Guided Inquiry: How I got started

What an honour it is to kick off the guest posts on 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry!  Leslie has given us some conversation starters so, in this post, I start with introductions.  Since it will be hard for you to introduce yourself, I’ll start things off:

I’m, Marc Crompton, a Teacher Librarian at St. George’s School in Vancouver, Canada.  St. George’s is an independent boys’ school with a mix of day students and boarders.  That’s our Jr School campus on the right.  I’ve been hanging my hat there for 24 years, but I didn’t always hang out with the books.  I started my career as a music teacher (band director) and took a “temporary,” “part time” position running the school library for a previous colleague who was away on a long-term leave.  Apparently, librarianing (new verb) stuck when my colleague did not return.  I went back to school and did my MLIS and that is where I first ran into Guided Inquiry.  It was introduced as an information literacy model and, to be perfectly honest, compared to some of the other models, it seemed far too involved and confusing for me to wrap my head around.  When put next to the Big 6 or other similar, simplified models, it did feel unnecessarily complex.  Clearly, I didn’t get it at the time.  I was ignorant and clueless.

I got a free copy of Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (first edition) at the AASL conference a couple of years later and decided to dive in.  I’m honestly not sure what prompted me to read it (usually, “It’s Free!” is not enough motivation for me to read a book), but I’m glad that I did.  I finally started to understand, and when my school started talking about inquiry models for school-wide adoption, Guided Inquiry quickly rose to the top of the list.  An email to Carol Kuhlthau, who then introduced me to Leslie lead to arranging a small field trip to Boston to look at the model in action with Leslie.  Not only was a 48 hour immersion in a conversation around Guided Inquiry truly inspiring for the 4 teachers who went, it was also the catalyst for getting my hands dirty and trying out the model on some unsuspecting students back at my school.

I started the unit with a colleague of mine and her Grade 10 Social Studies class a few weeks before the Boston trip.  The unit was around Canadian identity in the context of immigrant stories.  We’d had an amazing Open phase that connected the students with the topic and all 20 of the boys had made a personal connection with the topic.  As I left for Boston, that class had almost completed the Create phase and were eagerly anticipating sharing their work with each other.  Seeing their passion and the level of thinking that they were doing, I was sold.  It was our first time out with Guided Inquiry Design (GID) and made plenty of mistakes.  But even with the teachers (mostly me) screwing things up, all of us (students and teachers) saw that there was so much in the GID model that it was the right choice for the school.  We’d not seen such universal passion for a research project before.  The students were digging deep, asking to spend more time on their research and all but demanded that we do another GI project before the end of the year.  Clearly, we obliged!

Since then, I’ve worked with a number of teachers in a variety of subject areas, by presenting sessions at professional development days, by heading up a cohort of teachers who want to learn more about GI, and, of course, working with teachers designing and executing GID units.  Leslie has been up to visit and we’re hoping that we’ll get to see her again soon.  The gospel is spreading throughout the school, from Grades 1-12.  I’m not going to pretend that the implementation of these units has been flawless but, as with our first foray with the Grade 10 Socials group, there is so much good in the design, that even when we don’t hit it 100%, the results are still far better than the traditional research essay.

My next post will get more specific about some of the details of units that we’ve done at St. George’s and my third post will look at some of the connections that I’ve made with other ideas outside of GID.  In particular, I was involved in an action research project that looked at the relationship between inquiry and making which involves some discussion of the relationship between GID and Project-Based Learning.

One of the things that I value most about blogging is the opportunity to engage in discussion.  My hope for 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry is that it is the catalyst for an amazing, year-long conversation about learning and inquiry.  Please comment and get the conversation going!  See you in a couple of days, and if you want to check out more of my blogging, head on over to Adventures in Libraryland.