Wednesday, February 11, 2015

From Strong Roots and Connections to Others We Grow

Digging into the roots 
I've been down and out the last two weeks with an injured knee and now a virus, but a little beam of light came to me through an email.  A library student at central North Carolina University emailed me because she was doing a biography on me for a class.  What a delight and surprise.

The assignment was an interesting one and came out of her library class reading our first book, Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (2007). The names are all researchers that we included in the text.

ASSIGNMENT # 3 – Guided Inquiry Theorists and Researchers
Choose one of these personalities and provide the background and principles that these individuals used to impact 21st century schools.  
Your textbook will provide preliminary information but additional resources should be used to discuss their contributions to Guided Inquiry.  
Personalities:  John Dewey, Keith Curry Lance, Jerome Bruner, Louise Limberg, Vygotsky, Piaget, J. Donham, K. Bishop, Carol Kuhlthau, Diane Oberg, D. Elkind, Violet Harada, J. Yoshina,  L. Maniotes
No more than two students may report on the same personality.  Sign up on a first-come, first-serve basis HERE on Discussion Board.  Presentation should be submitted to the thread where you listed the person you selected.   Submit a PowerPoint presentation with 10 – 15 slides on your chosen personality ...

So she emailed me directly when she found little biographical information on me on the internet.  She thought she was imposing on me with her questions, but I was happy to respond. However, it wasn't until she asked me some real specifics that I got digging a little deeper myself into my own history to my roots.  She asked,
In working on my project about Guided Inquiry and your role in it, I find I have a questions that I have not been able to answer. If you have a moment I would love to pick your brain.

  1. What event or influence from your early career pushed you in the direction of guided inquiry learning?
  2. Were there any students, fellow teachers or administrators who pushed you in the GI direction?
  3. Did you face any resistance?

These questions gave me pause.  And I began to reach back farther than my Third Space research into my own teaching and learning about how to teach.  I enjoyed the journey, and so I thought it might be worth sharing here. Here was my answer to her questions.

Well, I went to Guilford College as an undergraduate student of education.  Our program there really highlighted the teaching of the whole child.  We were taught to teach through an inquiry lens in a way having students ask questions about objects, as they investigate.  As I went into a classroom of my own, I found these short inquiries engaging to students, but it wasn’t quite enough.  I knew with more attention and time inquiry like that could get students to deeper learning.

I grew up with some understanding of my mother’s theory as she was doing her doctoral research while I was in and completing high school.  So I began to wonder about how elementary students could take on more of that kind of research and how it might look if it started with inquiry like the ones I had in my classroom.  I always felt that teachers had an opportunity to take students to deeper learning than was often happening and I felt there was a system or structure that was needed to help teachers to engage in that way.  So I began early connecting research and inquiry learning together and thinking about how these two pieces could be implemented at all ages.

When I was at Guilford College (1988 -89) my professor took our class on an observation visit to Duke School for Children.  It was the university school that has since closed down. But that experience was one that shaped me.  It seemed to be the very vision of what we were talking about in classes. Holistic environment where students were learning, collaborating on things very interesting to them, in fun and playful ways.  It was theme based, but beyond that there was high engagement.  The students used a store to practice math concepts, there were projects everywhere and lots of things happening.  The school was a buzz with learning like no other school I had seen before.  

Unfortunately, that school was not the norm, as I came to find out.  So the resistance is quite literally everywhere. That was why we felt it so important to write the books.  We wanted people to have a clear vision for a different way of learning in schools.  We wanted them to see why this is important to all students right now.  That was what we wrote in the first book, Guided Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century.  We wanted not only librarians but all educators to know about the ISP and the power of a practice that is aligned with what research says about how students learn, not how we teach.  So this is a student driven learning process.  But the exciting thing for me was to pair it with the term Guided.  Through my first years of teaching I realized that I didn’t know exactly how to teach students to read.  So I began my quest into understanding that, which led me to New Zealand where the literacy rate was 99% and digging deeper into Guided Reading and Reading Recovery.  Marie Clay was a researcher that like my mother, looked at how students engaged in a process (reading) and used that evidence to develop a program that matched how students learn to read.  First understand the students, then determine how we teach them!

So from my learning about reading instruction, I decided that my mom’s process was really important work to share, that it could help people to GUIDE students through research and much of the learning in schools could take on this form.  But things would have to shift for that to happen.  

So many things needed shifting- Here are just a few...
  • Recognizing that research based practice is more important than a text book program.
  • Seeing libraries as a central part of the learning in schools was one big shift.  And that is a shift in teachers, administrators as well as the librarians themselves. 
  • Shifting to flexible schedules where the total school program incorporated libraries and research in more central ways.  
These shifts are challenges, but with the new technology it is so much more possible now. Librarians can cull resources on the web for specific inquiries and curate their own resources for teachers using bookmarking and other tools.  There is just a tremendous potential for this approach now, more than ever before, and so I see the obstacles becoming smaller and smaller.

But the mental shift it requires is not small.  And, it is probably our biggest hurdle.  

Do people believe that school can and should be more?  What is our vision for schools and our students?  What our our essential questions that drive the learning in schools?  Why are we doing what we are doing, and how can it be better?

Those are the things we need to ask ourselves today to recognize where we are in history, in the time of information, and shift our approaches to meet the needs of the next generation.  

I am ever hopeful that Guided Inquiry and GIDesign are tools, the structure and way to design learning experiences that are aligned to how students learn through the ISP and support a collaborative culture in schools that libraries have been seeking for years. I hope  that people see through GID these are possible, reachable and that they provide a road map for giving students a deeper learning experience in school.  For they all deserve it.

After sending it and she was pleased with my response, I realize how wonderful it is that we can reach out to others and connect today to learn, and grow from one another.  I had a chance to reflect on my roots with this practice and she got some information and inspiration for implementing Guided Inquiry in her school.  Isn't that lovely?


  1. I knew some of the history of GID from your mom's perspective, but not as much from your perspective. It was very interesting to me to see how the idea of guiding came from your background in teaching reading.

  2. Thanks Patty. Yes, our books are truly a three part equal collaboration. We each bring a unique perspective that (I believe) improves upon the others. My sister's work in the museums is equally as impactful, and all of our experiences in sum add up.

    What's fun is the potential bridging this work can do. I believe that libraries are a critical part to the learning of schools, but there HAVE to be bridges to the curriculum and to teachers. We have to break out of the silos. Teachers must use the expertise they have in the librarian to teach info lit skills and librarians must rely on teachers to provide the rich context for that learning. Collaborations that are mutually informing and asset based change change the face of what we do and how it's done. :)