question: How is contemporary Native American music both an expression of traditional culture and a powerful force for change? The musicians we featured have fused traditional Native American sounds, instruments, etc. with contemporary genres that are familiar to our students – hip-hop, rap, pop, EDM, heavy metal, etc. These music artists are also passionate about social justice and the issues facing Native Americans; these are issues that many of our students and their families/communities are facing themselves. We found articles, music videos, and songs online for students to read, view, and listen to as they did their research.

As we always do now, we included many GID tools for students to use throughout the process—Inquiry Journals, Inquiry Logs, Inquiry Circles, etc. We also included student choice of topic selection in the Explore phase, and choice of presentation formats in the Create phase. In the Share phase, students are asked to apply their learning from their own research and from each other’s presentations in a culminating activity, by responding to a quote from one of the musicians featured in the research model (in their Inquiry Journals and then in a discussion with Inquiry Circles and the whole Inquiry Community):

In the Rebel Music: Native America video episode you saw in the Immerse phase of this research, Native American rapper Frank Waln said: “The music is my shield and my weapon.”

  • What do you think he means? How does this statement relate to music as both an expression of traditional culture and a force for positive change?
  • How is this statement true for the other contemporary Native American musicians that you and your classmates researched?

This culminating activity allows all students to apply and synthesize their learning from each other, to build a response together to the overarching question posed at the beginning of the inquiry. In the Evaluate phase, we included a suggestion for students to extend their learning by researching a social issue that is personally relevant and important to them, and to create their own music or other form of artistic expression about the issue.

Thanks to the GID process, our students in 8th grade American Music classes at 27 Middle Schools across the district now have an inquiry-based learning opportunity that is both engaging and rigorous. Feedback from the music teachers who implemented this model during the 2016-17 school year has been really positive, and they report that this was a MUCH more rich and meaningful learning experience for their students than the previous ORM was.

I welcome your feedback about this research model!  NOTE: Please excuse any broken links in this ORM; I did make a few updates since my last blog post before sharing with you here today, and any remaining broken links will be updated during our Summer Curriculum workshop beginning next week. We are looking forward to designing more ORMs like this one this summer!

Kelly Ray, BCPS

Keyword Inquiry Log

In my second post, I shared how Sarah worked with me and Karen to implement concept-based research as well as question-driven inquiry. Now we’ll shift to discuss how students conduct research in the Gather phase.  

I just finished my 4th year working as a school library media specialist, and I was a high school English teacher for 8 years before that. So I have a general idea of how a typical student at my school searches for sources: Google (most likely typing in an entire sentence or question), or at best a cursory glance at a database assigned by a teacher. We are continually striving to make the research phase more meaningful in order to support lifelong learning skills. Librarians crave more time with students in order to introduce them to all the databases available to them. And then databases function differently, requiring time for students to search within them and learn how to find the information they need.

This past February, I read “Doubling Up: authentic vocabulary development through the inquiry process” by Leslie Maniotes and Anita Cellucci published in the February 2017 issue of Teacher Librarian. (A new fiscal year is starting soon; be sure to get your subscription to Teacher Librarian!) When I saw this article and read the first paragraph, one word came to mind: genius! I knew I wanted to implement the keyword log introduced in the article because it just made sense, like the GID model. And I found just the teacher willing to collaborate with me on this project.

Jena Smith teaches the Public Speaking elective at my school, and she is a strong supporter of using library resources with her students. We collaborate frequently throughout the semester. Her students came to the library after selecting topics for their researched argumentative speeches. She created a Google Doc for students to record their topics. Sharing it with me helped me prepare mini-lessons targeted toward their chosen topics. It also taught the students to revise their topics as they began to do research, as some realized their topics weren’t going to work or weren’t quite argumentative in nature.

The rationale for using the keyword log, as presented by Maniotes and Cellucci, is to promote academic vocabulary growth as well as knowledge of information searching strategies. Even if students know what a Boolean operator is, they need to have some knowledge of the vocabulary specific to their topic. Luckily, unlike Google, databases provide keyword searches that will give students suggestions. In EBSCO products, you can search in Subject Terms at the top of the page to learn synonyms.

I mentioned ProQuest’s SIRS Issues Researcher database in my second blog post. It’s super easy to search related subject terms for vocabulary development. The subject terms are listed at the end of each article, which students can click on.

I introduced them to the keyword log and modeled a few sample searches using the topic an at-risk learner chose in order to provide some targeted scaffolding. I added a few columns to the log described in the article just to ensure that students were providing detailed explanations.

As intuitive as I thought this log would be, we encountered a few obstacles during implementation. To start, students aren’t used to slowing down! They wanted to rush through the research process. We met some resistance when we told them they would be recording each search they tried. Of course the whole point was for them to discover that the Gather phase should take time in order to discover the best possible sources of information that would help them develop their researched argumentative speech.

Here are some of the first searches I modeled to the whole class (it’s not perfect; I tried to keep it simple at first):

Below is an excerpt from a reluctant learner’s keyword log. I sat with him as he completed his searches to show him different search strategies. In the first entry, you can see that he realized he wasn’t even searching for one of the main parts of his topic: how do violent video games affect children? His reflection in the second entry shows how I asked him to record his true search behavior, and what we know to be true from research: most searchers do not even scroll down on the first page of results.

I also spent a good deal of time telling them to type more in the results and reflection columns. As the research assignment progresses, students will see how useful the log is the more specific and detailed their responses are.

We discovered that we can really learn about how students conduct research simply by watching them and asking them to search how they would if they were on their own. Start with where they’re at as learners to gather information about their current skills and how they think about research. Then address misconceptions and a lack of skills as you see them.

There is an often overwhelming number of research skills that students can learn: how to search the open web using advanced search strategies and limiters; discovering special interests groups, independent groups, research organizations; picking which database fits their information needs; how to search different databases; how to paraphrase; how to cite. Yikes! But this keyword log provided an organized starting point. My goal is to work with more teachers to use this log at the beginning of their classes and tailor research assignments to target specific research skills instead of trying to teach every skill every time.

Most of the students shared in a survey when we were finished that they had never been taught Boolean search strategies and that the keyword log helped them stay organized. They gained a clearer understanding of how databases work. And remember that the GID model works in any discipline. Information literacy skills should be embedded in each and every course if we want our students to truly learn these lifelong skills.

The key here is that authentic learning does take time. Using databases isn’t always intuitive, and students need practice after direct instruction. Partner up with your school librarian to build these skills into your research units. It’s an investment that pays off in the end.

–Jamie Gregory  @gregorjm   Jamie.gregory@spart5.net

GID and US History

One of the things I love most about my job as a middle school librarian is that I get to work with every department and every grade level. I work with some departments more than others, and a goal of mine this past school year (since it was only my second year there as librarian) was to work with my seventh-grade United States History staff. They were looking for a way to assess the end of a recently-taught unit, 1890-1910, using their class sets of laptops. We tossed some ideas around and I introduced the idea of Guided Inquiry, with which they were unfamiliar. After a quick overview, they were sold. We decided to pose the question to students: Which event, person, or invention from this time period had the most effect on its time period, today, and will have the most effect 50 years from now? We chose the outlet Padlet.com, a free online curation site, to display their work (which was also unfamiliar to them), although students were able to use any platform they wished to display their ideas.

After some quick instruction in finding resources – they all had to be digital – and reminders for how to cite digital sources, students reviewed the time period, their notes from the unit, and did some research into some possibilities. Students had a few class periods to work on their projects. I assisted occasionally during these work times, answering questions and also asking some that would fine tune their thoughts.

On the day their projects were due, students had the opportunity to review each other’s work, filling out a peer-response form that asked about what the project did best, places for improvement, and general comments. Many of the students remarked how much more they learned about topics by looking at what others had done. The creativity of students was outstanding! See below for an image, and here to see some of the best ones.

Lightbulb1

Looking back, I liked that this project generally followed the GID process, but we made it a bit more casual for my first attempt with a new department and their first attempt with both GID and Padlet. When asked at the end of the project, students said that this was one of the best end-of-unit projects they did and that it was so much more engaging than a test or another paper/pencil assessment. Students completed the research process,including citations, but in a digital way and on a topic of their choice. The teachers stated that some projects were better than others – which is normal in a middle school classroom – but students were consistently on task and engaged with what they were working on. The teachers also agreed that this project is something they would do again this next school year, and that the quality of work was better than typical assignments/projects they had assigned earlier that year.  If I were to change anything about this project, it would be to delineate more of the process, perhaps curating a few resources for them on the time period and pointing students to databases (and perhaps doing some instruction on advanced Google searching) that could give them some more ideas.

As a librarian, I appreciate that GID gives me additional opportunities to collaborate with teachers who are looking to transform their students’ learning. It helps the staff to see for themselves that I don’t just check out books but I am an instructional partner as well. Sometimes teachers know it in theory, but it’s assignments like these using GID that help reinforce that to them. I’m looking forward to doing this project again (and hopefully others!) with them during this upcoming school year!

Rachel Grover

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 

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.

St.Johns.Church.people

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:

QRCode.FarmersMarket

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…

Wait a second, who is the teacher and who is the student?

The things I’ve learned this year with GID are endless.  The students have taught me so much.  As adults who are helping students become lifelong learners, it is important to remember that we are also lifelong learners.  When students are allowed and encouraged to ask their own questions, authentic learning happens.  I knew this, but seeing it firsthand was beyond what I imagined and understood.  The students were enraged at some of the events that happened during the civil rights movement.  They went beyond the who, what, and where questions, and focused on the why.  This is at the heart of lifelong learning.  The students didn’t spit out facts to pacify teachers for grades; they asked the socially conscious questions that could potentially help form who they become as people.  If as educators we can design and implement lessons that end in students questioning such concepts of racism and discrimination, won’t we all be better in the long run?  That’s the goal for me.

When working with students, we are always looking for ways to improve and do it better next time.  This is true for the civil rights movement unit that we did with 7th graders.  While I couldn’t be more pleased with the depth of the questions the students asked, we need to make a few adjustments.  These were mistakes that WE made, not a problem with GID or the students.  As a team, we discussed that the novelty of working with all three classes together was a bit of a distraction for students at first.  One possible solution would be for the students to have more opportunities to work in different groups throughout the year.   Another mistake that we made was not having a note catcher for the students to work on while they were reading and discussing the articles at the stations.  This would help to focus some of those little ones that aren’t necessarily interested in doing what they are supposed to do and provide a bit of comfort for the over-achievers that want to be doing everything right.

One of the struggles that I need to personally work on is time.  To do it properly, GID takes some time.  It takes time to plan and collaborate, and time for implementation.  I think this might be more of a challenge for middle and high school teams than elementary teams.  At the secondary level in our district, students are only in class with a particular teacher for 50 minutes each day.  In order to do a full unit, you need several weeks.  Here is the deal, though.  It takes several weeks IF you only implement in one class.  When working on a smaller unit that I planned with English teacher Paige Holden, we were able to piggyback off of a lesson done in social studies class to drastically cut down on the time needed in English class.  We didn’t have much time in the spring semester with the crazy standardized testing schedule that our students have, but by having social studies teachers do the first two phases of GID, we were able to squeeze in one more unit!  We have 4 days of school left, and we can’t wait to see their final products.  There seems to always be a solution to struggles through creativity and collaboration with colleagues.

Terri Curtis