My name is Elizabeth Walker (everyone calls me Lizzie) and I am the Teacher Librarian at St. George’s School in Vancouver, Canada. I work with about 400 boys from Grades 1 to 7 at our beautiful Junior School.
Like many North American cities, Vancouver is very new – any building older than about 50 years is considered “really old” – so our 1912 former convent heritage building is a truly unique place to work. It’s basically Hogwarts: an imposing grey stone gothic building in the middle of a leafy residential street. Walking through the granite gates and oak door every morning is something I never get tired of. My library occupies one wing of the main floor, and we recently refreshed the furnishings to create a very flexible, kid-friendly, and inviting learning space – a perfect setting for Guided Inquiry.
I have worked at the library at Saints for seven years now – in fact, my first cohort of Grade 7s whom I’ve known and worked with since Grade 1 just graduated to the Senior School two weeks ago. It was quite a poignant event for me, marking my own progress as the librarian here.
In my tenure at Saints, I have experimented with a number of educational philosophies and trends – from more traditional “bird units” to Project Based Learning, Inquiry Based Learning, Genius Hour and, of course, Guided Inquiry Design. I had the opportunity to learn about GID from the master herself: a small group of St. George’s teachers met up with Leslie in the Boston area in March 2015 to tour some schools that were implementing it.
From the outset, I knew I liked Guided Inquiry and that it would work well with our students. For one thing, St. George’s is an independent boys’ school, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned working exclusively with the prepubescent XY contingent, it’s that choice in learning is very motivating. Boys need to care about what they’re learning; that Third Space factor is critical. Ergo, projects in the past where teachers have given the students lists of possible topics to research, or have given strict parameters for what information to report, have not always been successful, simply because authentic choice was taken away from the students. The boys would slog through a project on a teacher-selected topic with minimal effort and, in the end, not learn anything significant. Projects like this become a chore.
GID works so well with elementary aged boys because, through the initial phases of the process, they can choose their own area of interest and the direction they want to take their learning. I have used the GID framework (either in its entirety, or the first three phases) in over half a dozen units and projects this year, and it is eye-opening to me how far our boys have gone with topics they are really curious and passionate about. I’ll get into some more details in my follow-up posts this week, but the variety of interests our students have developed is truly astonishing!
Here’s a teaser: any guess what this little creature is? He (or she?) is my Guided Inquiry mascot because he (or she) represents just what kids get curious about when you give them the freedom to explore and learn on their own!
Another reason I’ve really taken to GID in a big way is that it is a framework that puts the librarian front and centre (or centER, for you Americans!) of the learning team. Curating sources for students to use in the Explore and Gather phases really ensures that the information they’re accessing is reliable, relatable, and age-appropriate. Gone are the days of teachers letting boys loose on Google: LibGuides, subscription services, pre-selected websites, and – shockingly – books (!) are the stars of the show now. And, with these high quality resources selected for them, our boys learn and practice important research skills like citations, note-taking, and reading for information. Authentically and naturally… and without their librarian feeling like she’s pulling teeth.
Finally, I like Guided Inquiry because it’s SIMPLE. While organizing the instructional team, planning time and resources can be time consuming, Guided Inquiry itself can be as complex as you wish to make it. In my experience, implementing GID has been smooth sailing because we’ve used resources, people and unit plans that were already there in some form. There was no major investment in supplies or resources (other than some GID books and consulting services from the lovely Leslie) and we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. GID doesn’t need to be a big production, and that has really helped me secure buy-in from many teachers at my school who previously were hesitant to take on “big projects.” And that, in turn, has meant that our students have been able to enjoy powerful, meaningful and FUN (!) learning experiences.
In my next post I’ll be describing some of the Guided Inquiry units I’ve implemented this year, as well as how I’ve stolen the first three phases of Guided Inquiry to beef up pre-existing projects and units at our school. Until then, enjoy these precious first few days of summer holidays!
~ Elizabeth Walker