From Down Under to North Europe!

What could be a better way to start this sunny but cold leap day than with a gigantic leap from South to North! I have been reading earlier posts this weekend and I am so exited! First of all it is so very nice to meet you, whom I consider as colleagues. Second of all this is an excellent learning situation – we are all learning from each other. Thank you so much Leslie for inviting me to join this project!

My name is Anu Ojaranta and I am writing to you from Turku, Finland. Turku is a city in South-West Finland and the oldest city in Finland, a medieval city established already in 1229. I am a librarian by profession and a school librarian at heart and I have been working in the library field already for 22 years. I did my masters’ degree in Sweden and I am at the moment a doctoral student aiming for a doctoral degree in Åbo Akademi University in Turku.


At some point during my career in librarianship in 2003 I ended up working in a school library in Stockholm, Sweden. It was just meant to be a temporary work as I was aiming for corporate libraries. I worked in International English School in Stockholm for 4 year and was by then convinced of the work I should be doing: school librarianship. After 4 years I moved back to Finland and by chance soon a full time school library position opened in the neighboring city. It was an extremely rare occasion; school librarianship is a very rare position in Finland. We are 5,5 million people and to my knowledge, less than 30 full time school librarians. So, I felt like I did hit the jackpot!

I continued working as a school librarian in Finland in 2008 and I kept introducing new ways of working in the school library; doing homework in the library and opening up the library for more hours during the school day, close cooperation with the teaching staff. At some point I got very interested in how the students do research and how the teachers are instructing the students. It often felt like “go and do!” methodology. An idea came to me and I went to see the professor Gunilla Widén in Information Studies at my hometown university Åbo Akademi and I was immediately taken in as a doctoral candidate. Dr Jannica Heinström became my instructor. She has been working closely with Carol Kuhlthau and Todd Ross in CISSL in Rutgers University.

My research subject is information literacy conceptions and I am studying the core curriculum in Finland. What are the conceptions of information literacy in the text given to us by the Board of Education and do they match with the conceptions of teachers and the librarians. The work is on going and I am at the moment doing a discourse analysis of the new core curriculum. The new 2016 curriculum is taking effect in August this year. A very interesting research, I am fascinated to say the least! I have two conference papers published in English, which you can find linked in my own blog.

How did I get to know Guided Inquiry? My work as a school librarian and a researcher kind of led me there. I was familiar with the term Guided Inquiry already. The real boost happened when I met Carol Kuhlthau in Tampere, Finland in 2012. It was the year of IFLA World Congress in Helsinki, Finland and I participated a Summer School and a pre-conference in Tampere University. Carol Kuhlthau was visiting as a lecturer and a speaker. I was very happy to enjoy her company in several occasions and we had very good discussions. I also the priviledge to attend GID workshop in Cape Town in August 2015 with Ross Todd and Lyn Hay.

Back then I had just recently changed jobs and for the first time I was working with elementary school students and preschoolers. I was working closely with two schools in the city and suggested to teachers in these primary schools to try out Guided Inquiry with me. These teachers, Jonna and Sigrid, welcomed the idea and we got to work! I will tell you more about these projects in the next blog post.

As I have been proceeding with my PhD research, I have really realized that the new curriculum we will have in a few months time would be an excellent arena to introduce GID. Phenomenon based learning and more information intensive way of studying in schools is soon our reality. Research based methods should be used to do phenomenon based projects, breaking down the subject barriers.

The Library Bridge

I also have my own little company.  I am giving workshops, seminars and lectures targeting teachers and public libraries so that we will find meaningful ways to collaborate in information literacy instruction. I have been promoting GI as an excellent choice for collaboration. Very happy that schools are taking initiative! I will be writing more about this and my research later on during this week.

I will leave you now with the picture from my hometown. The Aura river has a new bridge over it, The Library Bridge. And the Turku Cathedral in the background.


Saw that we have something in common with Australia, a curriculum change. Interesting reading from all of you! Great to connect!

Warm greetings from cold and sunny Finland,


Blog Post 4: A week in the life of a Guided Inquiry practitioner in India

This is a tale of one enormous parcel, cancelled planes, mice, an elephant and Guided Inquiry


Since 2007, I’ve visited Loreto Panighatta many times to work on establishing a library there. Loreto Panighatta is a K-10 school in the beautiful tea garden area below the Himalayas, near Siliguri, in West Bengal, India.  Students are Hindi and Nepali sons and daughters of tea pickers, whose future is limited to continuing to be tea garden workers. The tea gardens may be picturesque, but the labor is hard, the pay incredibly small and dependent on the weight of tea picked each day.

Following are some sad facts about life in Panighatta (similar to many areas of rural India):

  • Low life expectancy
  • Arranged early marriages
  • Poor health
  • Extreme poverty
  • Trafficking of girls from Panighatta to Mumbai and Kolkata.
  • Undervaluing of female life.

A possible way out to a better future is through education, and it is very satisfying to report that the school has now been registered as able to matriculate its students at least partly because of the library. It is a large, sunny room with intricate wrought iron windows and wooden shutters, which overlooks the school playground and the tea gardens. There is a No Frills Dewey Decimal System and procedures for accessioning and cataloguing books, and the collection now numbers over 2000 books, mostly purchased from Indian sources, like the Oxford Book Shop in Darjeeling, and the National Book Trust of India.  Room to Read has donated wonderful Hindi/English fiction and non-fiction books, which the students treasure.  Since my second visit in 2008, SybaSigns has donated signs and library bags. SybaSigns is Australia and New Zealand’s largest provider of library signage, as well as professional development, through the SybaAcademy. There are Hindi-English directional signs in the library and across the school, thanks to Syba Signs, our only mistake being the word for “window” was represented with the Hindi word, “toilet”, which caused many smiles from students and teachers!

So, the library is up and going, but libraries are pretty rare in India, and teachers and students need to be taught how to use it.  Up till now, on all my visits, we’ve concentrated on setting up systems, persuading teachers to allow students to borrow books and take them home, (even if goats do eat them),  reading to the children in fun-filled Hindi-English sessions run by my travelling companions or me, with class teachers.  Using the non-fiction section of the library was the goal for this, possibly last, visit to India.   So, how was I going to do that?

The answer was obvious!  Leap straight from rote learning into Guided Inquiry… in four days.

I’ve worked with Guided Inquiry for a long time at Loreto Kirribilli, and am now a lecturer in teacher librarianship at Charles Sturt University, where I’m continuing my interest in Guided Inquiry. This is to say that a crash course in Guided Inquiry in the Indian tea gardens as the theme of this article can’t be regarded as anything but a start! Nevertheless, the exercise of reducing Guided Inquiry’s elements to their simplest expression, trying it out with classes, and teaching it to Loreto Panighatta teachers was an interesting experience.  But must be followed up, so much for my last trip to India!

Travelling with me in December were Lizzy, a primary TL,  Maria, a HSIE teacher and Stephanie, her daughter, an 18 year old university student. My thanks to my travelling companions for all the hard work they put in, for sharing experiences that can only happen in India (e.g. driving up and down the narrow, winding, precipitous, two way road from Siliguri to Darjeeling, being passed by battered 4 wheel drive cars snaking down the mountains, with people sitting on the roof, hanging out windows, while obeying what seems to be the only Indian rule of the road, Please horn!)    And thanks to my companions in cancelled planes, mice, an elephant and stomach trouble!

The Parcel

Phyl Williamson of SybaSigns once more donated the most extraordinary collection of mats, signs and posters, including the Guided Inquiry Design Process, (now in pride of place in Panighatta Library).  I collected it a couple of days before we left, and Maria bravely volunteered to transport the Parcel!  My son in law attached a strap to it to ease the load, which was a great help, but still it looked like an astoundingly heavy parcel of rifles! At each check in point in India, we had to argue why it should not be charged excess baggage, and it’s a tribute to the Indian ground staff at various airports, that they never charged us!   It was just that they kept cancelling the planes on which The Parcel was to fly! The road was indeed long, with many a winding turn, getting that Parcel from Sydney to inside the library at Panighatta!

The following diary entries recount our progress in this Guided Inquiry journey:

Thursday 11 December – Plane cancelled

Today we experienced our first plane cancellation as we began the last leg of our journey from Sydney, from Kolkata to Bagdogra on Jet Airways. We checked in The Parcel, and sat in Kolkata’s new and empty airport waiting for some hours, then boarding the plane, and sitting on the tarmac for another couple of hours.  Then the plane was cancelled, with no reasons given, no talk of refunds, or how else to get to our destination.  We checked out The Parcel, and with difficulty got ourselves to Howrah Railway Station to catch the train to Jalpaiguri, close to Panighatta.  Howrah Railway Station literally teems with life, incredible noise, continuous cracked announcements over loud speakers, many platforms, beggars, and possibly the worst toilets in the world. Previous experiences with Indian trains had me very worried about our train, the Shatabdi Express.  Would it be like other Indian trains where people sit on the roof, fight each other to get on or off, and where 10 hours could turn out to be a life time? The Shatabdi Express turned out to be a really nice train, air conditioned, with comfortable seats and delicious meals served by attentive staff!  We arrived in Jaipalguri very late at night, dragging The Parcel off the train, to be met by Sister Initha, who runs Darjeeling Mary Ward Social Centre which looks after Loreto Panighatta.   A long night in a very hard bed followed!

Friday 12 December – Get ready for Guided Inquiry – Indian style, and mice

Today was our first day at Loreto Panighatta, where staff and students gave us a huge welcome, and we set ourselves up in the flat that volunteers stay in.  It’s a pleasant set of rooms, with saggy beds that are paradoxically very comfortable, each one shrouded with a mosquito net.  We had our own cook, though she went home at night, and it is then that you’d feel the remoteness of this school in the middle of the tea gardens, somewhere in West Bengal. We spent the day getting the library ready for what experience told us would be a run of classes on Monday, and decided what areas we would focus on for our experiments with Guided Inquiry in a land of rote learning – and they were The Human Body and The Solar System.   We unpacked The Parcel, and found a cornucopia of resources for the library – The Guided Inquiry posters, now on display in the library, a welcome to the library mat, and many of the signature Syba Signs posters.   We put them up, pausing to greet the children who were peeping into the library most of the day!  We tracked down library resources on both topics, and thought about how we would get students to understand that they were to follow their own interest, a notion completely foreign in Indian education, at least at primary and secondary level, and that asking questions and answering them was what using a library is all about.

My preparation was this really basic plan for our GI lessons, simplified from Guided Inquiry Design: A framework for inquiry in your school. (Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari, 2012)

Indian phases of GI

I knew from previous visits to Panighatta that students are used to rote learning, and expect it, and are not familiar with the idea of following their interest.  A little research showed articles over the last couple of years in The Indian Times blamed rote learning for the absence of critical thinking skills in Indian students. So, to try to express this simply to teachers at Panighatta, I brought with me some the thoughts of Vikram Karve, on Inquiry based learning versus rote learning an Indian blogger, available at:   The writing style is a little bombastic, but it was a very useful tool for the teachers at Panighatta, particularly the following:

Tell me and I forget

Show me and I remember

Involve me and I understand.

Our first night at Panighatta that night, all by ourselves in the middle of the remote tea gardens, saw us under our mosquito nets, all windows locked and barred, soundly asleep till a scream from Lizzy pierced the quiet. There was a definite squeak as a mouse ran across the floor under her bed.   Then followed a conversation about whether mice can climb, all of us convinced that they can’t.   A simple Google search safely back in Sydney confirmed that, oh yes, they can, and that the adjective to do with mice is “murine”. The frequency of murine squeaks definitely coloured the rest of our stay in that bedroom.

Saturday/Sunday 13/14 December – Darjeeling – Roof of the World

Our weekend was spent driving up the very scary road to Darjeeling, where we stayed with Loreto sisters at Loreto Convent, Darjeeling, a gracious, though dilapidated and nearly empty (haunted?) British Raj building. We stayed in very cold bedrooms, and found Darjeeling a rather grim place, where the last renovations of the very British buildings appeared to have been in1947, when the British left. We got up at 4am to go to Tiger Hill, where you can see the extraordinary spectacle of sunrise lighting up the Himalayas in pink and gold.  This time, all we could see was cloud!  After lunch with the very hospitable sisters, we hurtled back down the Himalayas on the scary road with what appeared to be a teenaged driver, who had two near crashes on the way down.   And safely back to the murine bedroom.

Monday 15 December – Hit the ground running with GI at the school

Monday morning saw us greeted at assembly, anointed with tika, then the classes started coming! Classes in India are enormous, anything up to 50 students, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear length of time the class goes for – it stops when you’re finished, it seems.  It was clear they love their library, and it is also clear that they use the fiction a lot.  The better condition of the non-fiction books showed that they are less used, because teachers and students don’t know how to approach their use. The non-fiction collection is quite strong, accessible and interesting.  There is very little technology, and haphazard internet connection with a dongle.

Working with Panighatta teachers and students, our pattern was this:

  • Open/Immerse: Hooking the interest of students in Class 9, studying The Human Body saw Maria tracing an outline of one of the students on a big sheet of paper, which was to form the Create/Share aspect of this mini Guided Inquiry, and drawing from students what they already knew about the parts of the human body.
  • Explore: Students were asked to sit with others interested in the same part of the body, in an inquiry circle, and to read texts about that part of the body.
  • Identify: Students were asked to focus on an aspect of that part of the body, to explore further.
  • Gather: The inquiry circle worked together to create a list of interesting points about that part of the body
  • Create/Share: Students then transferred that information onto the large paper cut out of a body, and talked to the rest of the group about their findings.
  • Evaluate: This was rudimentary, as our classes, though long and had many students, were for one period only.

Tuesday 16 December – More Guided Inquiry

We had huge classes all day today as well, and followed the above pattern, this time involving classes, for example, with using the dictionary and the solar system. We found that the Open/Immerse phase was critical in engaging students’ interest, and conveying the foreign idea to them that they were to follow their own curiosity. The solar system went very well, with Class 8, with the class sharing the drawing of a blank solar system on a large piece of paper at Open, and using the excellent non-fiction books we had showing interesting facts about solar systems.  Students then joined inquiry circles who shared the same interest in a planet, spent time finding interesting facts about that planet, wrote it down together, then transferred the information to the large solar system drawing. Lastly, they shared the information with their classmates.

The most difficult part of the elementary Guided Inquiry classes we ran was persuading students it was ok to follow their own interest.  This is a concept foreign to them, and they still prefer to be told what to do, and that verbatim reportage is the preferred mode.  We did not get as far as students creating their own inquiry questions, because of time, and the sophistication of the concept.  We made baby steps in the direction of inquiry. But it was clearthat their curiosity was aroused, and that they were engaged.

Wednesday 17 December – Teaching the teachers and the Elephant

Wednesday morning was fiction time, with a stream of classes coming in for bi-lingual stories (one of us, with one of their teachers reading one of the excellent bi-lingual Room to Read books). On Wednesday afternoon, all the teachers came to see me, and I took them through a sample inquiry task, modelled on the simple ones we’d done with classes over the last few days, and we talked through the need to move from rote learning in the direction of inquiry-based learning.   There were many head wobbles from my audience, which experience has shown me means that they are listening and are encouraging me.   I showed them What is Inquiry-based Learning at, which they enjoyed.   (Quite a technical feat, with the limited internet connection!)

That night, in the murine bedroom, we woke at midnight to the sound of a mob of frenzied men, shouting, and shooting.  We’d heard talk since arriving in India about the present government’s crack-down on all who are not Hindus, and the burning and looting of Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist premises.  Being in a Catholic school, all alone, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the tea gardens, we thought we were part of that crackdown.  We huddled together in silence, too frightened to move, not even considering the murine sounds, as we listened to the ruckus outside, which came closer, and sounded as if it were in the stairs of the building.  We knew our gate wasn’t locked, as we left it open to let in the maid in the morning. The noise died down about 2am, and we slept a little till waking up to find the ruckus was a rogue elephant (lame, and on its own – these are the dangerous ones), and what we thought were the riotous, Catholic killing men, were villagers shouting to get rid of them, the gunshots flares to frighten the elephant.  That was the night of the elephant!

Thursday 18 December – Another plane cancelled

Our flight back to Kolkata was scheduled for today.  We had to check if it was actually flying, so, after a fond farewell from staff and students of Panighatta, we went into Panighatta village, where a kind man who runs the travel agency/grocery found out for us painfully slowly, that our Jet Airways flight was cancelled.  Again there was no reason given, or any advice about alternative ways to travel.  We bought an expensive ticket on another airline, IndiGo, and, Parcel-less, we made our way back to Kolkata, where the next adventure awaited us, for me a GI adventure of another kind. My colleague, TL Alinda Sheerman, of Broughton Anglican College, in Sydney told me about a Science teacher colleague understanding the acronym GI as Gasto Intestinal, and I must say it is definitely an alternative adjective for the rest of our adventures with GI in India.

It’s been great fun writing these blogposts!  Please join our Australian Guided Inquiry Community

Nobody in Sydney slept at all last night – so HOT!!  Everyone is very tired and cranky – please let this heatwave end!



The Down Under Devil’s Advocate: Ten ways to derail a Guided Inquiry

Greetings from a Sydney heatwave – It’s over 40 degrees again!

I think I’ve been involved in enough Guided Inquiries now to know ten easy ways to make the unit fail.   Here they are…Don’t, on any account,do any of these!

  1. Don’t allow teachers time to understand Guided Inquiry, its processes and scaffolding

This might seem a self-evident thing to say, that teachers need time to read about and apply Guided Inquiry to their own learning, to understand and how it might work with students. Time, however, is the missing element in busy schools, with teachers barely keeping afloat in the sea of classes, marking, and accountability confronting them. In Australia, the content-heavy curriculum is another challenge for finding time for professional development. It is of the utmost importance that at least the teaching team conducting the Guided Inquiry learns about the theory and practice of Guided Inquiry. The second edition of Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century, is especially useful in providing this professional development. The Australian Guided Inquiry Community also provides Australian examples and scaffolding for those seeking to gain an overall understanding of what’s involved in a GI (with an Aussie flavour!) The provision of time for teacher professional development is a huge challenge in busy schools.

  1. Don’t collaborate in a teaching team

Collaboration between the members of the teaching team is essential throughout the GI, from design, to scheduling, to teaching, to responding to students individually or in groups; to discussing student progress and sharing the load of responding to students in work sessions; to assessing the process and product of students; to reflecting together in a culmination conversation on what worked and what didn’t, and how to improve the running of the unit next time. This is stating the obvious!  But achieving such collaboration is difficult in a busy school, and it is all too easy for one part of the teaching team to run away with the design of the unit. This reduces the ownership of the GI, by either having it a teacher-created unit, without the expertise of the teacher librarian; or the teacher librarian rushing ahead and creating the unit, without the ownership of the teacher(s).

  1. Don’t introduce the Guided Inquiry process properly to students and don’t reinforce it during the GI

Students need to be introduced to the GI process in a way they can relate to, such as The Research River, or something like the following:

Why use the GIDP

Iphone GIDSorry, these are a bit little!

Students need to have posters of the GI process in their work area in the library and classroom, and to have members of the teaching team bring it to their attention throughout the GI.

4.    Don’t cover all the stages of the GI process.

Listen to students such as Eternity (pseudonym) in the 2015 research carried out by Dr. Kasey Garrison and me, who said:

No, I like to do things in a different order to how they suggested it. I liked the end, some of the stages, and the Create and Share part, I found that really fun but the other parts…(No, I didn’t like them).

As Eternity suggests, the GI could leave out all the stages in the middle and go from Open to Immerse to Explore to Create and Share.   Which is pretty much the same as Google, Copy and Paste, and Plagiarise and Present!

DO allow students to reflect on the GI process throughout the unit – this reflection from Freddo at the end of two GI’s in last year’s research is engaging! She reflected that the stages of GI were “like stickers in your brain.” (In Australia, “stickers” mean post-it notes).

5.     Don’t resource it properly

The types of resources students need at different stages of the GI process make resourcing the unit a highly specialised task for the TL to carry out, with the assistance of the teacher(s). Overview sources are needed at the beginning of a GI, so that students can get an idea of the scope of the topic(s) they are choosing between, or have been allocated (in a single topic GI). It’s wise to stay away from Google at this stage, as the level of detail it provides is often confusing at Explore. Youtube and Clickview videos are excellent at Explore. After identify, where students have created their inquiry question, the need for pertinent resources to each individual question involves the TL in another search for resources, and in teaching students how to find their own on online data bases and elsewhere. Google is good at this stage, with careful searching. There can be a difficulty in the Gather phase of sources being too hard for students to read, and use of scaffolding on how to read interrogate sources, such as those found in A Guided Inquiry approach to teaching the humanities project (Schmidt, et al, 2015) will be useful.

      6.   Don’t allow enough time to carry it out

The demands of the highly content driven nature of the Australian Curriculum (while it still abounds in information skills and the General Capabilities) is a challenge for GI, because there is little time to spend on topics outside the curriculum.   This means that GIs mostly focus on single curriculum topics which are part of the syllabus, apart from the occasional open-ended investigation that occurs in senior History and Geography. It also means that time is precious and allocating the time needed to cover a GI is hard to organise. The way we’ve got around that is to regard the class as an inquiry community, as suggested by Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, (2012), which is finding out about, and sharing knowledge of aspects of the topic, so that the GI covers the curriculum topic by inquiry rather than teacher instruction.

7.    Don’t allow students to choose their own areas of interest

It is difficult for teachers to let go of their knowledge of individual students and not to steer them away from an aspect of the topic they know may be challenging for them, or too easy for them, even though they express interest in it.  This is of course, a critical aspect of GI, student choice and interest being its driving force towards success.

8.   Don’t allow students to create their own inquiry question

Students need scaffolding to understand what constitutes a higher order question, and the Question Focus Formulation technique (Rothstein and Santana,2011) works very well. Teachers and TLs need to restrain themselves from tinkering with student questions, as it is very easy for students to lose ownership of their question, and thereby lose interest.

9.    Don’t encourage students to reflect throughout the process: Allow them do it all at the end!

It seems that Holly Bell from our CSU 2015 research, (which is still being analysed) was able to leave all her reflecting till the end, and naturally didn’t enjoy it!

Well, to be honest, I actually really, really, don’t like reflections, I just find it so annoying, I have done all of this work and then it is… how do I know three weeks ago what was I feeling??

If students know why they are reflecting – to allow teachers and TL to know of their progress, what they are feeling, what difficulties they are having; as well as becoming more conscious of their own learning process; it becomes an integral part of the process. DEFINITELY, not to be left till the end!

Reflections based on the SLIM Toolkit from Centre for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) are simple and direct, and also form data for evidence-based practice.

    10.    Don’t assess it in innovative, formative and summative ways.

Assessment in GI needs to be formative as well as summative. It should involve students assessing their own and their peers’ work, reflecting on content and process, and celebrating and showcasing learning. In GIs I’ve been involved in, there are marking rubrics for product and for process, and the “value” of the project in terms of grades is perceived by students as equally comprising of their product and their process. Here are two examples of the kinds of rubrics we have used at my school in Sydney:

We often used wikis as the working space of GI, which allowed for continuous feedback to individual students, as well as the vehicle for students to contribute all the parts of their GI. The culmination conversation is a recommended GI technique for the teaching team to have a structured conversation about successes and shortcomings of the unit, the progress of individual students and further interventions needed. In my school in Sydney, we introduced a culmination conversation for students, a round-table discussion, where each student is given a higher order question relating to the topic they investigated, (not the same as their inquiry question), 5 minutes to think about it, and then 3 minutes to talk about it in front of their peers. It is possibly the most rewarding thing in a GI, to see the passion with which students apply their thinking and speak about their own topic area with ownership, understanding and divergent thinking.   It was very rewarding hearing students at the end of the unit on the Holocaust, in which they worked in inquiry circles – Bystanders, Upstanders, Perpetrators and Victims, respond to questions such as: Why do some people stand by during times of injustice while others try to do something to stop or prevent injustice? It was clear that The Holocaust GI had engendered deep interest and commitment.

As you see, there are at least ten ways to derail a perfectly good Guided Inquiry! Nobody would ever dream of doing any one of these!


Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C. & Heinström, J. (2005). The school library impact measure (SLIM). Rutgers University, New Brunswick: Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries
Kuhlthau, C.C. Maniotes, L. K. and Caspari, A. K. (2012) Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, California. Libraries Unlimited.
Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2015) Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century, 2nd edition. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited
Maniotes, L., Harrington, L., & Lambusta, P. (2015) Guided Inquiry design in action: Middle school.  Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. 
Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. (2011) Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions. Cambridge, USA: Harvard Educational Publishing Group
Schmidt, R, Giordano, E. & Schmidt, G. (2015) A Guided Inquiry approach to teaching the humanities project. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited

More from Down Under – a little research

Does Guided Inquiry enhance learning and metacognition?

In 2014, I moved from being Head Teacher Librarian at Loreto Kirribilli, a Catholic independent secondary school in Sydney, Australia, to my present position as a lecturer in teacher librarianship at Charles Sturt University. I was lucky to be able to work with my wonderful friend and GI collaborator, Joanne Bleby, to carry out some research to judge the efficacy of Guided Inquiry methods and scaffolding in her Ancient History class, as compared to the Modern History class, which was not using GI methods and scaffolding. The wiki which housed all the elements of the GI is the Ancient Historical Investigation.

The research, summarised in this post, demonstrates that Guided Inquiry scaffolding does enhance learning and metacognition. Students undertaking the Historical Investigation in Year 11 develop an interest in an area of Ancient or Modern history, explore it, develop an inquiry question, and answer it in an essay. The Ancient History class was scaffolded by Guided Inquiry curriculum design and support, while the Modern History class conducted their investigation independently. Deep learning was evident in the questions asked and the answers written in the Ancient History essays. There is evidence of a difference in quality in the questions asked and answered by Modern Historians. It would appear that the scaffolding of Guided Inquiry has enhanced learning, while recognising the effect an excellent teacher has on already high achieving students. Ancient history students also demonstrated a high level of metacognition in their reflections.

Research aim

My aim was to find out if the scaffoldings of GI assisted in both the development of deep learning and awareness of the process of learning and to answer my research question: Does GI enhance learning and metacognition?


The Year 11 Historical Investigation was chosen as the area of research, because it is possibly the only time in the History curriculum where students are free to identify, explore and make conclusions on an area of history, only restricted by time periods and whether or not the topic is one they have to study as part of their curriculum. The sample was 52 students in two modern history classes of 18 students each, and one Ancient history class of 16 students. The students are 16/17 years old, all capable, highly motivated students, who have never undertaken a long term inquiry project before. Their teachers and teacher librarians are dedicated, talented teachers.

What did the GI entail?

The inquiry task in each class was effectively the same – Choose an area of Modern/Ancient history, create a question and answer it in an essay.

 What was the same for both Modern and Ancient History?

Each class had:

  • active support and feedback from teachers throughout the process
  • resourcing from the teacher librarian
  • teaching of how to use Easybib, create footnotes and to use the PEEL(Point, Evidence, Explain, Link) essay writing technique.
  • similarly highly motivated and capable students
  • a culmination conversation at the end of the unit.

What was different in the Modern and Ancient investigations?

Ancient historians:

  • were explicitly taught the use of GI and the ISP throughout, including different search techniques for different stages of the ISP.
  • worked in inquiry circles, which categorised choices of topics, as well as providing peer support for information gathering and synthesising.
  • reflected daily, as well as using the SLIM toolkit, on the wiki created by the teacher librarian for the task.
  • had teacher librarian support throughout
  • used a wiki to house the task, scaffolds, reflections and feedback.
  • were taught how to use Questia and Evernote, with feedback.
  • Were scaffolded explicitly on creating questions.

On all of the above points, Modern historians had no input.

The teaching team in the GI

The team of teacher and teacher librarians for the Ancient History GI had the following responsibilities:

Teaching team(Sorry it’s blurry!)


The following data were gathered from both Modern and Ancient History students:

  • Responses to the SLIM Toolkit (School Library Impact Measurement) (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005)
  • Essays written by students, including comparison of questions between Ancient and Modern historians.
  • Marks given to students for their essays and for their process.

A final reflection was asked of the Ancient historians only: Describe your feelings as you progressed through the stages of the Information Search process.

These are the questions in the SLIM Toolkit:

Q1: Take some time to think about your topic. Now write down what you know about it.

Q2: How interested are you in this topic? Not at all/Not much/Quite a bit/A great deal

Q3: How much do you know about this topic? Nothing/ Not much/Quite a bit/A great deal.

Q4: When you do research, what do you generally find easy to do?

Q5: When you do research, what do you generally find difficult to do?

Q6: What did you learn in doing this research project?

This instrument has been used in frequent practitioner and professional research. The questions were presented to students at Open, Identify, and Create/share stages of the task, except the last question, offered once at the end.

 Summary of findings from the SLIM questions:

Questions 1-4 were taken by the Ancient History class only, due to difficulties with the administration of the survey for Modern History.

Q1: Take some time to think about your topic. What do you now know about it?

The growth from facts to explanations to conclusions in the reflection sheets and in the essays does demonstrate a growth to deep knowledge. Every Ancient history student was able to take the movement from large numbers of facts, through explanations, to variable numbers of conclusions. But conclude they all did. Some of this movement can be attributed to the quality of the teaching they had, and their intrinsic motivation as highly achieving students at a highly achieving school, some to the scaffolding provided by GI.

The Culmination Conversation (student round table discussion at the end of the unit) also demonstrated the growth of deep knowledge, as students were able to express knowledge about historical ideas relating to their content area very clearly and at some depth.

Q2: How interested are you in this topic?

Ancient historians all maintained a high level of interest in the project throughout.

Q3: How much do you know about this topic?

Ancient history students’ self-reported knowledge grew from Response 1 to Response 3

Q4: When you do research, what do you generally find easy to do?

The most frequently mentioned items were take notes, and search effectively for the stage of the GID process

Q5 and Q6: taken by both classes.

Q5: When you do research, what do you generally find difficult to do?

Persevering and using complex sources were the most mentioned by Ancient historians

Getting started, identifying own perspective, persevering, using appropriate sources, synthesising information were the most mentioned by Modern historians.

Q6: What did you learn in doing this research project?

Both groups learnt the same concrete tasks, Use Easybib and how to do footnotes. Ancient historians also learnt how to search differently for the stage of the ISP concerned, use Evernote for notetaking, and Questia for deeper reading at Gather. Ancient historians demonstrated a strong awareness of GID process, while Modern historians had no awareness of an information process.

Other data – Essay questions

Some samples of Ancient Historians’ questions include:

  • How has history remembered the Battle of Salamis?
  • Who owns the past? Discuss this question in the light of ownership controversies in the last century.
  • “There have been many Alexanders: No account of him altogether wrong” (C.S. Welles).  Discuss how the diversity of the modern identify of Alexander was created by the ancient world.
  • “Boudicca has been altered by history to suit differing purposes and context”. Examine the validity of this claim.
  • “The only form of fiction in which real characters do not seem out of place is history.” (Oscar Wilde)  Assess the validity of this statement in relation to the Emperor Nero.
  • To what extent does the 1963 film, “Cleopatra”, provide an historically accurate representation of Cleopatra?

Of note is the higher order nature of the questions and the use of quotes to frame the questions.

Some samples of Modern History inquiry questions include:

  • Why does the dropping of the Atomic Bomb remain controversial in American history?
  • What is the significance of traditional medicine in South Africa?
  • Was Marilyn Monroe more than just another dumb blonde?
  • Assess the role of the moustache within the military of the British Empire.
  • Why did people follow Jim Jones to Jonestown, Guyana?

A clear difference from Ancient history questions is not using quotes to frame a question and a wider approach to what makes history, .e.g traditional medicine in South Africa. The questions are much more straightforward than their Ancient history counterparts. Specific guidance in creating questions was given to the Ancient historians.

Other data – Marks

Ancient historians’ process and essay marks showed strong alignment between process and essay.

Other data: Reflections – Describe your feelings as you progressed through the stages of the Information Search process.

Following are reflections gathered from the final reflection, administered to the Ancient historians only. They show more than any of the graphs the level of involvement in learning students had, and the quality of their metacognition.   They show a definite yes to both parts of the research question: Does GI enhance learning and metacognition?


I liked that we were also given complete freedom to choose what we liked, that way it was ensured that we were doing something that we found interesting, rather than something that was assigned…


The Sea people were so fascinating to me and I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in information about them. But I made sure to keep to overview information and not to immerse myself too greatly…

Immerse: The true honeymoon stage! Basking in my decision to focus on Emperor Nero, I pursued various online encyclopaedias and websites and watched as many YouTube videos as I could, this was a great way to absorb information quickly whilst being entertained, and gave me a fantastic overview basis to envisage the path for exploration…  


This was the fun part of the assignment, where there was no imposed time limit on you or any sort of expectation/pressure (yet). I could actually just sit there hours on end just reading information about the Sea Peoples…

There was so much information! I did fall into a dip, in which I wished to change my topic as I felt that there was nothing controversial about Herodotus.


At this point it was clear that my area of interest was in how history had shaped the various portrayals of Alexander through time and the implications of this for our modern idea of who the ancient personality was.

I found this part quite challenging as it was really hard to narrow my choices down. But with the help of my teacher and teacher librarian, it was easier for me to decide on my focus area.


When it was time to start gathering relevant information was when I had the most challenges in my research process. I found it extremely tedious and time consuming. This stage really required active learning, and persistence.


For me, the most challenging part of this whole process was the essay. I had talked over my mind map with my teacher, which definitely helped the whole process and I had a definite idea of where my essay was going however getting all my ideas out of my head and onto paper was harder than anticipated. At this point I was feeling frustrated, and I just wanted the whole process to be over…


Throughout this whole topic I have had the chance to evaluate my research skills. The daily logs have been good in a sense as they have structured my reflection and given me key goals to complete both short term and long term. The weekly reflections have helped me to gauge the progression of my researching skills and have targeted particular aspects of my research which I have needed to keep up to date, such as Easybib…


Does GI enhance learning and metacognition?

It would appear that the scaffolding provided to Ancient history students did enhance learning and metacognition, as evident from data shown. There are other reasons for the achievements of these students – they are motivated, high achievers, often with strong writing skills. They have very experienced and dedicated teachers. Achievements of the Modern historians without the benefit of GI scaffolding show that there are other factors at play, such as those mentioned already. However, there are definite differences in the quality of the questions posed by the two groups, and it is also clear that the Ancient historians became adept at recognising the stage of the ISP they were experiencing, and their reflections show this.

As was evident in their reflection sheets, and in their response to the final reflection: Describe your feelings as you went through the stages of the ISP, Ancient history students are aware of their own process of learning, and showed themselves adept at talking about the GID process. They learnt how to manage their information process, and what to expect whenever they do research, e.g. The Dip. (that loss of confidence expected at Explore in the GI Process)

Reading complex sources is anecdotally the greatest difficulty both groups had – they actively resist it.   As well, there were issues with creating an inquiry question – Modern historians said they found it difficult, Ancient historians wanted to create it too early.

In conclusion, it would appear that teaching/providing students with the scaffolding of GI and the ISP has enhanced their learning and metacognition.

Implications for practice:

Some broad generalisations about using GI in schools might be developed from this research, and the myriad other studies in this area. They are:

  • Teach students the ISP/GID process and help them practise using it – from Year 7 onwards. The earlier students realise that their information seeking and using behaviour follows the same process every time they have an assignment, if they are doing it with engagement, is valuable support indeed.
  • Allow students to choose their own area of interest and to develop their own questions as often as it is feasible, as this is at the heart of GI, and inquiry learning, which is so favoured in curriculum documents in Australia and elsewhere.
  • Expect TLs to-co plan, co-teach and co-assess research tasks. They are teaching partners in the inquiry curriculum of the school.
  • Make TLs responsible for information literacy skills, and for the school’s achievement of the Critical and Creative Thinking General Capability (CCT) in the Australian curriculum, by building process steps into the grading of any inquiry task.
  • Teach students how to search appropriately for the stage of the GID they are at. Essentially this is to avoid information overload at Explore, to keep the search general then, in order to gather a notion of the scope of the topic. It’s also to search deeply at Gather, when pertinent, rather than just relevant, information is the key.
  • Teach students how to create inquiry questions, and specifically not to create them too early. Use scaffolding provided by such techniques as Question Focus Formulation (Rothstein & Santana, 2011)
  • Consider whether active teaching on coming to rich, substantiated conclusions where the conclusion is substantiated is necessary.
  • Look at how (if?) students are reading non-fiction texts and provide scaffolding from early years.

The last word is from a student, demonstrating the excitement of learning, through GI:

Without realising it I have actually connected a few dots in my understanding of world history as Alexander’s world is linked to the experiences of other people in history. It surprised me at how connected every event is despite seeming a long time ago. I’m very happy with my final essay.

For me, it was wonderful to move from the position of teacher librarian in this school to have the opportunity as a CSU lecturer to investigate the difference it makes to student learning by inquiry, if they are scaffolded by Guided Inquiry methods. It was also wonderful to be able to present these findings at the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) conference last year in Maastrict, The Netherlands.

 Onya from Oz!



FitzGerald, L. (2011) The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan 30(1)

Rothstein, D and Santana, L. (2011) Make just one change – Teach students to ask their own questions, Harvard Education Press. Retrieved from:

Todd, R. J., Kuhlthau, C.C. & Heinstrom, J.E. (2005) School library impact measure (SLIM). Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, Rutgers University. Retrieved from:

Teacher Librarians forever!

Greetings from Sydney, Australia, on a hot, hot day.  It’s 40 degrees today, and very humid.  40 degrees centigrade is your 100 degrees fahrenheit.  The ceiling fan is on overdrive, but it scarcely makes a difference, as we wait for the southerly change, which often comes in the evening of hot days. Accompanied by an icy glass of wine, the southerly is more welcome than anything else I know!

My name is Lee FitzGerald, and I’m a distance education lecturer in teacher librarianship at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga (meaning Place of many crows, in the Wiradjuri aboriginal language). I work from my home in Mosman, Sydney, which is ringed with beautiful beaches on Sydney Harbour – Balmoral, Clifton Gardens, Chinaman’s Beach, all good for an early morning dip before working for CSU.  So, along with my colleagues, I help prepare teachers to become teacher librarians (TLs) in the Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship) degree, which is a distance education course.  If you are interested in the structure of the course, please visit One of my favourite subjects to teach is ETL401 – Introduction to teacher librarianship, in which we look at the fundamentals of the role of the TL in schools – information literacy, information literacy models, and inquiry learning, with a growing focus on Guided Inquiry as an example of inquiry learning.  There are many students in our subjects – often as many as 150 each session.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Schools Australia 2012 report shows the number of Australian government schools (6,697), Catholic schools (1,713) and independent schools (1,017), giving a total of 9,427 primary and secondary schools, a very small number compared with yours!  Almost all of these schools has a library, but they vary enormously in staffing, facilities and resources.  The teaching role of the TL, in inquiry learning and literature programs also varies enormously, with difficulties often experienced in setting up collaborative programs like Guided Inquiry.

I’ve been a TL for longer than I’d care to mention. Hence the title of this post, TLs forever!  This is because I’ve been one forever, and also because TLs are the best!

Three auspicious things have happened in Australia, favouring inquiry learning:

  • The new Australian Curriculum has delivered Australia’s version of 21st century skills, in the General Capabilities, especially Critical and Creative Thinking.
  • The Australian Curriculum is peppered with information skills, all languishing without a process or pedagogy to unify them.
  • Publication of new Guided Inquiry resources is building steadily to a fully-fledged GI curriculum. They are:
  • Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2012) Guided Inquiry Design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. More recently:
  • Maniotes, L., Harrington, L. & Lambusta, P. (2016) Guided Inquiry Design in Action: Middle School. Libraries Unlimited. Santa Barbara: CA
  • Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2015) Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. Second edition. Libraries Unlimited. Santa Barbara: CA.

And there are more publications to come, including one from me: Guided Inquiry in a time of global curriculum reform, should I ever actually finish it!    World-wide, it’s a very exciting time for Guided Inquiry, for students, teachers and TLs! We are at king tide for Guided Inquiry – a time where it’s hard to resist a strong current of circumstances in many countries which make it not merely opportune for the move to inquiry learning.  It is as if trends are converging to form a tide streaming in the direction of global readiness for Guided Inquiry.   There are two main global changes have altered learning so fundamentally, that to ignore their impact is to drown, and to embrace their impact, is to swim.  The two changes are the pervasiveness of the movement to 21st century skills, and of technological change, which have influenced curriculum reform in many countries. Together they create fertile ground for inquiry learning, and for TL pedagogical skills.

This has been my journey:

I studied teacher librarianship in the late 1980’s, first meeting and being inspired by Dr. Ross J. Todd, who told us that there was a tidal wave of information about to assail the world, and that information literacy was the prime skill all people must develop.  Ross has been my long time guru, from those days and through to his move to Rutgers, where he is now Department Chair, Associate Professor Library and Information Science in the School of Communication and Information (SCILS). Much of his research work is available at the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL), focusing on Guided Inquiry amongst other interests.  The mission statement from CISSL shows the priority Guided Inquiry has in its work – All young people and educators have access to information and technology-rich learning communities that prepare them through Guided Inquiry, reading and digital literacy to live and work in a globally networked world.

Ross Todd’s passionate belief in the teaching role of the TL in inquiry learning, and the efficacy of the Information Search Process in constructing engaging inquiry experiences, has been a thread in my life from the 1980’s.  This has gradually morphed into a conviction that Guided Inquiry is the teaching pedagogy that we need, and the mode of inquiry learning that works with students, because it is an instinctive process, rather than an imposed one. I’ve been a TL in four primary and three secondary schools, and have learnt first-hand the difficulties confronting TLs in the form of having to provide release from face to face (RFF) teaching in primary schools; finding it difficult to get collaboration going with teachers, who often don’t regard the TL as a “real” teacher; the necessity of principal support to enable the TL role to perform at its best; shortage of funds and time to resource and manage the library and to have time to spend on collaboration for inquiry learning.  I believe that Guided Inquiry provides us with the means to overcome all the above difficulties.  In schools with a Guided Inquiry program, it’s very unlikely that TLs will be used for RFF as they are an essential part of the teaching team, demonstrating every day that they are “real” teachers.  Collaboration is fundamental to GI, and no longer a problem.   Shortage of funds and time may not be solved by Guided Inquiry – but being able to demonstrate that students develop deep learning using GI methods is surely an encouragement for more support in terms of resources and providing extra library staff.

I’ve been working with Guided Inquiry (or its predecessor, when there was “only” the ISP) for a long time now, since about 2008, when Dr. Ross Todd mentored a group project that I co-ordinated with 12 schools in the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales.   Here is a slideshare from Dr. Todd on the project: Guided Inquiry @ Work: Insights from the AIS Project. This was before the evolution of the GID process, and the very helpful scaffolding now available for us to use at each stage of the GID process.  I worked for eleven years at Loreto Kirribilli, a Catholic independent girls’ high school in Sydney, learning by trial, error and repetition, the best way to approach the Year 11 Historical Investigation, with emerging Guided Inquiry methods.   Here is the last iteration of the Ancient Historical Investigation, starting to use the new verbs of GID.  It is the wiki that was used for the research I will describe in my next blogpost.

In Australia, our curriculum is more tightly content-based than the US one, which does make opportunities to take a Guided Inquiry approach more challenging.  It is usually in the context of a single curriculum topic that our Guided Inquiries take place, for example, Ancient Egypt; World heritage sites; The Holocaust, etc. The open-ended GI that you see in the Year 11 Historical Investigation is rare indeed in our content-laden curriculum.   Anyway!  We do what we can, and in my next post, I’ll look at the Ancient Historical Investigation more closely.  It was also the subject of some research I did for CSU answering the questions: Does Guided Inquiry enhance deep learning and metacognition?

Here comes the Southerly!  Now, where’s that nice cold glass of wine?



The best decision?

What’s the most transformative decision I made this year? I’d have to say it was offering a 2 hour PD during the summer to introduce interested faculty to Guided Inquiry Design.

When did I schedule it?

Logistically, I selected a date many teachers would already be in the building. This was key! A lot of teachers devote a morning or two in the summer to help with 9th grade orientation and took advantage of the opportunity to stay and earn 2 of their 24 required hours of PD that same afternoon. I will definitely keep this in mind when scheduling PD in the future!

Why did they come?

For some, it was a matter of convenience. Earning 2 hours of PD before the stress of the school year started seemed like a no-brainer. For others it was a matter of necessity. Late in the summer, course loads changed unexpectedly and some teachers were tasked to design a curriculum from scratch without any textbooks. Having promoted the PD as a way to make learning more student-centered, some felt like the process might work well for these new electives. Still others came out of curiosity, eager to see what it would look like to collaborate with a librarian in something as concrete as math class. Regardless of their reasons for coming, I was thrilled they did!

How was the PD structured?

For the first 45 minutes to an hour I shared my experience with the Guided Inquiry process, building a case for its relevance in our classrooms and then explained what the GID process looks like at each phase for the various members of the learning team. The approach I attempted to take was conversational, yet informative and enthusiastic. I emphasized practical ways GID could help with student engagement and higher order questioning techniques, both of which have been major points of emphasis in our new teacher evaluation system, not to mention ways the library staff or its resources could be used throughout as well.

The second hour was structured more like a workshop. In order to earn the PD credit, teachers were required to complete a unit overview outlining the GID process for one of the units he/she taught. Some teachers worked alone while others brainstormed with the people sitting near them. Each one though invited me to co-plan with them or at least discuss how the library staff or resources could strengthen the unit. In exchange for the unit plans I gave teachers a certificate for 2 hours of PD and a roadmap of several potential GID units that I could follow up with in the following weeks and months. I couldn’t believe they actually sat there and wrote a GID unit plan before leaving!

What made it so transformative?

First, teachers were given time to apply what they learned during the first hour of the PD right then. Rarely does one get time allocated in a PD setting to digest the information and for that reason, many PD sessions aren’t quite as helpful as they are intended to be. It’s just too much information. By allowing time within the PD to collaborate, teachers were much more receptive to authentic co-planning which led to more co-teaching opportunities for us as librarians.

Second, teachers walked away with a plan. It was practical. And the cool thing about that was the majority of teachers opted for a unit at the beginning of the year; they wanted to implement GID immediately! One of the positive outcomes from that decision was increased opportunities to collaborate with these teachers. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I must admit I’ve felt swamped all year though. In my eleven years of working as a school librarian, I’ve never been utilized or stretched as much as I have this year but that’s a great problem to have! Teachers are wanting to implement GID more and my colleague and I want to be there to help any way we can. In fact, there was enough buzz about the Intro to Guided Inquiry PD that we offered it again in October. Different teachers came to that session and left with practical unit ideas too.

Third, students are more engaged in the learning process. Feedback classroom teachers receive after implementing GID activities or a unit has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only are students are mastering the content objectives of the units, they are improving their questioning and research skills, they are working more collaboratively in groups, and there is increased engagement because of the student choice components. That’s transformative learning in any classroom!

In summary, here’s what I’ve learned: offering practical PD at a time when teachers are less stressed and mentally rested makes for a great environment to have collegial conversations.  Guided Inquiry Design can (and probably will) be implemented in various ways and at various depths when you are first introducing it to others in your building. That’s ok! Allow teachers to get their feet wet even if it’s just tweaking an activity or two as opposed to redesigning an entire unit. Don’t get discouraged, any implementation is progress.  And practically speaking, it would be difficulty if everyone jumped on board all at the same time anyway!

Let’s keep the GID conversation going. Join us back here again next week as we learn from another GID practitioner.

A high school math inquiry project

The email started like many we receive: What dates are the library computers available to bring down classes for research?

We check the schedule and start to email a response when it hits us …a math teacher…wants to do research? What?! We quickly respond with dates as requested and offer to help in any way we can.

Then Ms. White, my librarian colleague, and I start chatting from our desks to one another.

“Have you ever done research with a math class?”

“No, but this could be so cool!”

“I wonder what their product would be – a research paper? Presentation?”

Ding…then another email arrived with an attachment of the math research project Ms. Zehnder had done at a different school but she wanted to make it better and asked for our help, perhaps using the Guided Inquiry Process. And that is how we became part of another Guided Inquiry Design (GID) unit at HCHS. The three of us began collaborating to design a student-oriented research project and by late fall, students began their inquiries, and for many of them, this was the first math research project they had ever been assigned.

So, what did it look like?

Open – Students were asked to think about ways they use math in the real world. With a little prompting from the classroom teacher, the examples started pouring in. Perhaps the most powerful point about this phase was once they started thinking about math in the real world, they understood it was all around them. To help with this phase, as librarians, we brainstormed a list of ways math was relevant in their world and gave it to Ms. Zehnder although it wasn’t really needed. The list came in handy later though as we worked to find resources to flesh out the Explore phase.

Immerse– Using a high interest article in the classroom, the class found as many math related concepts as they could within it. Afterwards, as a group, they discussed how one might use it as a springboard to come up with inquiry topics for a research project. As school librarians, our role was to find a handful of possible articles and gave them to the Ms. Zehnder so that she could determine which one(s) she wanted to use. Having the classroom teacher model the process of reading articles and talking about real life experiences, then brainstorming how math was relevant to it, was a great way to scaffold the class for the Explore phase.

Explore – Next, students came to the library and participated in exploration stations to make connections with mathematical concepts used in the real world and think about how math affects their daily life. There were 4 stations: books, magazines, computers and manipulatives. Students spent 9 minutes at each of the stations looking through whatever materials caught their eye and filled out the Exploration handout as they went. There was enough time at the end of the period for students to return to any station(s) they wanted to explore longer. At the book station we had over fifty resources scattered around for students to pick up and flip through. Topics ranged from specific sports, to nutrition, to world records, to teen spending practices and more. A complete bibliography is below in case you’d like to look at it further. The magazine station included the local newspaper and a variety of magazines like: Transworld Skateboarding, Popular Science, Outdoor, Time, National Geographic, ESPN and others. By far the two most popular stations were manipulatives and computers. At the manipulatives station, we set out the Cracker Barrel peg game, Suduko sheets, mandala coloring sheets, the Banagrams game, dice, etc. Watching students at this station made me so happy. Not only were students trying their hands at origami, wrestling with math brain teasers, playing Connect Four, etc. they were having real conversations about math and enjoying it! The computer station was very engaging too. Ms. White spearheaded this station by creating a Symbaloo webmix housing a variety of websites for students to explore and determine how math was involved. Check out the Explore link below when you have time because the mix of videos, websites and tutorials gave students plenty to consider in this station too. The beautiful thing about this portion of the GID unit was that I learned a new technology tool out of it too!

Math topics

Resource: Math Related Topics Bibliography (PDF)


 Resource: Explore Symbaloo Webmix (link)


Resource: Explore Stations (entire PDF)


Identify – During this phase, we as librarians visited the classroom to lead a mini-lesson with each class. With their completed Explore Station handout in front of them, students selected a mathematical concept they found interesting to focus on for the rest of their project. While students were not required to select a topic from the Explore phase, many of them did so and having a series of possible topics in front of them, allowed everyone to have something to work on during this lesson.  After we modeled how to take a topic and brainstorm possible inquiry questions, we gave the students time to complete theirs. Note there are two graphic organizers. We did this knowing some learners are linear thinkers and others are not. Our hope was that a student could select the one that best helped them organize the topic and potential keywords and related inquiry questions related to the main idea. We modeled both types of graphic organizers with the students. Ultimately the topics students selected were quite varied including:  how math drives the game of hockey, why an understanding of math helps mixed martial arts fighters get an upper hand in a match, why the number zero is relevant, why do we need to understand the concept of infinity, just to name a few.

Inquiry graphic organizers

Resource:  Identify Graphic Organizers (entire PDF)

Gather – The next time students came to the library, we (librarians) demonstrated how to take notes on relevant resources as it related to their inquiry. Students were required to use both print and web-based resources to research their mathematics concept. As librarians, we created and provided an Inquiry Log template including links to citation help where students could answer their inquiry questions as they researched. Before turning them loose to conduct their own research, we modeled the process using the template. During the student research time in the library, Ms. White, Ms. Zehnder and I circulated around the room to assist students with locating potential print and web resources, and generally helped them stay on task. In reflection, it was clear students loved talking and sharing what they were learning about their topics and were eager to share that with anyone who would listen. Students who did not complete this phase during allotted time in the library were required to finish it independently.


Resource: Gather Sources Inquiry Log (entire PDF)

Create – Students were eventually tasked to create a presentation where they would explain the mathematical concept they chose, provide examples of how it is seen or used in real life and find relevance for its mathematical study. As librarians, we helped students think through possible presentation types. When PowerPoint was mentioned, we tried to talk about the pitfalls of a traditional presentation format and how to avoid it. Suggestions included not reading from the slides directly, embedding pictures or videos, and how to narrate using audio clips. At first students seemed frustrated by the lack of specific requirements given for the presentation. They wanted to know which presentation format was best, how long it should be, etc. In hindsight, I would definitely not change this aspect of the project because it helped students truly consider which format would be best for their particular topic and their particular audience. The varied results spoke to the wisdom of leaving the presentation format open. On the final day of class time given to work on the presentations, we did create and give students a Presentation Planner Checklist to help students organize themselves and know at a glance what else needed to be done or strengthened to ensure success.

Presentation Planner

Resource: Presentation Planner Checklist (entire PDF)

Resource: Presentation Planner Checklist (entire Word doc)

Share – Students ultimately shared their presentations and were graded based on whether their visual and verbal presentation addressed the mathematical concept, clearly defined and explained it, gave examples of the concept in real world and discussed the relevance of studying the concept in general.  The diversity of the final products was greater than I had originally expected. Sure, there were still a lot of PowerPoint presentations but not exclusively. Interestingly, if Ms. White and I got sidetracked in the library during one of the presentation times, it wasn’t unusual for a student to inquire where we were and ask to call and remind us to come up. How cool is that? We were absolutely thrilled to be part of the process from beginning to end.

Ms. Zehnder not only invited us as school librarians to the Share phase, she invited all building math teachers and administrators too. Students were both pleased and proud to have additional audience members. We even invited a Communications person from the district office who wrote a feature article on the district website. Check it out!

Resource: Everyday math takes a bow at Henry Clay High School” feature article

Evaluate – The classroom teacher, Ms. Zehnder, evaluated each project based on the rubric that specific class had made. For example, every class was evaluated on incorporating five math facts, citing their sources and discussing the concept’s relevance but she had also allowed each class to individualize their rubrics. Some classes added a creativity component, others bonus points for audience participation, etc. We intended to have students complete a self-reflection on the project using a Google form  but due to lack of computer availability, this wasn’t possible. Instead, students debriefed in a class discussion. In the future we hope to use the Google form, as it is a great way to collect and analyze data in a timely manner.

Resource: Self-Evaluation Google Form

The positive press by the district combined with teachers hearing about our project by word of mouth has led others to express interest in developing a GID unit of their own in collaboration with us. Perhaps by the end of the school year we will have more units to share.

Greetings from Kentucky

At school, I’m known by students in a variety of ways: One of the friendly librarians (at my school we are fortunate enough to have 2!), the teacher who got struck by lightning (true story), the guest speaker who reads picture books (Banned Book activities rock!), the sports enthusiast (I’m always ready to talk Kentucky basketball, college football, NFL or anything else for that matter), or sometimes it’s just Mrs. Hurley. To my daughter, I’m mom. To my husband, friends and colleagues, which now includes you, I’m Amanda. Thanks for checking out the 52 weeks of Guided Inquiry blog!

Since 2005, I’ve worked as a certified school librarian at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, KY, a school serving approximately 2,400 students in grades 9 through 12, with over 50 countries represented within the student body. HCHS is one of five high schools in our city.

I was first introduced to GID, the summer of 2014, when I participated in a book study with school librarians in our district. We read Guided Inquiry Design: a Framework for Inquiry In Your School and each of us were encouraged to invite a learning team to collaborate with throughout the study. While a handful of teachers at my school were interested in this approach, none wanted to spend their first weeks of summer vacation writing curriculum so I tried the best I could to merge the curriculum already in place with that of GID in the hope that once teachers returned in the fall, they’d utilize it. Out of this experience, I wrote my first attempt at a GID unit: The Election Process. While the PLC was appreciative of the unit modifications and implemented it in pieces, it wasn’t the truly collaborative process GID was intended to have.

During the spring of 2015, I was hired by the University of Kentucky to teach a summer graduate class entitled Current Trends in School Media Centers. I structured the class to first expose students to various trends in education and school libraries using the GID framework. I had an Open, Immerse and Explore activities for everyone. Students then identified inquiry questions, gathered sources, created a product, shared their presentation and evaluated themselves, others, and the learning process while focusing on individual trends they found most interesting. Having the [graduate] students experience GID first, better prepared them for what I did next, which was put them in the role of a school librarian to create a GID unit as if they were collaborating with classroom teachers. In this way, I was able to help them understand the role of the LMS isn’t to merely plan a unit in isolation (although this is sometimes the reality), it was to help the classroom teachers find resources to engage their students and be co-teachers and authentic collaborators together from start to finish. In writing and implementing this course, I had a lot of time to reflect on GID and how I can more effectively implement it within my school. More on this in a future post.

Fast forward now to November 2015. I had the privilege to attend a national school librarian conference for the first time ever. It was hosted by @AASL in Columbus, Ohio. It was there that I sat in on some GID presentations. Hearing real life practitioners talk and reflect on how they introduced GID in their schools encouraged me to not give up on this framework because it was working in so many other places. Most of the presenters shared units they’ve implemented from beginning to end and this was precisely what I was lacking – the real life stories I could take back to my colleagues and say, “Yes! Teachers really do implement these units! Yes, they deal with field trips and lack of common planning time too but it can really work! Let’s try again!” or “Look at this unit that someone shared at the AASL conference. Could these activities help us when we cover that unit next month?” Should you have the opportunity to attend a national conference in your area, I say go for it! As for me, I’m hooked and am already wondering how I’m going to get to Phoenix for AASL 2017!

Back in the trenches now, I’m constantly looking for ways to embed GID into my school. I wanted teachers to know how dedicated I was to helping them (as much or as little as they’d like) if they’d attempt this student-centered, inquiry-based design . In doing so, I am holding myself accountable by making it part of my teacher evaluation. In Kentucky, librarians each year must write Student Growth Goals (SGGs) or Impact Goals (a goal that impacts a program, system, or process that positively affects student growth) and are evaluated on the extent to which they meet their goal.  My goal this year is centered around exposing teachers to Guided Inquiry Design, co-planning a unit or activities with them, and measuring the impact it has on both teachers and students.  The number of teachers who have attempted GID activities and units has far exceeded my expectations and word is spreading of its value as teachers experience it. With interested colleagues in our building and a rock-star librarian (Mrs. White) with whom I work every day to shoulder the workload, we are seeing quite a positive response within our building. I only hope it continues to grow!

I’m excited about this opportunity to network with others interested in GID, how about you? Let’s start by expanding our PLC! Follow me on Twitter @HCHSLibrarian and come back to the blog later this week as I attempt to describe a high school math inquiry unit we implemented this fall. Until then, we can keep the conversation going on the blog using the comment section below.



E is for…

If you’ve read my other posts, you can probably guess which direction I’m going with this one.  It’s the direction I’m always trying to go- towards student engagement (that’s what e is for, in case it isn’t obvious).

In my experience, students can learn pretty much anything they WANT to learn.  My job is nothing more than finding connections between what I need to teach them and what they want to learn, and that’s exactly what I was able to do with Guided Inquiry.  Were they able to “conduct research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the topic?” Absolutely- a question THEY asked, a topic THEY chose.  Could they gather relevant information from multiple sources?  (These questions are straight from our objectives, by the way.) Definitely- information that was relevant to THEM, from sources THEY found.

Anyway, I think you get the idea.  This, my first Guided Inquiry unit, was the most student-centered unit I’ve ever taught.  I want to share this quote from Ignacio Estrada, director for grants administration at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach they way they learn.”


As teachers, we call this differentiation.  Now you’re probably like, “But wait! I thought you were writing about engagement!” But I think this conversation calls for an examination of the relationship between those two things.  When we, as teachers, effectively differentiate- when we meet a student EXACTLY where they are and give them EXACTLY what they need- that’s when we’ll get the level of engagement that teachers dream about.  When we let students choose, we lead them away from us and toward autonomy as readers, writers, thinkers, and most importantly, people.

Do our students know or care about our efforts to differentiate?  No. They only know that the proverbial ball has been put into their court.  They only care that we’ve essentially asked them, “What do YOU want to learn?” Thank you, Guided Inquiry, Leslie, and everyone I’ve collaborated with, for showing me how to ask my students that question in an environment and situation where they feel safe, supported, and successful.  It’s my personal mission to keep asking that question as long as I am lucky enough to have a classroom and students.

I can’t tell you what a privilege it’s been sharing our unit and my experiences.  I’ve also loved reading the posts before me and can’t wait to see what other great things my fellow Guided Inquiry Design practitioners are doing for their students.

Until We “Meet” Again,


Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming…


So, here is when we decided it was time to come clean with our classes- we’re going to write a research paper (which was not a decision we arrived at lightly).  I braced myself for the groans, but to my surprise, they didn’t come.  Instead, I got questions like, “You mean we’re writing about the stuff we’ve been looking at? In ENGLISH class?” I took this as a good sign, and we dove in.

Day 1: For bell work, the first thing students did was look back through everything they’d written down so far- phenomena, questions, sources, everything- and highlight the things they found most interesting.  Next, we had a discussion about different types and levels of questions.  To make this more accessible, I showed students this diagram:


Also, I went around the room and pulled some of the questions students generated during the Immerse phase and organized them into levels to use as examples:

identifysnip1 identifysnip2

Showing these as examples broadened students’ understanding of levels of questioning.  (AND I really enjoyed being able to say, “Don’t tell me you can’t write a level three or four question! Look at the ones you’ve already written!”) We then used a version of the Criteria to Decide handout found in the book Guided Inquiry Design.  Our adapted version is pictured here:

identifyhandout1 identifyhandout2

In this handout, students were asked to list three phenomena that had really sparked their interest.  We moved through the boxes as a class, listing what students already knew, why they found the topic interesting, and what resources they had already found.  In the last few minutes of class, student were asked to arrange their phenomena in order of their first choice, second choice, and third choice- and the to generate as many questions about each event as they could possibly think of.

Day 2: Today, we looked more closely at the components of any strong research question.  Students were shown some question frames and were asked to choose one of their phenomena about which to compose a question.  We did stress to them at this point that they weren’t stuck with this question.



We also wanted students to start thinking about what the body paragraphs of their essay would be about (or their subtopics, as we call them).  To get there, I modeled webbing as a brainstorming strategy, and we constructed a web together as a class:


Students were then encouraged to start their own webs. Although it was completely unintentional on my part, this evolved into a great discussion about how you have to answer level one and level two questions before you answer the bigger questions. For the last half of class, I gave every student a sticky note.  They were directed to write their higher level research question on it.  We then met the other Language Arts classes in the library, where each student parked their sticky on their group’s poster.  We had a gallery walk, and students were able to look at everyone’s question.  Their instructions were to see if someone else picked the same topic but worded their questions in a more interesting way, or to see if there was a different topic entirely that seemed more interesting.  Even the first groups had at least seventy-five questions to choose from, and the last classes had over three hundred.  Students who found other questions wrote them on their Identify handout.

Sample Research Questions from Students:

What past theories have been developed to explain the Northern Lights, and how have the lights affected tourism in areas where they can be seen?

How did the formation of the Ice Age Impact the Earth and humans?

How do bioluminescent waves affect the ocean and its inhabitants?

How have the discovery and exploration of blue holes impacted different fields of scientific research?

What myths about the cause of the rainbow are evident in cultural and religious traditions?

What is the relationship between disappearances at sea and the Bermuda Triangle?

Reflection: Emotional dip time! This is when it happened for everyone- teachers and students.  I thought the mention of an essay might cause it, but they really took that in stride. It’s hard to put my finger on the problem, but I think it maybe it was the switch from all the fun stuff in the beginning (at this point, we’ve spent about two weeks playing and having a great time) to having to make some serious choices.  Also, I think maybe we’ve over-used the gallery walk idea (back to the drawing board on that one!).  So we struggled with identify- I struggled, the kids struggled- but we just sat with it and let it marinate.  I don’t think I would make changes to stop the struggle- that’s where the learning happens. 


The first thing we did in Gather was to have a lesson on finding credible sources  (I fully credit my best friend/ library mastermind Kelsey Barker with developing this lesson when we worked together a few years ago). We use an online tutorial, found at the link below, and an scavenger-hunt type of handout.  I don’t necessarily expect them to retain all the information- they complete the tutorial and then refer to the handout as needed while they look for sources.

crediblesources1 crediblesources2

Link to Tutorial:

Link to CRAP Test Rubric:

Once students were ready to head off in their separate gathering directions, we gave them instructions for taking notes.  We used this note-taking form, which is one thing from our old research life that worked so well we kept it:


Students used a digital version and kept one document for each subtopic (body paragraph).  We required that they use at least two credible sources for each one, and that they find at least five significant quotes for each one and paraphrase each of them.  We spend a week in Gather, and during this time, I went from student to student and looked at their sources, checked for progress, and most importantly, helped make decisions about subtopics.

Reflection: What I liked about Gather was that the class sort of shifted from teacher-centered to student-centered. Instead of me providing the resources and controlling the agenda, the impetus was finally on them.  At the beginning, we were still struggling from Identify, but as the week passed and I walked my laps around the room, students began to speak with more and more confidence about their question.  Some questions evolved, and some changed entirely.  Some students needed a lot of guidance in coming up with their subtopics, and some barely looked up when I walked by.  If I had doubted all that time we spent in those first three phases (and I’ll admit to having my moments), here is when I was truly convinced.  What convinced me and won me over forever?  My favorite word- engagement. My kiddos were absolutely riveted by their choices.  Without a word from me, you could have heard a pin drop in my classroom.  Well, except for the occasional “Ms. Holden! Did you know it’s someone’s JOB to explode those frozen methane bubbles? LOOK at this video!”  If that’s what those two weeks bought me, I’ll take it every time.  

And last, because that’s where we are in the process…


And here we are! My kiddos have been creating all week long.  For Create, students are writing a research paper.  Not a report (ugh, how I hate that word), but an interesting and dynamic essay, using their question as their thesis and detailing the conclusions they’ve come to, entirely on their own.

Reflection: This piece is almost entirely reflection, especially since they’re all still working and I’ve only seen bits and pieces of essays here and there.  First, I want to say that the decision to write an essay was not one we arrived at lightly.  When we started planning, we assumed we would, because that’s what we’ve always done.  As we moved through the institute and learned more, we had to ask ourselves if an essay was the best possible outcome of this unit- is that what our kids really need?  (We weren’t the only ones that asked, either.  When we presented our unit at the end of the institute, that was the only negative feed back we got- couldn’t our create be more creative?  Which is of course a completely fair question.)  But, when we looked at the work our kids have done and the things they’ve learned this year, we arrived at the conclusion that yes, the best thing we could do for them before we sent them off to high school is to make sure they’re prepared for the writing they’ll have to do when they get there. That’s not to say we don’t value creativity- I have student work all over my classroom that speaks to the contrary.  We just really felt that to do right by our students, they needed that research paper experience.  

So, now you’re completely up to date on our unit.  I’m excited to move on to the final phases, as well as to start planning our next inquiry unit (here’s looking at you, Terri!).  I’ve had so much fun sharing our unit with you, and the opportunity for reflection has been terrific.  I’ll be back tomorrow for my final post!