Saturday, September 30, 2017

Are we killing them with nonfiction?

No, this post IS NOT about killing cats.  It's about learning.  But first let me introduce you to Hank, the cat who frequently visits my family and hangs out on our patio with us at our house. Hank's a funny, funny fellow. He's very curious and loves to nibble on bare toes...  Everybody say, HI HANK!

I love cats, not really when they try to nibble on my toes, but most of the rest of the time! But, I'm allergic. So, we can't have a cat of our own. As a result, my daughter and I really look forward to his random visits to our home. There's a funny long story of how we know his name is Hank, we didn't name him that, but I'll spare you that now, and get on with the topic at hand.

My daughter is always asking me about why his tail wags, and what does this mean or that mean. So she seems to be pretty curious about cat behavior.

So, we're at home one Saturday and I see this short  article from National Geographic come across my feed and I open it up and start reading it aloud.
I read, "Do you know what your cat is saying when it meows at you? Researchers in Sweden are trying to give us a better idea by identifying melodic patterns in cat meows: Is your cat hungry or really hungry?"

Hearing this, my daughter GROANs in protest.  She says, "Stop reading that. That sounds like another one of those Achieve 3000 articles we have to read.  Blah blah blah..."

I tried to tell her, "Yes, but this one is interesting to us! Don't you want to know what different cats' meows mean?" But the tone of the non-fiction piece has already completely repelled her.

This exchange got me wondering-

Are we killing our students with non-fiction?

Not literally killing them, but killing their interest in reading about the world?

For the past few years her school has been using this great program called Achieve 3000. It purports to be "the leader in differentiated instruction." I don't think that's an apt description of what it is, but I still think it's a great tool.  It's supposed to support student proficiency with academic texts and increase non-fiction reading.  I went to the parent meeting about it at the school where they described it. When I heard about it, I was excited.  Basically, it is a set of non-fiction texts available at differentiated levels. The titles were searchable by topic. Each title was offered at the student's reading level, adjusting the text, for the capability of the student!  Wow! I thought, "How wonderful!"  

Of course, in my mind, I am thinking of the best case scenario, students discovering their interest in Guided Inquiry and having access to articles that they can read about topics of their choice on a regular basis!  AWESOME!  

I'm thinking, as this is introduced to the parents that evening, that this will lift a huge barrier for teachers and librarians working over time to try to find resources for each student's level. (a question I frequently get from participants of my GID workshops) This program and programs like this are game changers for students interaction in inquiry based learning.

But, then I hear the down side, the way it is used.  Each child has to complete a certain number of readings from the program each week. Fine OK, AND answer the quiz questions at 80% or higher on each piece they read (proof that they read it and accountability).  I find out that there isn't much choice about what they read.  They just have to read a certain number (self paced?).  (Sound like the same structure as Accelerated Reader we've been doing that since the 90's... So the only thing that has changed is that they are reading it on the computer, and it adjusts to match their reading level.  Which is not a small thing.

My daughter used to love to read non-fiction.  It was a strength of hers. It seems like that has been beaten down by a lack of choice.  Maybe there is choice on what they can read, if so there has been a lack of guidance in how to use choice, if that choice was available to her.  The prescriptive measures  of X amount each week that are supposed to ensure proficiency, haven't helped her learn about her world.  Why do people read non-fiction? To learn something, not take a quiz. So schools are using the program to check reading more non-fiction off their long list of to do's.  I know the teachers are well intended.  I know that practice is good, but if we are generating these attitudes, the practice may become counter productive as a life skill.  

 I am disappointed to know that in this climate of seeking proficiency for the Common Core we just may be killing any desire to read for meaning.  Knowing that the potential for matching student with interest and appropriate level text is lost in this. The formulaic use of the tool is a misuse of this technology and the power of it to transform learning and provide students with choice in a meaningful context.

With some small changes in the program, the same objectives could be accomplished with much greater effect. But it's all a matter of priorities and perspective.  Hard to change a system where people say, we do great on the tests, why mess with "something that works."  

We've all got to push past the test score and think about how we can be doing even better for our students.
Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Friday, September 29, 2017

Teaching the magical years

"These are the years of magic, of imagination stirred and fed in innumerable ways, of all that goes with a mind encouraged to explore the world, to try to make sense of it. These are years of eager lively searching on the part of children, whose parents and teachers are often hard put to keep up with them as they try to understand things, to figure them out, but to also weigh right and wrong of this life." Robert Coles  (p. 98)

Kids in upper elementary through middle school are fascinated by jokes.  Joking around, teasing, punking, fooling around.  They are on guard about who's joking and who's telling the truth.  They play that way.

Here's a group of fourth grade girls in conversation about the book the Watson's Go to Birmingham: 1963 (Curtis).  In chapter 4 the big brother in the story tells the younger kids a long tale about how southern folk freeze to death in Michigan in the winter and they have garbage trucks pick them up in the mornings.  The brother tells the kids that they can ask their mom if it's true and says it's the mom's story.  This is how the girls make sense of the story.

Pam:       Do you think Joetta’s mom will tell her and her brothers that frozen people aren’t in the car sooner or later?  ‘Cause I don’t believe that.
Lizzie:    I don’t believe that.
Poppy:   I don’t believe it.
Pam:       I I-
Esperanza: I don’t believe it cause I think Byron he’s just like making that-
Pam:       Up to start-
Eve:        He’s just fooling around.
Poppy:  I think, I think he’s actually he’s-
Pam:       Fooling around to scare them.
Poppy:  Yea!  Just to make them be scared or to make them believe.
Lizzie:    Or to make them wear their-
Pam:       Their coats!
Poppy:  To make them wear their coats. And then they don’t whine.  I just don’t think that it’s true.  Just by the way he’s actually talking it doesn’t really seem like he’s telling the truth at all. 

Having this lively conversation about the truth gives me pause. In today's world, if our elementary students are so interested in truths, we could be taking advantage of this interest.  We can seize this moment and this opportunity to teach them about truths in information.  Reading literature and moments like this can lead into deeper learning like learning about what is the truth and how do we find out.  In the story they correctly read the older brother's intention, and weren't scared by the details of frozen icy deaths.  Chapter 4 of this book is such a great story, that it could even stand alone with an introduction about the characters as an opening into learning about truths.
It seems kids are fascinated in this topic, so with this group no convincing is needed, just a smart teacher that recognized their interest in the third space and had the time and resources could turn it into an even richer connected learning experience.  Once you have grabbed them on why truths are important to root out, you have an opening to teach.  Not only do our students need guidance in how to efficiently search for the information they seek, they also need to know how to evaluate information.  There are many ways to do this.  But, these students might be interested in and not know about the fact checking websites that are available for this purpose.  Like using Snopes!
But rather than just sending them to Snopes and/or telling them about Snopes,  let them browse and explore the about page.  There they can read and learn about how Snopes began, what is their methodology and more.  These sections are short paragraphs and accessible to most fourth and fifth grade (or middle school) students.  To do this, give students a chance to choose a section on the Snopes about page, read it and share out what they found about Snopes.  This could serve as a mini inquiry into how fact checking works.

Here is a blog post about six fact checking websites. There are different sites that focus on certain information-- political, urban myths, money and influence, and a few on email and other types of scams, (which they might want to share with their grandparents- who are often the targets of such scams.)


If the 80's were a Material world.... in 2017 are we living in a post-truth world?
At the end of this blog, entitled Your Opinion My Truth,  the author posted suggestions for how to talk to each other about topics where the truth may be hard to find and opinions take a larger role.  This list may be helpful to you in your own discussions on on-line and in real life. We all need to think about how to navigate in this information age and post truth world.  Be kind out there.

How to combat post-truth.

  1. Recognize the importance of emotions. We are all human at the end of the day... for now.
  2. Don't be patronizing. Truth and facts don't always win the argument.
  3. Acknowledge people's opinions, even if it's based on false facts. Because it's not just about false information, it's also about their personal experience.
  4. Find common ground. If a personal connection is established, dialogue on two opposing ideas will be more productive. And always end discussions on a positive note.
  5. Support good journalism and informative content. This means next time you find an article that you learnt something from, like it, share it

Seize the moment, seize the day-  Building on our students interests can help reach their third space. Keep doing great things, educators are awesome.
Happy Friday!
Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Oh yeah, we do inquiry!

When I talk to educators, I often get this response,

"Oh yeah! We do inquiry! 

How else could we pass the Common Core tests?"

But what does "doing inquiry" mean to people who answer that way? It's in all the standards. So maybe that's why educators see it that way.
It's in every standard, but how are people doing it?  I've come to realize that inquiry learning can mean a lot of different things to different people. 
But I'm writing today to tell you that inquiry can be something much larger than that.  It can become the way in which you look at learning, as an endeavor in curiosity and discovery.

There is much more power when inquiry is applied as a complete approach to learning. I've argued time and again that not all learning is suited to an inquiry approach, some direct instruction is necessary. But, I would also argue that most CAN.  

Inquiry has the power to transform how teachers teach and how students learn and, in turn, how they view the world.  

When we look beyond the technique and into inquiry as a model for teaching and learning in the information age you realize that deeper learning is worth the effort.

When using inquiry as a model for deeper learning these are some values you hold to be true:

Inquiry is a mindset.  

Teachers need content area expertise, but students today are much better served when they learn that they can find information for the questions they seek, rather than look to the teacher for right or wrong.  Teachers that facilitate learning, reject the transmission model, and recognize that students must construct their own meaning. Constructing our own understandings, makes learning "sticky."  That's the learning that stays with us, for years to come. 

To be a facilitator of learning requires an inquiry mindset.  Rather than telling, it requires encouraging students to go find out (independence and self-direction). Facilitators of learning, in this way are responsible for guiding students to know the most reputable places to look for information and how to evaluate the truthiness of the information. (This is MUCH easier with the help of a school librarian - your in house expert on information.)

Deep learning takes time and work.

Rather than a quick fix or technique alone, inquiry is a process.  It's a way of learning that sparks curiosity and interest over time.  If we are looking for deeper learning, critical thinking, and construction of meaning, our students need time to build understandings and ask questions.  They need time to apply basic ideas to more complex ones, over time.  This doesn't happen in a lesson. Learning builds from one experience into the next, adding on new information and adjusting previous misconceptions along the way.

Students need time to understand and then ask deep questions worthy of research and deeper inspection.  They need time to gather information and create something spectacular to share their findings.

Real questions are the best motivators.

Inquiry learning (through Guided Inquiry Design) starts with concepts and builds knowledge through questioning. Real student questions rarely have content boundaries and sit in neat academic areas. They often reach beyond the academic borders or disciplines and blend ideas and aspects that are more like real life.  Like this real student question from an inquiry unit in a psychology and literature class in high school. 

“What is stress? What physical and emotional impacts are there due to stress and what are ways to cope with it?”
It's authentic, because students ask questions that are their own.  Questions of deeper inquiry like this come from students' personal experiences and are blended in with the content of the inquiry in something called an educational Third Space (BhaBha, Maniotes).  This student is highly motivated to find out the answers to these questions because they are not only helping them understand the content of the course, but are deeply connected to understanding their life.

And as for the Common Core, through using an inquiry approach students not only learn the ELA standards mentioned above, but they apply these skills through their authentic investigation of this topic they've determined as they compose, collaborate, and create to think and share ideas.

Intentional Instructional Design gets better results.

This kind of inquiry doesn't just happen, but requires using a framework to design a unit of study over time that builds knowledge.  Through inquiry based instructional design teachers work together to prioritize learning objectives and larger concepts worthy of study, choose powerful learning experiences, and select timing of these experiences that will enhance the learning.  The Guided Inquiry Design framework was created to help teachers to accomplish a high level of inquiry. Because inquiry learning can feel loose and unwieldy, structures that guide learners can result in higher level student questioning and outcomes.  Trust in a research based process really helps.

We teach students not content.

One thing people are discovering more and more is that we teach students, not content.  When you see yourself as a facilitator of inquiry, then the focus is on students, their interests and the learning process they are going through. As a teacher, you are there to guide this learning, and usher them through.  

The research has shown us that emotions are closely tied to the learning process. Through deeper inquiry learning students will have a sense of discomfort or uncertainty.  Facilitators of inquiry have relationships with the students and know how to coach students and guide them through the challenges to help them persist to accomplish something bigger than they could on their own.

So, are you doing inquiry? If so, to what level are you striving?

I urge everyone to reach higher in their practice, and don't settle for checking the inquiry box off their list.  It's worth investing in deeper inquiry, because, this list here, is only the beginning of what deeper inquiry can do for you and your learners.

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Joy of Learning - Inquiry Based Learning

For my whole career, I have been interested in integrated learning where contents blend and merge in natural, authentic ways.  Teaching this way isn't straightforward or easy.  But, I think it is critical to engage learners in an autonomous environment.  Perhaps recalling how very little I learned in those environments where I was not engaged and just going through the motions (we sure can learn a lot from those non-examples!). 

Now that I think about it, inquiry based learning is something I have been working on for over thirty years- gasp!


I am a learner! I constantly am looking for what's new to connect to, how to be better, and improve my practice and thinking.  I am a work in progress always and forever.  That's how I found the power of a twitter PLN, how I learned about technology tools, and how I continue my personal/professional growth.  By never being complacent, always reflecting, listening to others, and trying new things.

Inquiry learning is natural to me.  It is also natural learning.  It's a methodology that works within a process and with what we know about students and how they learn from multiple sources of information to make meaning of the world.  In some ways inquiry learning seems intuitive. The process, once you learn it can be. Guided Inquiry Design certainly is, because it is based on what we have learned, about patterns of human experience. To me it is kind of the human learning process. Humans in the natural environment learn from our own curiosities which drive us to build knowledge from what we know outward into the unknown. 

So, when educators tell me that they don't know about inquiry based learning, or constructivist learning, I twist my head in wonder.  I wonder how they are connecting content to the students.  I wonder if they are working to get students to learn about information and how to navigate the information environment. I wonder what structures are in place to ensure that all students are engaged.  I wonder if they are having fun teaching and if kids are having fun learning.  By having fun, I mean, are they excited and proud of what and how they are learning? Are they bursting with ah ha moments to share ideas and information with others?  Are they excited about pulling ideas and new information together in new ways to share with others? Or are there just assignments and must do's...

Inquiry learning, at the core, is simply learning from our own questions. But it's so so much more that just that.

Inquiry Learning is a true joy. The joy of discovery and wonderment that should not end at age 3 but extend deep into our lives.  In this way, it IS learning how to learn.

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Authentic Learning Needs No Sparkle

Because we are teaching during a technological age, teachers often think that they need to entertain students to captivate their interests.  They create elaborate fun activities that mimic television game shows and reality events. Maybe it stems from the Pintrest age of crafting and setting up environments that are perfect play places.  Maybe it's from the cute lesson plans you can find on TPT.

I don't know what it is, but authentic learning needs no sparkle, no glitter, no gimmicks.

Natural, authentic curiosity is a magical powerful motivator.  Look at this image to the right.  I found this on a beach and couldn't help but wonder what is this?, why is it shaped this way?... The world around us is fascinating, when we open to it.  And believe it or not, so is our curriculum! Our standards offer great opportunities for inquiry, but you have to look at them with your own curiosity!

Inquiry based learning can complicated, but finds its best practice when the learning is intrinsically motivated. To draw out students interests, there's no need for gimmicks.  Here are three ideas to keep in mind when trying to Keep it Simple!

Three Ways to Keep it Simple

1. Kids are Curious!  All we have to do is be curious ourselves and share something interesting about that topic that we are trying to teach, and see what connections they have to it. Ask them what they think about it, what they wonder, what makes them think what they do... simple!

2. Let them learn through experience and rich resources about some basics on the topic. Get out and see something in your town!  Have an experience together, learn from doing something- make a piece of pottery, build something, go on a nature walk or a neighborhood walk, see a museum exhibit and talk about these experiences. With Open Educational Resources (OER) you can connect your students to the world like never before! Share interesting things with your community of learners like non-fiction videos of people actually doing things, to actual images of the past, to art from around the world.  Virtual field trips can take them to places where they can get some feel for what it's like, even if they've never left town. Simple, but powerful.

3. Maintain an inquiry stance. Keep asking questions.  Wonder together and take note of students wondering.  Write down all the questions along the way to show how much you value their authentic curiosities. Keep it simple.

Keep inquiry based learning simple and ground it in students own curiosities! There's no need for glitter or even bells and whistles, when you have the real thing.

Ain't nothing like the real thing (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, 1967)

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Monday, September 18, 2017

Guide Inquiry? Why?

Why did we choose Guided Inquiry Design? Why not just Inquiry Design?

Well, simply put Kuhlthau's studies showed a need for intervention and guidance when students were using multiple resources to learn.  There was also indication of a great need to shift the traditional assignment design to more clearly match the students experiences- and so the inquiry process of GID was born. But the guiding part is a little more fuzzy. Kuhlthau explains that intervention requires a balance between too much and too little.  The timing of that intervention is pretty important, as well.

Adapted from Vygotsky's ZPD Kuhlthau describes the zone of intervention in inquiry learning. "The zone of intervention is that area in which an information user can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or can do only with difficulty. Intervention within this zone enables individuals to progress in the accomplishment of their task.  Intervention outside this zone is inefficient and unnecessary, experienced by users as intrusive on the one hand and overwhelming on the other." (Kuhlthau, 2004)

As teachers of inquiry we want to be efficient and effective when guiding students through the process.

Rogoff (2003) talks about guided participation. She says, "children learn as they participate in and are guided by the values and practices of their cultural communities." It includes "social partners."  Guided is "meant to include but go beyond interactions that are intended as instructional."  It focuses on the side-by-side arrangement.  It's participating in a community of practice.

Guided Inquiry is meant to occur within an Inquiry Community.  This is the community of practice for inquiry-based learning.

Teachers can guide by

  1. Structuring children's opportunities to observe and participate 
  2. Structuring direct interaction
  3. Recounting, elaborating, and listening to narratives
  4. Practicing and playing within routines and roles (Rogoff 2003)
We GUIDE inquiry by designing opportunities for students to observe and participate in the learning. We GUIDE by designing student-to-student interaction as well as teacher-student interactions into our plans.  We GUIDE by offering opportunities for students to reflect and elaborate on their thinking as well as co-construct with their peers. And, we GUIDE through the phases as children engage in practicing - they Explore ideas, Identify questions, and locate, evaluate, and use information to learn in Gather, in these ways they participate in the community of practice of the Inquiry Community.

Inquiry is guided through the intentional design of the learning sequence. It is guided through our daily actions of listening to our students to provide "advice and assistance" in that zone, that will take them from where they are right now onto the next level.

Guides can constrain, but they also provide the best opportunities for taking the work to a higher level, that which one cannot do alone...

So, Guide on you Inquiry Sherpas! 

Shout out to my friend Heather Hersey for that title  (She's the Original Inquiry Sherpa)
Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Making Learning Relevant in the Inquiry-Based Learning Workshop

When we think about inquiry based learning in the classroom, it looks like a workshop where students are actively engaged in learning through researching their own questions. In Guided Inquiry Design, we have a simple session plan template for planning for the workshop time.  Workshops begin with a short "starter," include a longer worktime, and conclude with reflection (see figure) 
The "Starter" is often a mini-lesson or can be a grounding exercise that links the learning from one day to another.  In each phase of GId, the starter works to accomplish the intention of the learning goals in that phase. (See more on the phases of Guided Inquiry Design in our books or website.)
  For example, the Learning Team starts in the classroom with an Inquiry Journal ‘quick write’ in the Immerse phase.  Students connect to the concepts of Migration with a teacher prompt like; Who migrates?, Why do you think they migrate?, What are some problems with migration?  These prompts offer an opportunity for students to connect to their own understandings of the concept of Migration before delving into particulars of the content. Students in this unit would go on to Immerse using the Colorado History LaGente online exhibit showcasing the complexities of the latino experience in Colorado from historical, cultural, and social perspectives. (See more  If you're lucky enough to live close by, you could enjoy a visit to the “El Movimiento” exhibit in person to experience more on this topic for an even more powerful Immersive experience!
The Starter would look very different in Explore.  Short mini-lessons on relevant topics during the Starter connect students to concepts or skills needed to accomplish the day’s work. Here, the team would begin in the library with a mini-lesson on skimming and scanning strategies that get students in the mindset of browsing the topic for personal interest rather than reading deeply and finding answers. 
As the examples show, the the Learning Team guides the learning by matching the starter to the phase of inquiry in the GID Framework, providing relevance to each day’s work. (More examples in GuidedInquiry Design in Action: Middle School, Maniotes, Harrington, Lambusta, 2016 Or Guided Inquiry Design in Action: High School and GID in Action: ELementary -forthcoming!). When students see relevance in the instruction, they engage deeply during the worktime.  The GID model provides major supports to teachers to increase relevance for deeper learning. 
Happy Learning!
Leslie Maniotes, PhD