I was struggling to decide what my theme for this, my final post, should be, and it occurred to me that I should probably write about the thing that had the most impact on my students- and on me- during this unit.  Thank, my Guided Inquiry friends, is technology.

I have strong feelings about the use of technology in the classroom.  I’m a firm believer in its power as a tool for engagement, as a tool for differentiation, and most importantly, as a tool to unlock inquiry learning for infinitely more students.  However, I’m also all too aware of the power of technology to turn even the most confident teacher into a red-faced, flustered mess.  We’ve all been there- with our perfect lesson plans, SO pleased with ourselves for incorporating technology, and then no one’s password will work.  Or all the laptops are dead.  Or the wifi is being plain old vindictive.  We should have seen it coming, but we didn’t, and now there are thirty eighth graders looking at us expectantly like, “Hello? You’re a teacher. Can’t you fix it?” And no. No, we can’t.

If that sounds personal, it is.  I just finished four weeks of doing daily battle with the wifi (hence the title of this post).  I had cords and ports and work orders and IT people galore, or so it seemed, and the wifi was still about as predictable as a moody teenager.  And believe you me, I had days where I wanted to lock it all up and throw away the key, and unearth a collection of Encyclopedia Britannica. But I couldn’t do that, and there are a couple of reasons why.

The first is that teaching students to be smart and successful in a digital world becomes more important quite literally EVERY DAY that we live. As teachers, we just love to talk about teaching the whole child and for better or worse, this is now a part of that. Our ultimate goal as educators isn’t just to turn out competent readers or mathematicians, but to develop responsible, contributing, global citizens who are equipped with the tools to be lifelong learners- and technology is now a basic fact of that existence.  So if I gave into my urge to shut it all down, I would be doing such a disservice to my students.

The other reason I can’t put it away and never get it out again is because of what that would teach my students about learning.  When students see us, as teachers, struggle, we’re essentially teaching them how to learn.  If we shut down and shy way and refuse to try when it gets hard and messy and complicated, that’s exactly what they will do. As an inquiry community, it’s especially important that we don’t do that- and I’m talking to myself too here- because inquiry learning (at least in my experience) is messy and complicated- but ultimately SO worth it.  So if I want my students to take the risks involved, I have to be willing to take risks as well, so they’ll know what that looks like.

So the encyclopedias stayed- I don’t know, wherever they are (although I did have a great selection of WWII books, courtesy of the WMS library), and we persevered.  We learned how to troubleshoot and change networks and to plain old turn it off and turn it back on again.  And the results were more than worth it.

Thank you SO much for letting talk your ear off this week, and huge thanks to Leslie for giving me another chance to hijack her blog.  I LOVE sharing and can’t wait to read the about the other great stuff you all are doing in 2017!


–Paige Holden

The Tyrion Lannister of Blog Posts

As you may have guessed from the title, this is like, the Tyrion Lannister of blog posts- especially in comparison with yesterday. If you are not a crazed Game of Thrones fan like me (the show, not the books- sorry!), ignore my nerdy reference and let’s move on.

So, when my team and I  went to training in 2015, we were the only ones from Whittier.  So when we came back, singing Guided Inquiry’s praises and overflowing with excitement about our plans, I really do think people thought we were crazy.  But then, there were two summer institutes, and Whittier teachers when to both of them.  Then there was a fall institute, and more people went.  Then there was a spring institute, and even MORE people when. I’m so ecstatic that this year, every single eighth grader and two-thirds of sixth graders experienced Guided Inquiry.  And seventh grade- this is even more exciting- all the seventh graders will participate in TWO guided inquiry units. It’s spreading like wildfire in our school and our district, and I want to share a little of what other teachers are doing.


I loved hearing from Jan Filbeck, sixth grade social studies teacher and social studies department chair, about the cross-curricular unit taught by sixth grade social studies and Language Arts. Their unit was Ancient Cultures, focusing specifically on the Egyptians. Greeks, Incas, and Mayans. These cultures were chosen because sixth grade social studies curriculum covers the Western Hemisphere and language arts curriculum encompasses Greek and Egyptian literature. They wanted students to discover for themselves what makes a civilization great, and hoped that they would discover along the way that some civilizations create lasting literature and some don’t.

Jan also shared her frustrations about technology.  This is a common theme in conversations about research, because we have eleven hundred students and an estimated two hundred student computers available for classroom use- IF they’re all working. She said that on the days the computers were all booked, some students used their phones, but not all students have web-enabled phones.  Jan and her teammates are looking forward to next year, as the district’s 1:1 technology initiative is implemented, and all students will have their own device. She stated, “Most of our units are research based, so it will be easy to convert a new unit to guided inquiry now that I know what I am doing…I think it will work with several of our projects.”

Seventh graders at Whittier are especially fortunate this year. In addition to the Language Arts unit planned at the summer session, seventh grade science teachers are getting ready to teach a unit they planned at the most recent institute.  I spoke via email with Kim Heaton, seventh grade science teacher and science department chair.  She told me that the unit is about how technology has modified the traits of plants and animals.  I can only imagine how interesting that research will be, and I can’t wait to hear about the great things their students learn.

Christiona Reid, seventh grade Language Arts teacher, shared with me about their Civil Rights unit, which is currently coming to a close. She did such a terrific job explaining that I have included her words here:

“Students began the unit with an open gallery walk using images from past to current civil rights issues.  Next, students immersed themselves into a memoir about the Little Rock Nine.  While students read, they created discussion questions and wrote journals about what they read.

For the explore phase, students were added to a Google Classroom to explore various topics dealing with the concept, then at the end of each day completed journal responses and responded to a classmate’s journal.  The explore phase has been the most successful part of the Guided Inquiry Unit.  Google Classroom has been helpful for differentiating material and checking progress. For students who were struggling with exploring through sources, I was able to schedule a time for material and websites to be sent out to those students. This allowed them to struggle a little and then have support at the right time.

For the identify phase, students in my class did a gallery walk for questions.  Individually, students created higher level questions over various topics, then spent some time talking in groups and writing those are large sheets of paper.  At the end of the day, we had questions from every class and almost every student.  Then, the next day, students walked through the questions and wrote three that interested them.  After the identify phase, we spent another day exploring.  Students took their top three questions and searched to see if there was enough information.  They then narrowed it down to one top question they wanted to research.

For the gather phase, students spend a week research their large research question.  We reemphasized the importance of leveled questions for the gather phase.  Students had to create lower level questions that helped answer their large research question.  This phase I struggled with the most because of technology issues.  Also, students created really tough questions that were above seventh grade level, but I didn’t realize it until they started gathering or were in the middle of the process.  For example, one students created the following question: How did women in the military affect the military’s productivity?

We are about to start the create phase, where students are creating projects from a choice board.  They have to make a physical product, complete a piece of writing, and complete their gather page with sources.  When they finish, students will do a museum share out and a quick write evaluation.”

-Christiona Reid, Seventh Grade Language Arts                                                                                                                                                                         

I am SO thankful to those awesome teachers for sharing with me, and to Norman Public Schools for being a district that values and invests in professional development.  Because of them, the majority of students at our school were able to experience inquiry learning this year, and that will only increase as we have access to more and more technology.  But more about that tomorrow. 🙂


–Paige Holden


The Best Laid Plans

WELL. My first draft of this post was WAY too  long.  So I changed it, and talked less.  A revolutionary idea, I know.  If you told my students that, they wouldn’t believe you. Anyway, this post is about our unit.  I’m planning a mini-post later in the week about the other exciting units happening around me.  I want to share resources but I also know I can’t go on forever, so red text means links if you’re interested in seeing exactly what we used!

This is a unit that has already seen multiple iterations.  For a few years, we read The Diary of Anne Frank (the screenplay), by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and Night, by Elie Wiesel. Those texts were supplemented with discussions of historical background and the use of propaganda by both sides.  However- confession time!-  I was never happy with Night. The combination of difficult language and mature content made it all but inaccessible to everyone but my most gifted students, which led to disconnect and apathy about the whole thing- the opposite of what I was hoping for. Night is, of course, a wonderful book that everyone should read, and I don’t aim to keep my students from struggling, but I wanted them to have a more connected, personal, meaningful reading experience. I struggled with ways to do that over the years, trying everything from ignoring it entirely (NOT what I would recommend) to using dystopian literature to make Holocaust connections, and finally settling on Holocaust historical fiction.  But every year, at the end of the unit, students still had so many questions that we couldn’t possibly answer them all.   For that reason,  THIS is the unit we chose to overhaul with Guided Inquiry.


“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”   

Immediately upon coming into class the first day, students were shown this quote.  They were asked to brainstorm for five minutes about what that quote means, whether it’s true or not, and what it could mean for them, or for society. They shared their impressions with each other, and a few volunteered to share with the whole class.  I then told them that this had been translated (albeit loosely) from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and asked that they add to their original writing, telling me whether or not knowing who said this impacted their perspective and explaining their answer.

We also looked at Holocaust photos and students made observations about what they saw, then made inferences about what was happening, then shared their answers with each other and ultimately with the class. 

Last, we watched a video clip from The Sound of Music. Serendipitously, students had seen a stellar performance of it in the fall at Norman North High School, so they all recognized the song Edelweiss, and we relived intensity of the scene where Captain Von Trapp becomes too emotional to go on singing, so his family joins him, and then the whole audience does, even while the SS Guards are waiting to take him away. After listening, I asked if anyone knew what an Edelweiss was, and they were surprised to learn that it is a flower native to Austria.  We watched a second time, and then discussed why they would all be singing and having such strong feelings about a flower.  I was impressed with  how insightful they were, talking about how the flower represents Austria, and singing along is a way for the whole audience to express their dissent. In some classes this spurred conversations about how important it is to express dissent and how we have many more options for doing that in the United States.  I can only let those go on for so long, but I do love that they’re making real-world connections already.


We hung out here for awhile.  First, we read The Diary of Anne Frank in our literature books. Before reading, we watched the first half of the terrific documentary Anne Frank Remembered. I like watching part of this first because it gives some background information about each of the inhabitants of Anne’s secret annex, and there is footage of the actual annex as well.  This helps students to have some context for what the families endured before going into hiding, as well as what they were dealing with in such a small space. As we read the play, students kept a list of questions they had in their comp books. The play ends abruptly, with the families being discovered by the Nazis.  When we finish reading, we also watch the second half of Anne Frank Remembered, because the students always need closure on what became of Anne and the other inhabitants of the annex in the concentration camps.

Next, my teammates Kasey McKinzie and Leah Esker and I had a carousel of immersion lessons.  Since our ultimate plan was for each student to develop a question about World War II, we each chose a different aspect to discuss.   We taught the same lesson for three days to our own class and to each other’s classes.  The topics were propaganda, concentration camps, and resistance efforts. Students took a note catcher to each class to keep track of information and to generate questions.

The last step was for students to be fully immersed in a WWII historical fiction novel of their choosing. I’ve written several grants over the last few years (I’m SO thankful for our Norman Public Schools Foundation- they help us to great things for our kids), I ended up with fifteen different book choices for my students (if you read my blog last year, you know that I am positively RABID about student choice) with a variety of settings and protagonists. We wanted to students to read their novels, talk about them with each other, and learn about the Holocaust from multiple perspectives, generating questions the whole time.  It wasn’t as neat and tidy as all that, but we did eventually get there. We dedicated almost two weeks of class time for reading, and they did keep a reading log that I checked everyday so I could monitor their progress,  and they completed a reading guide to help me check for understanding and critical thinking, as well as to help facilitate their discussions.


The next phases seemed to me to pass very quickly, especially in comparison with immerse.  We spent three days in Explore, and I wish we had spent longer.  But I was happy with what we did with that time.  With the help of our librarian, we created a symbaloo filled with resources for our students to explore.  As they did so, they kept track of what they may or may not want to come back to on an inquiry log we adapted. They were able to read articles and interviews, watch videos, and more.


Up until now, students had been keeping a list of questions. I asked them to choose one and write it on a post it. We then began identify with a discussion on levels of questions:










I made sure to emphasize in this discussion that there’s nothing WRONG with asking level one and two questions, especially when you are unfamiliar with a topic.  Then I asked students to put their post it notes one the correct poster for what level their questions were. Here’s what that looked like when it was finished:

There are more post its on the One and Two poster, but the questions really did run the gamut, which I was pleased to see.

The next day, When students got to class, I asked them to get out everything they’d done so far.  This was their note catcher from immerse, their inquiry log from explore, and the list of questions they had been keeping in their comp books. They went through and highlighted the things on each page that were most interesting to them, and then narrowed down to their top three choices.  I asked them to rewrite those choices as questions if they hadn’t already. We then went through this adapted chart to identify together, and students examined their top three ideas closely. We then took a sample question and went through the process of developing a web together.  I did this in my last unit, and it unintentionally spurred this terrific conversation about how you HAVE to answer level one and two questions before you get to higher level questions, and I hoped to recreate that this year.  It worked well.  We completed this example together:

Then students created their own brainstorming maps.  Some of them really responded to the web example:


And some of them created a map all their own:

This did require trial and error for some students.  I heard quite a bit of…”Um, I don’t have any other questions to ask?” That was good, because it let me know when a student needed help either writing a higher level question OR if I needed to provided guidance that they attempt another one of their options.

Before students left, I had them write their final (for that day, anyway- we definitely had some wafflers, which was fine!) questions- here are a few of them:

  • In what different ways did Nazi propaganda affect the opinions of German people?
  • How did the medical experiments performed on some prisoners impact survivors mentally and physically?
  • How did the U.S. program of Lend-Lease affect the outcome and aftermath of WWII?
  • How did Nazi occupation of other countries affect those countries and their citizens?
  • How did the actions of those involved in resistance efforts impact the outcome of the war?
  • How were Jewish refugees treated similarly or differently to the way refugees are treated today?


I remember writing last year that I loved Gather because of the switch that took place in the classroom- instead of me showing them cool stuff, suddenly THEY were the ones with the inside information.  That definitely happened again this year, once we turned them loose. Before we did that, we knew we needed to talk about determining credible sources.  The reasons for that extend far beyond an eighth grade research project- in the information age, it becomes more important every day for EVERYONE to be able to determine credibility and to know bias when they see it.  So we like to start with a discussion of Wikipedia and how to use it as a starting point and not an ending point.  We actually read an article on Wikipedia about how Wikipedia isn’t intended for academic use. We also watched this video on determining website credibility, which does have some tips but is most just HILARIOUS.  We also have a great tutorial, that’s really more of a webquest. We have a handout and student find the answers.  (Just like last year, I fully credit my best friend and all-around library mastermind Kelsey Barker with developing this part of the lesson when she worked at Whittier several years ago).

In the past, we stopped there.  But this year, in our current climate, we didn’t feel like that was enough.  With students being inundated with information everyday, we wanted them to have the knowledge to sort it ALL out- not just when they’re doing research.  So we looked at this, which is originally from pigscast, but I saw it when Leslie shared it on Facebook (thanks, Leslie!):

I’ll admit, I was nervous about this.  I think it’s incredibly important to talk about ISSUES with kids, but I think it’s just as important to keep partisanship out of it.  They’re in eighth grade, and many of them haven’t developed their OWN opinions.  I want everyone to feel welcomed and loved in my class, so when we talk about issues, I frame them in the way that they relate to the curriculum.  So I really had my reservations about this, but I could NOT have been more pleased with the way my students handled it.  I issued a disclaimer right away that I didn’t care for the use of the word Garbage, and I would like us to ignore that. We used this to talk about recognizing bias in the media, and how just because something is biased doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read it, but that we should do so with the bias in mind. I really wanted my students to take two things away from this chart, and they found them both.  The first is that The more neutral a source is, the higher quality it is. The next thing I did was have students point to major news outlets on the big screen, and we put little flags by them.  When we were done, students could see that of the places people are most likely to get news, none of them fall into the neutral category. Even though I had reservations, I ended up being so proud of how mature and observant my classes were, and I think it was a really worthwhile discussion.

THEN we turned them loose, armed with all this information, to find their own sources.


This one was so hard for us to decide.  Last year, we wrote an essay, so we were considering that option.  When we taught the novels in isolation, students did a great creative project about perspective, but we couldn’t figure out a good way to marry that with the research they were doing.  When we were trying to decide, I recall saying to my colleague Leah, “I’m not married to any product we’ve done before.  I’m married to the PROCESS, and I think the product we choose should be a true reflection of that.” She ultimately had the terrific idea of having students create an annotated bibliography.  I loved this idea because it allowed us to stay completed immersed in research the entire time- no one’s attention was diverted by the stress of trying to get a paper written or anything else.  The entire unit, the focus truly was on the research students were doing and the sources they were finding.  In their annotated bib, students had to summarize their source, provide two indications that it is a credible source, and explain how it helped them ultimately answer their question. Here is an example of a finished bibliography.

Okay. Whew.  I’ve done so much talking.   I will link our activities for Share and Evaluate here. For share, once students had their thoughts on paper, we did an inside/outside circle, or wagon wheel, so that they got to hear from multiple people.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our unit! I’m happy to answer any questions or give more information about everything. At the end of every unit, I can’t help but think about what I would have done differently, but I am ultimately happy with the decisions we made.  I’ll be back tomorrow to share some other great things happening around my school.  Thanks for reading!

-Paige Holden


Hello…It’s Me!

Hello Again, Guided Inquiry Community! I’m thrilled to be back! I’m Paige Holden, teacher of Language Arts at Whittier Middle School in Norman, Oklahoma. I posted at approximately this time last year about my first ever GID unit, Natural Phenomena, and I’m just as excited to share my second unit, World War II and the Holocaust. But first, a little about me, my school, and my experience with Guided Inquiry. Here I am!

I’ve been teaching for five years, all at WMS.  While teaching Language Arts, I have also taught exploratory classes in Reading Intervention and Reading for Pleasure.  My very favorite thing about teaching is sharing my love of books and reading with my students, and helping many of them discover their inner bibliophile. I’m also crazy about my school.  Whittier is the largest of Norman’s four middle schools, with a little over eleven hundred students (one hundred twenty of whom are mine!). Of those, around thirty percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch, fourteen percent qualify for special service, forty percent are considered gifted, and four percent are English language learners. With such a diverse group of learners, I’m so lucky to work with the MOST amazing teachers. My colleagues are brilliant, patient, open to new ideas, and deeply committed to providing each of their students with the best learning experience possible- which is why Guided Inquiry is perfect for our school.

As I mentioned earlier, this is my second unit. I was originally introduced to Guided Inquiry by my bevy of librarian friends (affectionately known as the Think Tank of Awesome). Their happy hour tales intrigued me, and I attended my first training with Leslie in the fall of 2015. Our team was made up of two eighth grade Language Arts teachers (one of them was me!), our gifted resource coordinator, our instructional coach, our librarian and library assistant. Together, we planned and executed our eighth grade research unit.  Then, in the summer of 2016, I was lucky enough to attend a second institute, this time with my longtime teammates and loves of my teaching life, Leah Esker and Adrienne Hall. We were also joined in the fall by the lovely and talented Kasey McKinzie, who was very brave and went to the fall training by herself. This year, we wanted to do better.  We wanted to embed the inquiry process into our existing curriculum, to make research less of an event, so to speak, and more of a natural way to learn, because that’s what it is!  When we sat down to choose a unit to overhaul, we knew we needed one that generated a high level of curiosity amongst our students, as well as one that could lend itself to potentially endless avenues of inquiry. For those reasons, we chose World War II and the Holocaust.  I can’t wait to share it with you, as well as some other great things my fellow Whittier teachers are doing with Guided Inquiry. Stay tuned!


–Paige Holden

And the Results Are In!

I did my first guided inquiry project this fall with two of my freshman ELA classes.  The general topic was on civil rights–connecting the movement of the 1960s to the civil rights climate in society today.  Partly due to it being my first GID project, we did not assign a final paper, project, or presentation based on the research, which on the one hand seemed to make things a little easier on me, and on the other hand felt a bit like cheating.  My students were confused, too.  Although we had a good vision for the project, a lot of it was planned as we went along since I was also learning as we went along, and we never planned a final product assignment.  My teacher librarian helped me understand that with GID, that was an acceptable option.

I have always claimed to be someone who appreciated the journey more than the destination and the process more than the product, but it seems different when you are responsible for teaching, although it shouldn’t.  One of the things I discovered during this guided inquiry is that I like to see what my students “got.”  “What did they get out of it? Did they get something? What did they get?”  I am curious.  I want to know.  I want to see it, even if I don’t always want to grade it.

At the end of the project, I had no regrets about not having assigned a traditional paper or presentation, except for the fact that I didn’t feel like I saw enough of what they got.  On the other hand, I didn’t exactly put a lot of time into reading their research notecards, either!  We did ask the students to complete a final reflection in writing.  It’s just that for me, there wasn’t enough about what they learned, content-wise, in their reflections.

That being said, I am definitely satisfied enough to do this project again in a similar way.  I am looking forward to working with our teacher librarian, Anita Cellucci, again because I know that her guidance will help me evaluate, adjust, and fine-tune the process.  I am also hoping to come across some other good ideas for guided inquiry projects.  I am planning to read Leslie’s high school edition of Guided Inquiry Design in Action to help inspire me.  

Meanwhile, here are some of the noteworthy reflections from the students who were the founding participants of our civil rights GID project.   

How did what you found in your research help you understand what is going on today?

  • It made me realize that although we believe that segregation and inequality are no longer an issue, it still appears in many ways. Seeing the similarities in many of the deaths and protests that occur now, and that did occur in the past demonstrates that the United State’s hasn’t evolved as much as we thought.
  • I found a lot of information about the current rights for LGBT members. It made me think about how blacks, women, minorities used to be discriminated against and now the world is trying to create equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexuals, and transgendered people.
  • I researched in the areas of black power in the time of the 1960’s and I have studied how that movement has shifted into the U.S. today in the form of #BlackLivesMatter. The use of technology allows protesters today to spread their powerful words for equality.

How did knowing that there was no paper to write affect how you felt about your research?

  • It helped me focus more on the research and instead of thinking about making paragraphs it helped me focus more on the overall understanding of the inquiry project, and answering the topic question. Knowing that there was no paper to write helped me focus on understanding the main idea.
  • It made me a little less stressed and allowed me to look at a more general view of the topic as well as allowed me to develop a lot more ideas and opinions about the topic rather than just focusing on one.
  • Well, instead of really directing my research to a certain topic and narrowing down the different branches of civil rights, I kept my research broad and I was able to learn a lot more than I would have if there was a paper at the end.

Describe how you felt about working on this inquiry project a) when you first started, b) as you were gathering information and c) as you discussed your research with your classmates.  

  • When I first started this inquiry project I was a bit confused, I didn’t really fully understand the question. While I was gathering information I was a bit frustrated because at first I didn’t know if there was a final product or not but as soon as I learned that there wasn’t, the researching became a lot easier. At the end of the project, I felt that I had learned quite a bit about civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement and I felt that I had done a good job with the research.
  • While discussing my research with my classmates, I realized that I had very much enjoyed completing so much research on different components of the large topic of civil rights. I have gained so much more knowledge surrounding the topic and can say that overall I liked and appreciated this inquiry project.
  • As I discussed my research with my classmates, it helped a lot because I got to hear what other people did with the project, and sharing my ideas and having Mrs. Cellucci ask me questions about what I found helped my understanding of what I found a little better.

Thanks for reading!  –Susan Smith

High School ELA Civil Rights GID


I really didn’t mean to leave the last blog as a cliffhanger.  But on that note, to pick up the story, we left our hero taking the plunge into a Guided Inquiry Design project on civil rights…and no worries, we all lived happily ever after.  

So the notorious science project from 2015 was an aberration, really, in a school which had been successfully using Guided Inquiry Design in several disciplines for a couple of years already.  One reason that the freshman reaction to that particular science inquiry was so loud is because almost every freshman in the school was doing it at the same time.  That, and a variety of other non-favorable guided inquiry design circumstances combined for a kind of perfect storm.  The silver lining, though, for me anyway, was that it really prompted me to investigate Guided Inquiry Design and then, more importantly, to partner with our extremely accomplished teacher librarian for tons of help and guidance with the whole project.  

Even without knowing the particulars of Guided Inquiry Design, a guided inquiry project on civil rights appealed to me as something that would kill a lot of birds with one stone.  I wouldn’t have to worry about appearing to have an “agenda” on social and political issues, I wouldn’t have to review and gather the right sources, and my students could come to their own conclusions based on their own research.  Plus, I could feel like my students were getting exposed to important information about the past and about our world today.  Such a project would satisfy an ideal of creating authentic assignments, it would connect literature with life, it would satisfy a research requirement, it would promote intellectual curiosity, it would just about walk the dog and build strong bodies 12 ways.  Still, there was a lot to think about and plan out beforehand, so I was fortunate to have our teacher librarian expert to walk and sometimes push me through it.  

It was my first Guided Inquiry project.  It was a lot.  I guess those are my disclaimers.  

I learned a lot.  I will do it again.  I guess those are my claimers.  

I’m not going to lie.  There were times when my teacher librarian partner looked at me like I had two heads (I wanted to let the kids use social media for research, somehow), and I know there were times I thought she had three heads—and I couldn’t understand any of them (She wanted to just give the kids a bunch of magazines and newspapers to look through! And forget about the differences between open, explore, and immerse or the five kinds of learning rubric—what are you talking about?).  But, we were successful in the end, and sometimes we even still speak to each other when we can’t avoid it (kidding!).  

We started with the idea or the prompt.  I wanted students to compare the original Civil Rights Movement to the things going on today.  I had even seen some articles with titles like “Are We Having a Second Civil Rights Movement?” so I wondered if they could research that question and support or deny it.  Anita and I talked through some of my thinking and she helped me come up with the essential question: what are the similarities between the time of the original Civil Rights Movement and today, and how can we use this information to understand the climate in the U.S. today?

One of my favorite pieces of the project was one of the early stages. Umm… yes, it was definitely one of those early stages.  We created stations. One station had several photos of then and now (like a 60s protest photo and a picture of Colin Kaepernick).  One had an article from The Atlantic relating to racism and the presidential election.  The third station had a great video (that I found on Facebook) about the women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement.  The next day was even better!  In planning, Anita had watched me hem, haw, argue, and stress out for about 20 minutes straight, and then she decided that we should gather up a bunch of current magazines and newspapers from right there in the library where we stood, and have the students go through them in search of items related to civil rights.  I was incredulous.  I never thought they would just find things if we didn’t already know what was in there, but I went along with it, with absolutely no faith.  Luckily, Anita plowed on, because I  ended up loving it.  My honors students found a bunch of relevant articles and pieces.  The movie Loving was out (about an interracial couple who wanted to get married, which was against the law, and went to court), there was an article about local discrimination in housing, an article about immigration, and a bunch of other great things that I can’t remember.  I just remember that I was amazed at how wrong I was, and excited for all the topics the students seemed to be engaged in.  There was even something just pretty cool about seeing students reading newspapers.  None of the groups ran out of civil rights connections, and the sharing afterwards helped everyone to see how many different topics were included under the idea of civil rights today.  Check, check.  

My college preparatory level students who were doing the same project did not do as well with the newspapers and magazines, interestingly.  One kid got lost in the paper, and he and several others seemed to forget what we were looking for.  When we shared, he talked about what he had found interesting in the obituaries.  Although the students themselves were content, we decided to give this class one more day with that early stage of the process.  It’s noteworthy that these projects can be fluid and adapted for the students’ needs.  These guys needed a little more, so we found four videos and did another station session.  One video was the part of the Eyes on the Prize documentary that featured the story of Emmett Till.  One video was from an episode of What Would You Do? that featured a woman being denied service at a bakery for wearing a Muslim headscarf.  One video was about a transgendered teen who was an activist.  The final video addressed the Dakota pipeline protests.  Adding an extra day with some pre-selected content made a big difference for this class, I think.

Although there were other aspects of the project that I really appreciated, like how easy it was to read students’ notecards in Noodle Tools, I think those introductory sessions were the highlight for me.  I even used the same sort of station format for a lesson with my senior film class.

I could certainly say more about the project in its various stages, but I’m so long winded, and I have said the things that seem most important to me.   Definitely not a cliffhanger–I will try to talk about the results of our project in the next post.  

Susan Smith


How Facebook, the NCTE, The Secret Life of Bees, and My Pissed Off Freshmen Got Me Into Guided Inquiry


My name is Susan Smith (yes, that is my witness protection program name), and I teach high school English in the suburbs of Boston, MA.  This year I took the plunge and did my first guided inquiry project. This is how I got there. (Warning, I tend to make short stories long.)

I have taught all four high school grade levels at one time or another, but I have taught freshmen every year for the last ten years.  One of the novels we do in freshman English is The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, which takes place during the Civil Rights Movement.  Although we definitely do some activities related to the historical context of the novel, as the years have passed I have been more and more itching to do something beyond teaching kids about civil rights in the 1960s.  I have wanted to have some discussions and increase awareness of how those events and those issues are not just “what it was like in the old days before things got better like they are now”— if you know what I mean.  Sometimes in speaking about racism and social injustice, I feel like I am teaching them racist and homophobic and sexist content that they may have never thought of before—almost like I am teaching it TO them instead of teaching them about it.  Like if I talk about how there is a history of a stereotype of lust and violence around black men and white women and how white men have (created and) reacted to that stereotype (as in the story of Emmett Till), I am teaching them terrible concepts that they never thought of before (and didn’t need to know?).   Still, it is important stuff.  Recently, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, with the increased awareness of cases of police brutality and institutionalized racism and voter rights discrimination and so many other social justice topics and issues, I have felt more compelled to figure out what to do.  

In September of 2015, the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) put out a statement to English teachers that basically said that it is somewhat of a moral responsibility to address and discuss with students what has been going on—to discuss racism in our country and our history  (http://www.ncte.org/governance/pres-team_9-8-15 Paragraph six in particular, and this line—“In addition to the revolution on the ground, we seek a parallel revolution in curricula, instructional models and practices, assessment approaches, and other facets of education that would lead to a future free from the barriers of prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and bias”).  The NCTE piece helped me feel more confident, so I found some articles related to current day racism and social justice, including the wealth equity gap, the school to prison pipeline, and even the Syrian refugee debate.  We read and discussed the articles in class and I felt somewhat more satisfied.  At the same time, I heard from some teachers that they didn’t feel comfortable having a social or political “agenda” in their curriculum.  They were uneasy about teaching kids things that might contradict the beliefs of their parents.  

Then, over this past summer, as so many social issues cropped up in the news and in popular discourse due to the upcoming elections, I saw more and more compelling posts and articles in my Facebook feed.  I learned a lot, and I again felt a desire to bring such topics to my students.   I just wasn’t sure what and how.  I knew that I could possibly put some time in and gather and curate some articles and posts from various figures that were popping up in my feed and educating me—like New York Times articles and Shaun King posts and stories about Black Lives Matter, but I just felt unsure of what to gather, and ultimately, how exactly to present or integrate those items  into my curriculum.   

That’s where I landed this fall—still with these ideas in the back of my mind, and chewing on what to do with my thoughts and my impulse to do something more deliberate with my students.

They say that there is no bad publicity, and although there are other reasons that guided inquiry was on my radar, probably the most memorable reason is because my 2015 freshmen hated it.  I heard their chatter before class started. Usually I don’t pay attention to it because it is a bit of a boundary for me; I feel like they should have their semi-private social time when they can get it.  However, the freshman chatter about the science inquiry project was fairly constant.  When it began to seem that they had been griping, stressing-out, and commiserating with each other about the science inquiry project (their first guided inquiry experience) for months on end, I finally asked them about it.  Given the chance to vent, their volume nearly blew my hair back.  On the other hand, though, anything that arouses that much passion in a 14 year-old can’t be all bad, right?  So I talked to them about it, and I talked to some other teachers about it, and nearly a year later I talked to our media specialist about guided inquiry.  In the end, in spite of, and because of, the notorious science project, I put all the pieces together and walked right into my own guided inquiry design project on civil rights.

Aligning Guided Inquiry with the A+ Philosophy

Guided Inquiry Design is a method of teaching that relies heavily upon teacher flexibility and student personal interest. Many veteran teachers have said, during or after their GID training, that “this is how we used to teach!” As I have learned this process along with other ongoing professional development, it has been interesting to compare and see where GID overlaps with other teaching philosophies and methods.

One important characteristic of my school, Monroe Elementary, is that we are an A+ School. This means that we have some basic tenets that provide a framework for the things we do. For example, one of the A+ Essentials is Arts at the core. This means that we integrate the arts into our teaching as often as possible. Another example that identifies an A+ school is focus on collaboration.

Teaching in an A+ school makes it easy to integrate Guided Inquiry, because so many of the key philosophies overlap. One of the most important tenets of A+ is Enriched Assessment. This means that assessment is more meaningful than paper and pencil tests. It is assessment through multiple pathways, such as creating a project to share what is learned. This is just one area where A+ and Guided Inquiry fit together perfectly!

This chart shows some of the overlapping areas between A+ and GID:

A+ Characteristic

Guided Inquiry Design

A+ and Guided Inquiry Implemented Together

Enriched assessment


Project based learning

Arts at the core


Student freedom to be creative

Multiple Learning Pathways

Third Space

Flexibility in students’ choices of inquiries and creations


Extended Guided Inquiry Team

Teachers work together to plan and implement instruction


Time and flexibility

Students have time to spend in Open, Immerse, Explore


Ownership, Third Space

Connection to students’ real life is valued

Experiential learning

Hands on experiences

Open, Immerse, Explore give real life experiences


Focus on standards

Standards are taught in meaningful ways

As you can see from the above chart, Guided Inquiry and A+ work well together! When our 1st grade teachers and I were at the Guided Inquiry training, we were building a unit over space science. The unit template includes sections on “Overarching Learning Goals” and “Five Kinds of Learning.” Our team didn’t even have to stop and ponder what this meant, we said, “This is just A+!”

Guided Inquiry is a model that fits with so many other effective teaching methods. GID units can be elaborate research projects for high school and college students. They can be beginning research projects for primary students, and every grade and subject in between! Guided Inquiry is for everyone, and all it takes is some flexibility and willingness to adjust our thinking from traditional research to make the switch!

Trisha Hutcherson, M.L.I.S.

Monroe Elementary

Norman, Oklahoma

Americans Who Made a Difference: Popplets, Paper People, and Videos!

In my previous post, I referred to our first Guided Inquiry unit with 2nd grade, Americans Who Made a Difference. For this post, I will describe the unit in more depth.

In our 2nd grade Social Studies curriculum, students were learning about such people as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, George Washington, Ruby Bridges, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Cesar Chávez. For Open experiences, I really like to use tangible artifacts or some other type of real object if possible. I was able to gather an object to represent most of the above people, and set them out on a table. They were only numbered, and the students tried to guess the important person that each object represented. This was a fun hands-on way for them to start interacting with the people from history, and it also gave them an opportunity to interact with each other and discuss the meaning of some of the objects.

For Immerse and Explore, each student had a basic Inquiry Journal on which to write down some information. Their journals included a place to write down the names of 2-3 people they had browsed, and the sources where they read about each. Most students were able to get some good ideas about who they wanted their units to focus on through this process, and then were were ready for Identify.

After students had identified the person they wanted to learn about, we proceeded on to Gather. Students had a four square research page to use as an organizer for their thoughts and information. Many of the 2nd graders needed a lot of scaffolding for this process. Thankfully our extended inquiry teaching team included our resource teacher and assistant who did an excellent job of helping some of the students find the information they needed and get it recorded. Students worked in small groups, using books and online resources for their information. Most students’ subjects were readily available in books and PebbleGo, but there were a few that required a little advance research on my part so that we would have appropriate information for them. Once we had gathered information, we were ready for the real fun!

For Create, we gave the students four choices of projects to make to share their learning: life size cutout paper people on which to write their information, Popplets, Wordles/Tagxedos, or dress up as your person and create a video. There was a fairly even split among the projects the students chose, with the exception of the paper people. Many of the students chose this project. We laughed because when they had their paper people spread out on the tables working, it looked like we were having mass surgeries in the library!

Share was then fairly easy to do with the computer based projects: we printed out the Tagxedos/Wordles, shared the Popplets, and I sent home instructions so that parents could view their child’s project at home. The classes were able to watch the videos that were made, and they all really enjoyed this. We shared the paper people by hanging them on the walls in the hallway outside the library and their classrooms. This raised a buzz among the younger students, who look forward to the year when they get to do this project. Here is one of the projects in which the student chose to share her information through a video: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B357lApiB-4ZRi1TUUYtaEQ2SW8

At the current time we are in the Gather phase of Americans Who Made a Difference, and the students are so engaged. I am very excited to see what lies ahead when they start pulling everything together to Create and Share their information!


Trisha Hutcherson, M.L.I.S.

Monroe Elementary

Norman, Oklahoma

From Teacher Librarian to Leader

My name is Trisha Hutcherson, and I am the librarian at Monroe Elementary in Norman, Oklahoma. My experience with Guided Inquiry Design began in the 2014-2015 school year. During the 2015-2016 year, I was trained along with my instructional coach and gifted and talented teacher. Together, the three of us began to implement GID in our elementary school.

Monroe Elementary is an A+ School. This means several things, including focus on the arts, enriched assessment, and teaching to multiple learning pathways or multiple intelligences. A very important part of A+ philosophy is collaboration across grade levels and subject areas. For this reason, teachers and specialists meet to plan together once each quarter of the school year. As soon as we were trained in GID in the fall of 2015, we began implementing it in our school through school-wide collaboration.

For the first couple of units we did, the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases were where we spent most of our time and effort. I found out here that Opens are quite fun to plan! These units were 3rd and 4th grade, Solar System and People Who Made a Difference respectively. The teachers took students to their classrooms for Gather, Create, and Share in both groups, so I didn’t get to be very involved in those phases.

The next units we did were with younger students, Kindergarten and 1st grade. Kindergarten did From Seed to Plant, and 1st grade did Light, Sound, and Color. Again, Open and Explore were a lot of fun for the students and for me with both of these studies. However, I soon discovered that Gather is a whole different world with primary students! I have since learned that the Open/Immerse/Explore phases are the most important to focus on with the little ones, and that it’s OK if their Gather happens in a big group and their Create is a drawing, writing, or simple verbal explanation or recording.

The most in-depth Guided Inquiry project we did during the 2015-2016 school year was Americans Who Made a Difference with 2nd grade. The Gather phase was a great learning experience for me with this age of students, because they were more able to gather information than the youngest students, but not as independently as the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.

Being one of the few teachers trained in GID at our school site has forced me to be a leader and to advocate for improving the way we do our research and learning projects. Although now we have several grade level teams trained, at the beginning there were only about three of us. Some things this forced me to do were to train the other teachers in the basics of GID, to plan our units and work out all of the logistics, and to lead teachers and students through the process.

We are now in our second year of implementation, and having a year of experience has made a huge difference! I have been able to do some of the same units, with some tweaking, adjustments, and improvements. We are currently in the middle of Americans Who Made a Difference, Round 2! It’s going great!

Trisha Hutcherson, M.L.I.S

Monroe Elementary

Norman, Oklahoma