After the Mesopotamia project, we felt that it was important to reflect upon what we learned from this process. While we have learned much more than what we can possibly list, here are the top ten lessons learned from some guided inquiry newbies.
Did what we learn change our approach in future units? ABSOLUTELY! Even after completing additional units on fracking and the Native American mascot controversy, we continued to learn more about what worked and what didn’t. Above all, we have learned that there is still so much more to know. That is why we are especially excited to be attending the CiSSL Summer Institute at Rutgers this summer. We can’t wait to learn more from Leslie and her team of experts on how we can improve this process and better help our students succeed.
Thanks to those of you who have followed our journey. We hope that we can continue to share our progress after learning more this summer.
As mentioned in our last post, our journey into guided inquiry began this year with a unit on Mesopotamia. Social studies was a new subject for Cara, one of our seventh grade teachers. Cara was especially interested in trying a new approach to teaching- specifically one that was more project-based and student-centered. Enter the perfect solution: guided inquiry.
Using Harvey Daniels’ framework outlined in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action, our Mesopotamia unit was structured as follows:
Immerse students into the topic
Investigate to narrow the focus of the research
Intensify research and synthesize information
Go public and demonstrate learning
During the immersion process, students were presented with the essential question, “How did the developments of Mesopotamia influence modern-day civilizations?” Besides flooding students with various resources during this stage, the focus was on modeling. The inquiry approach was not only new to us, but it was also new to the students. Students needed extensive practice and guidance with learning how to read and interpret different mediums including texts, videos, and websites. Various reading strategies were modeled by Peggy and Cara, and students used the “I see, I think, I wonder” template as they completed guided practice during this stage.
We also introduced a number of web tools such as Padlet and Read and Write– tools that not only encouraged collaboration, but they also allowed for differentiation. We created anchor charts by Factstorming , which were displayed on classroom walls throughout the unit. New information was categorized and added as discoveries were made. Students did a Gallery Walk towards the end of the unit as a means of sharing new learning. It was exciting to watch students come to those ah ha! moments and make connections all on their own as they uncovered more about this ancient civilization. Check out our video below to explore the fun students had during their gallery walks.
After a week of intense immersion, students were grouped into “inquiry circles,” and they had to decide on one specific research topic. Within their groups, they broke their topics into subtopics with each student responsible for only a small portion of the research. I spent time in the classroom talking to students about proper research techniques; this included narrowing a topic, using library databases, citing sources, and evaluating websites. Using Lucid Chart, each group created a collaborative concept map to identify and narrow their topics into specific parts. Since we are a Google Apps for Education School, it was easy for students to share notes and graphic organizers with other group members.
In the next phase, intensifying research and synthesizing information, students worked individually to find information on their specific subtopics. In some cases this is where the roadblocks occurred. Despite the fact that our students have access to a wide variety of subscription databases, ebooks, print books, and other web resources, a number of students struggled to find substantial information on their chosen topics. For example, one student was interested in learning more about the invention of the wheel, but as we looked in various databases, books, and other reliable web sources, we found very little information. Not only did we learn more about the topics that did not lead to enough information, but this experience also led us to teach lessons on the importance of choosing narrow topics that were not too narrow. In this instance, we guided students on how to choose slightly broader topics that led to enough relevant research. We also introduced the students to Instagrok, an interactive concept map, which some students experimented with as a research tool. The research process itself definitely took more time than we had originally planned, but we stayed strong and figured out creative ways to work around the problems.
Finally, we were excited for the final stage: going public and demonstrating learning. As they worked to create their projects, I talked to students about the importance of digital safety and copyright as it pertains to adding music and images in multimedia presentations. I showed students some of my favorite copyright-free image sources and explained the importance of using others’ material legally especially when publishing something online. During the planning process, students came together in their groups and shared the information that they uncovered about their chosen subtopics and addressed the original essential question. As a large group they needed to decide how they would collaboratively present their information. Students had the choice to create an ABC book using Lucid Press, present a live talk show,or produce a Powtoon.What was most interesting was seeing how students worked through the creative process with very little structure or direction from us. They decided what information needed to be shared, and they decided how best to share it. Students were empowered to not only have complete ownership over what they researched, but they also had control over what they shared with the world at the end.
As you can imagine, we all learned A LOT from this process. Since this was the first time doing a true guided inquiry project for each of us, there were times when lesson plans were adjusted, more time than planned was given, and many changes were made along the way. Ultimately this project turned out to be a success as so many different 21st century skills were embedded: creative thinking, problem solving, authentic research, using various technologies, close reading of multimodal texts, collaboration, and evaluating different research resources, to name just a few. Our excitement caught the attention of the administration who continued to support the move to add guided inquiry into an eighth grade science unit on fracking and a seventh grade science unit on the human body systems.
In our next post we will share more about what we learned and what we modified in our future units. While it is important to celebrate our successes, it is also equally important to acknowledge our mistakes and how we have grown as a result.
Library Media Specialist
De Pere Middle School
Hello from De Pere, WI, a neighbor of Green Bay! Spring is finally here, the snow has melted, and we are renewed and excited about all that we have learned about the GID process this year. As we will share in this and future posts, it has been a year of exploration, trial and error, change, and growth. Ultimately, what we have learned about GID has inspired us to learn even more about the process and implement it in as many subject areas as possible.
A view from downtown De Pere
First, we want to tell you a little bit more about who we are and how we came to this point. My name is Donna Young, and I am the Library Media Specialist at De Pere Middle School. De Pere Middle School is located in the northeast portion of Wisconsin and serves approximately 600 students in grades seven and eight. Although this is my first year working in De Pere, I have been a library media specialist and high school English teacher for the past 17 years in other school districts. I firmly believe that I have the world’s best job in the world’s best school! My expertise in information literacy and technology integration has naturally led to my interest in GID and how it can improve learning for all students.
Working alongside me is Literacy Coach, Peggy Rohan. Peggy has been an educator for nearly 35 years, spending the first 25 years as a special education teacher and the last nine as a literacy coach for grades 5-8 here in De Pere. In both roles, Peggy has been involved in co- teaching in general education classes at a variety of levels, which has afforded her valuable opportunities to collaborate with remarkable teachers in a number of disciplines. The guided inquiry we have embarked upon this school year has been a great vehicle for infusing disciplinary literacy that is authentic and engaging for our seventh and eighth graders.
One of the most exciting aspects of working in De Pere has not only been the partnership that Peggy and I have developed, but also the openness of the staff who have been willing to experiment with GID. This year social studies and science were new subjects for several of our seventh grade teachers. Since the curricular content itself was somewhat unfamiliar to them, the seventh grade teachers especially were very open to providing a different learning structure for their students. One teacher in particular was extremely open to trying anything, and when she approached Peggy and me for help, we were so excited to help her implement the guided inquiry approach.
Using the Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels book Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action as our guide, Peggy outlined our first guided inquiry unit on Mesopotamia. We have since learned a lot from that experience, and our successes and failures have shepherded us as we implemented future inquiry units on fracking, Native American mascots, and the human body systems.
In the posts that follow, we will share with you more specifically what we have done thus far at De Pere Middle School. We will also provide insight into our greatest successes as well as what did not work for us as we engaged in the process. We welcome your feedback and look forward to telling you our unique story and our continually evolving process.
Library Media Specialist
De Pere Middle School
This post brings to a close the discussion of our Norman Public Schools Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science. Coincidentally, yesterday was our third planning meeting, so we want to tell you a little about our work then.
In our last meeting, we made some great progress fleshing out the student activities and hammering out tasks. Today was a little different: we ran into some philosophical roadblocks. But not only is it necessary to solve these problems now, before the unit goes to the teachers, but it was productive and thought-provoking to discuss with the planning team.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about what we did:
The NPS Dream Team! From left: Kelsey Barker, Buffy Edwards, Lee Nelson, Jeff Patterson, Teresa Lansford, Glen Stanley, Toni Gay
Immediately, we divided the team into two groups: Jeff and Glen started working on the hands-on investigations for the unit, while the rest of us began to discuss the instructional sequence for each phase. Based on the comments Leslie left on this post regarding the student’s’ ability to generate their own questions, we discussed how to facilitate this in our unit. We both agree that one of the hardest parts of Guided Inquiry is getting young students to ask questions that will lead to the desired learning goals. We ultimately decided to give the teachers (optional) sentence stems to kick off the question-asking in the right direction.
At this point, Jeff had us take a step back and discuss possible interactions between each of the six combinations of speheres. As a group, we listed as many possible in each category… and quickly realized that this is HARD! But we could start to see some patterns emerging, and this exercise made everything else seem a bit more doable.
More giant sticky notes!
Because the spontaneous brainstorming activity was so useful for us, we decided to make it a part of the EXPLORE phase. As students look through their resources and begin to generate questions, they will add the interactions they come across to a master list. Ah, the power of collective brainstorming!
We also realized through brainstorming that most interactions involve 3 or even 4 of the spheres. It was so fun to interact with the content like the students will be doing! So we changed the objective of CREATE to state “Students will create an infographic showing the interactions between AT LEAST 2 spheres.” This opens up the opportunity for students to develop their infographic with 3 spheres from the start.
With our plan outlined, we took a step back to look at the big picture, and we realize another aspect of our planning process that is different from designing a site-specific plan: we don’t know the dynamics of the teachers who will use it. Fifth grade teachers in NPS may or may not have been trained in Guided Inquiry. They may or may not have done a previous GI unit, and as Jeff pointed out, they may have varying levels of comfort with the science content, technology tools, and standards.
To add to our challenges, we see our unit potentially functioning as district-wide marketing for Guided Inquiry. As librarians, as we work to implement the process in our schools, we have to help our staff understand that it is a worthwhile endeavor. A bad experience with this 5th grade unit could put a whole grade level off of Guided Inquiry. No pressure!
The planning team hard at work
These are new challenges for our team, and while it’s good that we are dealing with them now, it feel especially imperative that we get it right the first time. Ultimately, following Jeff’s advice, we settled on providing as much support and as many suggestions and ideas in the teacher guide as possible. Teachers who are (understandably) uncomfortable with the new process will be able to follow the prescribed outline, while others will still have room for flexibility and innovation. Not only will this structure support teachers who may be uncomfortable with the process, but it will also help make the process (and the students) successful, which will hopefully help teachers understand the value of the Guided Inquiry process. When we introduce the unit to teachers, we will also make sure they understand our intentions that every site will be able to tailor the unit to their particular needs. And as Jeff said, what they do after we give them the plans is up to them.
So that’s where we are at. Every member of our team has some homework so that when we meet in two weeks, we can refine and finalize our plans. We cannot wait to see the final product of this unit!
It’s been so much fun blogging this week, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our Guided Inquiry adventure. Perhaps after the unit has been implemented we can share how it went and have feedback from teachers and students as well. Until then — Cheers to success with all your Guided Inquiry endeavors! Kelsey & Buffy
Kelsey set up the first four phases and now I will pick up with the remaining 4 phases, Gather, Create, Share and Evaluate.
Since we have not actually implemented this unit, these are the ‘best laid plans’ at this point, however; the team has spent a lot of time really processing the standards, thinking about Guided Inquiry, allowing for all team members to contribute and what has unfolded is a wonderful plan for a very engaging unit. We actually meet tomorrow to develop the session plans and I am really looking forward to it because there is great energy when we get ‘toGather’. Oh, speaking of Gather, let me move into discussing it.
Using the Inquiry Circles that were determined in Identity, students will gather information learning about the sphere and the interactions between the two spheres chosen by members of their group. Recall students would be grouped according to the combination of spheres THEY were most interested in learning about — self-selection of topic supports the idea of 3rd Space! Each inquiry circle will complete a hands-on task along with further research to add to their understanding and answer their questions. While most students will use the resources provided during the exploration phase, students who want to use outside resources will need to use a website evaluation form before including the source. So part of the Gather phase will be reviewing how to evaluate resources to ensure information is reliable. One thing the team wanted to do was to make sure that we included a scientific investigation as outlined in the standard for this unit. Typically, Gather takes longer than anticipated because as student begin to really learn and discover information, they tend to want to learn more and more (which is a very good thing!) but even given that, the team planned 2 to 3 sessions for Gather.
The objective in this phase is that students will create a product that shows the interaction between 2 systems demonstrating their understanding of the content. Students will work in pairs to create an infographic showing the interaction between their two selected spheres using Piktochart. A screencast of how to use Piktochart as well as a template will be created to scaffold student learning. The team felt that using a template would provide the ‘basics’ and groups could add more as appropriate. A rubric will be used to assess the student’s work, so to avoid a moving target for the students, the rubric will be shared so they understand expectations and objectives. To further challenge students, they will have the option once they finished their first infographic, to build on it and create an infographic demonstrating how 3 systems interact. The team selected Piktochart as the format for the project because of the versatility of what media can be included giving students the freedom to express their creativity. In addition, the final products can be shared electronically and/or downloaded as pdf for sharing.
Sharing is the time where students and schools learn from each other and celebrate their success! The objective of sharing is for students to share their product with one another and other schools in the district – and even broader if possible. Using a shared folder in Google Drive, students will upload their infographics (saved as pdf) to one of 12 ‘sphere combination’ folders. To assist students with uploading their infographic, a ‘how-to’ screencast will be provided and students will also be free to do peer-to-peer training helping each other along the way. Teaching someone else, as we know, is the best way to internalize new information!
After viewing infographics from their class and around the district, using a reflection log, students will evaluate their own work and learning reflecting on what they did well and what they wish they could improve upon. Teachers will use a rubric to assess content and product.
Tomorrow this skeleton plan will become much more concrete with daily session plans. Kelsey and I will reflect together to bring our two weeks of guest blogging to a close. The planning of this unit has been collaboration at its best and I appreciate the chance to work and share with the team. We know there is a gap between a lesson plan and the reality of implementation but the key difference for the potential of success is the time spent in preplanning, preparing, and organizing – the heart of this unit!
Good evening, fellow GID lovers! I’m back again today to (finally) tell you more about the unit we are developing for Norman Public Schools 5th grade science curriculum. You’ve met our team, read about the importance of a collaborative culture, and heard my thoughts on GID at the district level. Today, I walk through the first four phases of our project so you can see exactly what we’ve planned.
(Note: In this post, you will see shots of our planning team’s notes. If you’re curious, purple items are to-dos, red is the objective, and blue is the actual student activity. If you’re NOT curious, go ahead and make fun of my color-coding.)
You’ll see we have titled our unit “Battle Sphere”; this unit is being developed around the 5th grade Oklahoma science standards, looking at how the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere interact. To really hook students into the topic, our planning team will create a YouTube playlist of videos depicting these interactions. For example, students will view videos of landslides, weather events, eroded landscapes, and more. Then, the class will have a discussion about the videos, answering the questions:
What did the events have in common?
Can you think of ways that nature interacts that weren’t in the videos?
Has nature ever made changes in your world?
We hope that by showing students these dramatic interactions in videos, they will develop an interest in the topic and begin to form some questions about interactions between the spheres.
After they’re hooked, we will begin to immerse students in the content by watching two videos that will help make the spheres and associated vocabulary more accessible and interesting:
After viewing the videos, students will build a glossary of new terms they heard in the videos. This is an example the the flexibility I talked about yesterday. Depending on the students, teachers, and resources at the individual site, this step could look very different. Students could do this as a class, in small groups, with the teacher, or with both the teacher and librarian. I love that we are building in adaptability to customize the unit for every school. Where possible, we are encouraging teachers to build this glossary in Google Drive, but no matter how it is done, students will be able to access the glossary throughout the rest of the unit.
Using an inquiry log, students will explore through a carefully curated resource menu. They will track which resources they viewed and the corresponding questions that were sparked. In my personal experience with Guided Inquiry, I have learned that it is difficult for elementary students to foresee the scope of their research from the beginning phases. If we ask them to explore open-endedly, they can easily get off track, and they don’t understand the benefits of this phases as older students might. Assigning an inquiry log or journal in this phase is crucial to the success and engagement of younger students.
As you can see from the picture of our notes, this phase isn’t quite as fleshed out as the rest yet. To identify which two spheres’ interactions are most interesting to them, the student will use an inquiry journal to elaborate on what they logged in EXPLORE. To facilitate this, our planning team will come up with specific questions for a journal prompt. After evaluating the journal responses, teachers will assign students to inquiry circles based on their area of interest. The inquiry circles will consist of students who are interested in the interactions between the same two spheres, so there will be six inquiry circles. We are allowing for flexibility here, but we discussed how fun it would be to have all 5th grade students in one school divided into these six inquiry circles.
And there you have it: the first four phases of our plan. What do you think? What do you see that you like? What would you change? Kelsey
As Buffy mentioned, we are going to give you a rundown of our unit, and hopefully, some awesome readers will be able to give us feedback to help us make it even better. I’m excited to get down to the nitty-gritty and tell you all about our unit plan so far. But before we get into that, I want to talk a little about the unique process of developing a unit for 17 different schools.
As we began planning this unit, it was immediately clear that each teacher librarian on the team had a different vision for their role in the instruction of the unit. Some of us anticipate co-teaching with the 5th grade teachers every step of the way through the unit. Others work in schools where the 5th grade team has been or will go to the Guided Inquiry Institute before teaching the unit, so we feel more comfortable handing the reigns to them. In my building, I could see myself being involved in a few of the phases while letting the teachers handle the rest.
If there were so many different ideas on our planning team, then how would our unit be received by the rest of the district? Having only ever designed units for my own site, it was an exciting challenge to think about how to develop the unit in a way that was adaptable to every one of the vastly different elementary schools in our district. With varying populations, resources, and experience, the same unit could look different at each site.
For two weeks, I’ve been dwelling on this idea of unit adaptability, thinking about what to tell other educators working on a unit that will reach outside the walls of one site. Here are my commandments of Guided Inquiry when designing for multiple sites:
Thou shalt not dictate the roles of the learning team. In my own units, I usually carefully plan out each team member’s roles and responsibilities in the course of the unit. By leaving these roles more open-ended in the science unit plan, we are allowing each learning team to play to their unique strengths and take as much leadership from their librarian as necessary.
Thou shalt not limit the options. Our district is headed toward more technology in the next few years, and more devices will give us the ability to use some awesome digital learning tools. But right now, there is a huge discrepancy in digital access between schools, so we can’t exactly mandate a specific tool. Additionally, teachers may have varying comfort levels with instructional technology. Filling our unit plan with options allows for customization at each site.
Thou shalt not make them do all the work. In addition to the addendum, “collaborate with your teacher librarian” every step of the way, the planning team is doing the bulk of the work by building handouts, digital folders, YouTube playlists, and other necessary tools for the unit.
Thou shalt not forget about the future. More technology, new digital tools, changing student populations… there are a million factors that will influence how this unit is taught next year, in three years, or ten years from now. By building in room for change, we are ensuring that this unit stays relevant, accessible, and exciting for years to come.
Developing this unit has been different from any unit I’ve done before, but I think I’ve grown as an educator, and I’ve certainly become more comfortable with Guided Inquiry Design through this process. I feel very good about our unit plan so far, and I can’t wait to share it with you tomorrow!
Have you designed a unit for more than one site? What commandments would you add to my list?
Kelsey introduced the Guided Inquiry science unit and the team working on the unit and what a great team it is! So many years of combined experience and expertise – it is a really energizing to work with these great people. As I look back on the two planning meetings we’ve had so far, what I see is evidence of the natural alignment that happened with Guided Inquiry. It was not ‘fitting a square peg in a round hole’ – it was a natural flow that supports student learning and curiosity. It did help to get the ‘balcony’ view of the lesson with the sticky notes and charts pictured in Kelsey’s post on Thursday – thank you Kelsey for your wonderful obsession with sticky notes. Being a visual learner myself this helped me see each step of the GI process and how the science content standards will be easily integrated.
As Kelsey shared, One question the team working on the science unit had was ‘how could we encourage collaboration between teachers and librarians while giving teachers what they need to implement the unit in their classrooms’? To me, that is the really great thing about Guided Inquiry – it supports a collaborative culture. In fact, I believe one key to successful GI units is collaborative work – collaboration between teachers and librarians, collaboration between content area teachers, collaboration between students, and collaboration between teachers and students. There has to be a lot of ‘give’ on everyone’s part. The GI unit I referenced in the blog last week was developed to allow kids the opportunity to earn multiple credits in different content areas. A unit of that complexity would not be possible without flexibility and collaboration. Throughout the nine week unit, the team (English IV teacher, science teacher, social studies teacher, art teacher, and teacher librarian) had to really work together to meet the needs of the kids. For those students earning multiple credits, regular meetings with content area teachers was critical and no part of the unit was taught in isolation. I do want to add that even if there is not a ‘perfect’ collaborative culture in place, I would not shy away from a Guided Inquiry unit. You have to start somewhere and those baby steps can help you win the big race.
Ongoing student conferencing to ensure standards were met.
Science teacher conferencing with student.
These student conferencing meetings solidified the integration of multiple content areas and helped students focus their project to a depth that met adequate standards, thus earning the credits.
Another perfect opportunity that I believe happens with Guided Inquiry is that of coteaching – a shared responsibility of teaching part or all of a unit plan with teachers. In my school’s multi-credit unit it was fun to coteach with the English IV teacher and it really provided a great learning environment for the kids. Not only was it fun to coteach the unit but it was so helpful to talk through how the day went, what we felt needed to be modified, and to have someone to just share successes and challenges with along the way! By the way, if anyone is struggling with getting teachers to collaborate or coteach, my advice is plan a Guided Inquiry unit to help and a helpful article to support this cause is David Loertscher’s Collaboration and Coteaching; A New Measure of Impact.
I’ll close now — thanks for reading and it’s been a pleasure sharing this with you. What is coming up this week is a breakdown of the 5th grade science unit and the GI process step-by-step. Kelsey will cover Open to Identify and I will cover Gather to Evaluate. Take care and keep on!
Now that you’ve been introduced to Buffy and me, I’m going to introduce the rest of the team involved in developing a Guided Inquiry unit for our 5th grade science curriculum.
Kathryn Lewis is the Director of Media Services and Instructional Technology, and she is credited with bringing Guided Inquiry Design to Norman Public Schools.
Jeff Patterson is the Science Curriculum Coordinator for NPS. He has been involved in the Guided Inquiry process in Norman from the beginning, helping teachers to break down the science standards in our units. In this unit, he is in charge of the experiments and hands-on investigations that the students will be doing.
Lee Nelson is the Technology Integration Specialist at NPS. She is helping our team as we look at where and what technology to integrate in our unit, as well as how the unit could evolve in the future as we acquire more technology. This is especially exciting, as a recent bond will give us LOTS more tech in the classroom!
Teresa Lansford is the National Board certified teacher librarian at Lincoln Elementary in Norman. She has previously worked with Jeff on designing a similar Guided Inquiry unit for the 4th grade science curriculum, so she has been a great asset in getting our team going.
Glen Stanley is the teacher librarian at Roosevelt Elementary in Norman. He is also a former science teacher and very familiar with the content of our unit.
Toni Gay is the librarian at Reagan Elementary in Norman.
With Buffy and me, that makes up our team! We are a diverse group, with different interests and specialties, but we all bring something unique to the table as we go forward designing this unit. I think that is important to help us design a unit that gives students the experience of the Guided Inquiry process, but that is still accessible (read: not overwhelming) to teachers who may or may not have gone through the institute with Leslie.
We were first asked to collaborate on this unit in February. At our first meeting, Jeff introduced the topic and broke down the content for us. I will be honest — at this point, I was feeling very overwhelmed! With a background in languages and literature, the content of this unit was foreign to me. I probably had not thought about the hydrosphere or biosphere since… 5th grade science!
But that’s the great thing about Guided Inquiry: I don’t need to know everything there is to know about a topic, and my students can ask questions that exceed the scope of my knowledge. It feels uncomfortable, sometimes, to not know the answers that we want our students find; this is the biggest hurdle that I see teachers struggling with in Guided Inquiry units.
In our second meeting, things got real as we started breaking down the unit. Teresa and Jeff came with some great ideas for activities, but we were still only working with pieces of the unit. We knew the learning goals, but how would students show their learning? How would the investigations fit into the unit? And most importantly, how could we encourage collaboration between teachers and librarians while giving teachers what they need to implement the unit in their classrooms?
Thankfully, Jeff shares my love of sticky notes, and after we filled in what we had, we could more easily see the gaps we had to fill. I guess this is why Leslie’s lesson plan template says “design with the end in mind” at the top: you can’t know where to start until you know where you’re ending up.
I know that not everyone is as visual as me, but I really recommend my “sticky note” method for designing a Guided Inquiry unit. It is so helpful to view the entire unit at one time. This strategy makes it easier to see how each step informs the next, how the individual phases blend together to form a cohesive unit. So what you’re seeing here is really the birth of a unit. It’s not perfect, and it’ll evolve and update over the next few weeks as we write it, and I’m sure we’ll have edits to make after the first time it is taught. But we are off to an exciting start, and I can’t wait to see where the planning takes us!
My name is Buffy Edwards and I am the Library Information Specialist for Norman Public Schools, the most awesome school district in the state of Oklahoma (and country!). I also have the privilege of being the Teacher Librarian at Dimensions Academy Alternative School here in Norman. Thank you Leslie for this awesome opportunity of sharing. Thank you also to Kelsey, your compliment was so kind and I appreciate it. I want you all to know that Kelsey’s pretty amazing in her own right and she won’t tell you that she was just awarded the Outstanding New Librarian Award by the Oklahoma Library Association. You rock!
Here’s a little background on me. I’m originally from Wimbledon, North Dakota, population 211 counting dogs, cats, and goldfish. Lots of people are afraid of the winter up there and rightfully so — it can be brutal.
Main street in the blizzard of 1966. I don’t see anything to be concerned about!!! Ha ha!
I would argue that there is nothing more beautiful than a fresh snowfall in winter or a field of wheat waving in the wind in the summer. The area where I grew up is prime farming country. If you’ve never experienced it, the sound of the wheat dancing back and forth almost sounds like water washing on the shores of a beach. I am the youngest of seven children. My hard working mother, widowed at 38 with seven children and a 10th grade education, instilled in me that adversity wasn’t an excuse and I could anything if I set my mind to it.
My dream was to teach music in a rural K-12 school in ND. WHAT? Yep, but that didn’t happen because as I was earning my music degree, my work study ‘stuck’ me in the library. Of all places, the library! What it turned out to be was something wonderful and I became so interested in the behind the scenes working of a library that my life course changed completely and I found myself in Norman, Oklahoma pursuing my MLIS. Now, you are probably wondering how the leap was made to school libraries and I would be too. Newly married to a wheat harvester — wheat harvest is a hard work, gypsy lifestyle where you travel from Texas to Canada harvesting grains, milo, corn etc. — we decided a school year coincided more closely to the harvest trail so I used my education background with my MLIS and found myself in a perfect fit landing in an elementary school library. I was home and it was in that first job I experienced how school libraries change lives. A passion for teaching and learning, a love for working with young, creative minds and a drive that is as fierce as the Oklahoma winds, I am still going strong. Now I have K-12 experience and still love them all! Oh yes, along the way I earned my PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology – NEVER stop learning. This is now my 28th year in public education (25 of those years in Norman) working in school libraries and I LOVE my profession. Did I mention I love what I do? I guess that’s what happens when you are doing something that doesn’t seem like work. Transforming the learning and lives of children through school libraries is truly a blessing and I value each and every day.
And now on to Guided Inquiry and Dr. Leslie Maniotes. As Kelsey shared yesterday, we lucky folks in Norman had the opportunity to learn about Guided Inquiry from the master herself. Thank you @Normanps! I think I’ve been a Leslie ‘groupie’ long before she came to Norman though – I read (no, devoured) her professional writing and one year I was at AASL, fought to get in a room where she was presenting, squeezed into a packed row of chairs with almost no space between them to learn about Guided Inquiry. I couldn’t breathe! It was so hot in the room, I was seeing someone whose work I had read, believed in what she said, but …… could not stand to stay in the room because I thought I was going to be sick. Are you kidding me? Yes, I had to leave. I was sooooooo mad but little did I know I would be able to tell her my story face-to-face one day. We had a good laugh!
Buffy discussing Choice Board project formats with English IV students.
So here we are to today and now I must get more serious in my writing. As a Teacher Librarian at Dimensions Academy, a K-12 alternative school, we have started implementing Guided Inquiry and it has been challenging but rewarding. Challenging because students are content with a prescriptive education model –teachers tell them topics, teachers tell them questions, teachers tell them format, it’s just the way it’s been done for a long, long time. GI makes them step way outside that comfort zone and really think for themselves (that’s beautiful thing when that happens BTW). Our school has been traditionally more packet/worksheet driven due to the nature of academic needs of students so the idea of a GI unit was very new and different. Following the GI institute with Leslie last October, where our English IV teacher, science teacher, social studies teacher and myself planned the unit, we took a leap of faith to implement it and did it ever pay off! The instructional unit planned was done primarily through English IV where students were given the opportunity to earn credits in multiple content areas. So for example, a student who needed to recover credits in social studies, could focus their project with more emphasis in the subject content area while still meeting English IV standards. It was amazing – students were really motivated to earn those multiple credits. I will share a little more about this unit later in my posts BUT there is a whole chapter about this unit, written by yours truly, in Leslie’s new GI book for high school. This project required students to learn to trust in themselves and the process. When they were able to open their hearts to learning, great things happened for them. Students who were initially in the class only in body became really involved in their own learning. Once we helped them understand it would all come together, they let go of the anxiety and replaced it with drive for their own learning.
Feedback Carousel using Vis-a-Vis pens on the desk. (Kids Loved writing on the desks!)
Kelsey mentioned that we are on the same team developing a very cool Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science and we will share details about the unit through our back and forth blog over the next two weeks.
It’s been a pleasure sharing with you today. Oh yes, and I forgot to say that I visit my home state of North Dakota as often as I can (during the decent weather months) and it is still as beautiful as ever. I never, ever forget my upbringing and really wouldn’t change it I guess because it made me who am I. The message I want kids to learn by my actions is that by all measures, I probably should have been a failure but nobody told me that so I just went ahead and carved my own path and continue to work for success.