No Cheese Fondue, but What About Wheat Fields, North Dakota, and a Small Town Girl’s Guided Inquiry Story?

My name is Buffy Edwards and I am the Library Information Specialist for Norman Public Schools, the most awesome school district in the state of Oklahoma (and country!). I also have the privilege of being the Teacher Librarian at Dimensions Academy Alternative School here in Norman. Thank you Leslie for this awesome opportunity of sharing.  Thank you also to Kelsey, your compliment was so kind and I appreciate it.  I want you all to know that Kelsey’s pretty amazing in her own right and she won’t tell you that she was just awarded the Outstanding New Librarian Award by the Oklahoma Library Association.  You rock!Buffy

Here’s a little background on me. I’m originally from Wimbledon, North Dakota, population 211 counting dogs, cats, and goldfish. Lots of people are afraid of the winter up there and rightfully so — it can be brutal.

I don't see anything to be concerned about!!! Ha ha!

Main street in the blizzard of 1966. I don’t see anything to be concerned about!!! Ha ha!

I would argue that there is nothing more beautiful than a fresh snowfall in winter or a field of wheat waving in the wind in the summer.  The area where I grew up is prime farming country. If you’ve never experienced it, the sound of the wheat dancing back and forth almost sounds like water washing on the shores of a beach. I am the youngest of seven children. My hard working mother, widowed at 38 with seven children and a 10th grade education, instilled in me that adversity wasn’t an excuse and I could anything if I set my mind to it.  

My dream was to teach music in a rural K-12 school in ND.  WHAT?  Yep, but that didn’t happen because as I was earning my music degree, my work study ‘stuck’ me in the library. Of all places, the library! What it turned out to be was something wonderful and I became so interested in the behind the scenes working of a library that my life course changed completely and I found myself in Norman, Oklahoma pursuing my MLIS. Now, you are probably wondering how the leap was made to school libraries and I would be too. Newly married to a wheat harvester — wheat harvest is a hard work, gypsy lifestyle where you travel from Texas to Canada harvesting grains, milo, corn etc. — we decided a school year coincided more closely to the harvest trail so I used my education background with my MLIS and found myself in a perfect fit landing in an elementary school library. I was home and it was in that first job I experienced how school libraries change lives. A passion for teaching and learning, a love for working with young, creative minds and a drive that is as fierce as the Oklahoma winds, I am still going strong. Now I have K-12 experience and still love them all! Oh yes, along the way I earned my PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology – NEVER stop learning. This is now my 28th year in public education (25 of those years in Norman) working in school libraries and I LOVE my profession.  Did I mention I love what I do?   I guess that’s what happens when you are doing something that doesn’t seem like work. Transforming the learning and lives of children through school libraries is truly a blessing and I value each and every day.

And now on to Guided Inquiry and Dr. Leslie Maniotes.  As Kelsey shared yesterday, we lucky folks in Norman had the opportunity to learn about Guided Inquiry from the master herself. Thank you @Normanps!  I think I’ve been a Leslie ‘groupie’ long before she came to Norman though – I read (no, devoured) her professional writing and one year I was at AASL, fought to get in a room where she was presenting, squeezed into a packed row of chairs with almost no space between them to learn about Guided Inquiry. I couldn’t breathe! It was so hot in the room, I was seeing someone whose work I had read, believed in what she said, but …… could not stand to stay in the room because I thought I was going to be sick. Are you kidding me? Yes, I had to leave.  I was sooooooo mad but little did I know I would be able to tell her my story face-to-face one day.  We had a good laugh!  

Buffy discussing Choice Board project formats with English IV students.

Buffy discussing Choice Board project formats with English IV students.

 

So here we are to today and now I must get more serious in my writing. As a Teacher Librarian at Dimensions Academy, a K-12 alternative school, we have started implementing Guided Inquiry and it has been challenging but rewarding. Challenging because students are content with a prescriptive education model –teachers tell them topics, teachers tell them questions, teachers tell them format, it’s just the way it’s been done for a long, long time.  GI makes them step way outside that comfort zone and really think for themselves (that’s beautiful thing when that happens BTW).   Our school has been traditionally more packet/worksheet driven due to the nature of academic needs of students so the idea of a GI unit was very new and different. Following the GI institute with Leslie last October, where our English IV teacher, science teacher, social studies teacher and myself planned the unit, we took a leap of faith to implement it and did it ever pay off!  The instructional unit planned was done primarily through English IV where students were given the opportunity to earn credits in multiple content areas. So for example, a student who needed to recover credits in social studies, could focus their project with more emphasis in the subject content area while still meeting English IV standards.  It was amazing – students were really motivated to earn those multiple credits. I will share a little more about this unit later in my posts BUT there is a whole chapter about  this unit, written by yours truly, in Leslie’s new GI book for high school. This project required students to learn to trust in themselves and the process. When they were able to open their hearts to learning, great things happened for them.  Students who were initially in the class only in body became really involved in their own learning. Once we helped them understand it would all come together, they let go of the anxiety and replaced it with drive for their own learning.

 

Africa Mission Trip Feedback Carousel (1)

Feedback Carousel using Vis-a-Vis pens on the desk. (Kids Loved writing on the desks!)

Kelsey mentioned that we are on the same team developing a very cool Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science and we will share details about the unit through our back and forth blog over the next two weeks.  

It’s been a pleasure sharing with you today.   Oh yes, and I forgot to say that I visit my home state of North Dakota as often as I can (during the decent weather months) and it is still as beautiful as ever.  I never, ever forget my upbringing and really wouldn’t change it I guess because it made me who am I.  The message I want kids to learn by my actions is that by all measures, I probably should have been a failure but nobody told me that so I just went ahead and carved my own path and continue to work for success.  

Buffy Edwards

Teacher Librarian/Guided Inquiry Groupie  

Norman Public Schools

Norman, Oklahoma

Cheese Fondue, Guided Inquiry, and Other Awesome Things

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

Kelsey Barker

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

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

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

Kelsey Barker2

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3168

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

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

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

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

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

Team Ike planning away at the Guided Inquiry Institute!

Team Ike planning away at the Guided Inquiry Institute!

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

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

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

 

Kelsey Barker

Teacher Librarian

Eisenhower Elementary School

Norman, OK