Wednesday, November 19, 2014


In The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner wrote:

In one form or another, the ability to ask good questions has been a recurrent theme in almost all of my conversations about core competencies and skills for success in today's workplace. The habit of asking good questions was most frequently mentioned as a essential component of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. It turns out that asking good questions, critical thinking, and problem solving go hand in hand in the minds of most employers and business consultants, and taken together they represent the First Survival Skill of the new global "knowledge economy." Equally important, they are skills that our kids need in order to participate effectively in our democracy.
We have not yet delved into the "Identify" part of Guided Inquiry Design formally, but today a number of questions began to emerge from the students in the "Explore" phase. This was consistent with the information I read  in Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari).

Here are some statements from the book:

"Students often become overwhelmed by all the information and confused by the ideas that don't fit together."

"Explore is designed to give students the time to explore their ideas without pressure to make it all fit together and to raise lots of questions without pressure to choose one to center on before they are ready."

One student asked, "Did the passage of the Nineteen Amendment ensure that women could run for president?"

Using a primary source newspaper document in the defense of slavery, one of the students noted that the author didn't make sense. In the article, the author used the argument that slavery was acceptable because, in essence, we were all slaves. "I've heard ridiculous ideas presented before, but they were much better written." Using the same article, a student in another class couldn't believe what he was reading. When I asked, "Who wrote the article?" I got an "Oh, now I get it."

Still others were incredulous that the United States government would provide ammunition for the shooting of buffalo and the almost extinction of the animal in order to extinguish the Native American population. "Why would they do that?"

"Could an African American own a plantation? Could an African American own slaves?"

Peggy Turlington and I also noted that one of the students who usually doesn't do very well on tests had a lot to say in class. She knew the answers to questions that were posed and expressed herself confidently.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Okay, I missed Sycamore Row by John Grisham. I think it's the only one of his books that I haven't read. I needed to use up some of my credits on Audible, so I decided to listen to Gray Mountain, Grisham's latest. As I've noted before, I don't usually get to read or listen to an "adult" book (I've read THREE, count them, THREE! this fall), but I decided to splurge. Plus I had a very L-O-N-G drive to Austin and back by myself.

Unlike most of Grisham's novels, the protagonist in Gray Mountain is attorney, Samantha Kofer. Samantha practices "Big Law" in the largest law firm in the world. When the big financial firms in New York go belly-up, Samantha is "furloughed" and given a list of nonprofits that she may choose to work for pro bono for a year. At that time, her big law firm might or might not hire her back.

Samantha has had every privilege in life. Both of her parents are attorneys. Her high-powered father lost his license when he decided to go around the law, but came out smelling like a rose after his jail time. Samantha's mother works in the Justice Department in Washington, DC. After graduating from a prestigious prep school, Samantha gets her law degree from Georgetown and is hired by the big firm in New York where she is working herself to death to make partner.

With the economic downturn, however, Samantha goes to work for legal-aid in Brady, Virginia. She is soon swept into controversy when she befriends another lawyer, Donovan Gray. Donovan makes his living suing coal companies in Appalachia. He also always carries a gun because these coal companies don't like being sued.

Grisham is pretty heavy-handed when it comes to his treatment of the coal companies. (I happen to agree with him so it didn't bother me a bit.) After Samantha spends a day flying with Donovan in his airplane, she sees first hand what has happened to Appalachia. Then she has clients who are victims of the neglect of the government and the coal companies. She sees the effects in human terms.

While most of the book was pretty predictable, there were a few twists and turns that I really didn't see coming in Gray Mountain. Grisham is never really big on character development, and he didn't do much better in this book. In my opinion, Samantha could have been a man. There wasn't a lot of gender differences in her and Grisham's other protagonists.

Grisham also didn't tie up all of the threads of the plot. I could easily see a sequel here.

You know what you are going to get in a Grisham book. He doesn't disappoint. I guess I'll have to go back and read Sycamore Row, the one I missed.

YALSA's YA Literature Symposium

Last weekend I was in Austin for YALSA's YA Literature Symposium. I was really excited to go for several reasons:

1. It was in Austin. What's NOT to like about Austin?

2. It featured numerous outstanding YA authors. What's NOT to like about YA authors?
My favorite panel discussion: Matt de la Pena, Coe Booth,
Sara Zarr, Sara Ryan, and Jo Knowles.
3. Publishers gave away free books. What's NOT to like about free books?

Preconference featuring Susan Campbell Bartoletti and
Steve Sheinkin.
All of the sessions I attended were well-prepared. I truly enjoyed listening to the authors talk. That was my favorite part of the conference. What I found disappointing, however, was that there was no new information. If I attend a conference and bring back two or three new things to discuss, I feel that it was a successful conference. If I measure this conference by that, I guess I would have to say this was not a great conference.

I guess I realized this on Saturday evening. I was having dinner with a couple of my library friends. They quizzed me about my sessions, and I thought, "No, I really haven't learned anything new." Then I realized, "Good grief! I learned all of this in library school twenty years ago!"

Unfortunately, the weather in Austin was pretty yucky as well. It was cold, damp, and drizzly. I really was sorry that there were so many people who had never been to Texas before. They really didn't get a feel for Austin which is definitely my favorite city in Texas.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy "talking" about books for several days. I enjoyed getting nine free books. But for my money, I'll stick to the Texas Book Festival.

You can read my tweets @woody_donna.

Guided Inquiry: Explore

We've finished "Immerse" phase of Guided Inquiry Design in the seventh grade history classes. Friday a couple of the groups started the "Explore" phase. According to Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School by Carol C. Kulhthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari, (reference earlier), "students browse through various sources of infomation to explore interesting ideas and prepare to develop their inquiry questions."

In order to prepare for this part of the design, for each primary source image used in the "Immerse" phase, the students were given a video clip (most from Discovery Streaming), one or two primary source documents, and a general overview article. While the purpose of the "Explore" phase is for the students to scan a lot of sources and "dip into" the topics, we know that our kids won't do much without some type of accountability. (Even with accountability there are still those who don't do much.) Therefore, my colleagues developed a companion sheet for each group where kids could write down new ideas they discovered, write down what they already knew, and write any questions the videos and documents caused them to wonder about.
Seventh graders using iPads and QR codes in the
"Explore" phase of Guided Inquiry.

Some of the students are really into this process, but others really aren't. Those students who are very self-directed do very well. ADD or ADHD kids tend to drift off, and I noticed that there's little real learning going on here. I wonder if there's real learning going on with those students in any other activities, however.

In order to access the videos and documents, I created QR codes which the students access via i-nigma on iPads. Most of the time, this went off without a hitch. However, we have had some issues. One of the Discovery Streaming QR codes works about half the time. The other half, it accesses a completely different video. I double checked the link, and it works. I scanned it with my iPad, and it works. I scanned it with three iPads, and it worked for them. Then the students scanned, and it didn't work. What???? Also, some of the documents had to be "refreshed" in order for the students to access them. Last, one of the QR codes was duplicated; I made that mistake, but it was easily fixable. I created the posters on "Smore" and had them printed on cardstock which I then laminated.

QR codes students use to access
information on iPads in the "Explore" phase.


1. For the most part, this worked well. Most of the students have been interested in the information and have followed directions to the letter. Many are coming up with some good questions.

2. I may make multiple copies of the QR sheet. Some kids like to "hog" them.

3. Monitoring the students is crucial. This is not the time to sit in the corner and grade papers.

4. Having the video "Preloaded" onto the iPads could deter the glitch. I added a shortcut to the iPad for the problematic QR code. This worked much better.

5. Have a backup plan just in case the network goes down. In one class, we had no Internet. Fortunately, several of the kids let others borrow their "hot spots," and we could continue.

6. Working in the library is not conducive to 21st Century Learning. There's no good way for the kids to work in Inquiry Groups in the lab. It's imperative that students have a way to "group" themselves for discussion. Also, I had to get out iPads, headphones, and images several times a day. We need a place to work where we can just lock the door when we are finished. We could not just leave twenty iPads out in the library without supervision.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Texas Lone Star Reading List 2015-2016

For the last few days Twitter has been "atwitter" with authors exclaiming how excited they are to be selected for the Texas Lone Star Reading List. This was frustrating for me because the list wasn't posted, and I want to get my book order ready with the new titles.

Anyway, yesterday I got online, and the list was posted. Here's what I'll be reading in the new weeks and months:

Alexander, KwameThe Crossover
Chen, JustinaA Blind Spot for Boys
Fantaskey, BethBuzz Kill
Garcia, KamiUnbreakable
Gebhart, RyanThere Will Be Bears
Harrington, K. A.Forget Me
Hoover, P. J.Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life
Hopkinson, DeborahThe Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy called Eel
Jobin, MatthewThe Nethergrim
Johnson, VarianThe Great Greene Heist
London, AlexProxy
Lough, AmberThe Fire Wish
Lunetta, DemitriaIn the After
Oppel, KennethThe Boundless
Pearson, Mary E.The Kiss of Deception
Poblocki, DanThe Haunting of Gabriel Ashe
Sanderson, BrandonSteelheart
Sheinkin, SteveThe Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights
Van Wagenen, MayaPopular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek
White, J. A.The Thickety

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I've joined a book club! A number of current and former Greenhill employees invited me to join their book club, and I'm most excited. I haven't been a part of a book club in over twenty years. The first book we plan to discuss on November 30 is The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. This is the book that I purchased at Book People when I was in Austin for the Texas Book Festival several weeks ago.

I'm not going to discuss here because I want to write about it after our book discussion after Thanksgiving, but I did finish the book over the weekend and wanted to note it here and on Riffle where I log in my reading.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Immerse" phase of Guided Inquiry

Parts of images used for the Visual Thinking Strategies in the "Immerse"
Phase of Guided Inquiry Design.

At the conclusion of class yesterday, Paige and Peggy showed their students maps of North American which chronicled how the United States changed during the nineteenth century. Many of the seventh grade students were very interested in the ways the country grew, and really wanted to understand how territories worked, the process of statehood, and what happened to the "top" of Maine.

Today, we ventured more into the "Immerse" phase of Guided Inquiry. What's novel here is that the kids are learning but don't really have topics or ideas in hand before they get started. They are in the process of building background knowledge prior to picking topics, creating an inquiry question, or taking notes on sources. This is very new to us and also new to the students. One student even expressed concern today because he wasn't sure what all of this was about. However, once the kids got into the rhythm of the activity, they seemed to enjoy it.

Seventh grade students examining the photo of the Native
In our "Immerse" activity, we utilized a gallery tour. There are six archival photographs/images from the 1800s. Using Visual Thinking Strategies, the students  looked at the photos to discover meaning. It's interesting to see some of them apply prior knowledge. One of the students noted when looking at the image representing the Seneca Falls Convention, that this "must be about women's rights." Another incorrectly stated that "Suffrage" meant women's rights. However, they were trying to create meaning from the image. Several noted the Greek/Roman illusions to power. (Thank you, Joan Romanosky, Latin teacher extraordinare!)

I was impressed with one of the students that made some interesting and insightful comments when viewing the Chinese Immigrant. In speaking with me, he noted that he felt like the man may or may not be an "immigrant." He also stated that he felt that some may have felt that the man "didn't belong here" and that some people may have wanted to "send him back to China." I don't know if he picked up on our current immigration concerns, or if he truly felt this way. (It will be interesting when he reads about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.)

The picture of the plantation owner generated a number of questions and interesting observations.
Viewing the image of the plantation owner.
The students readily picked up that the plantation owner and his children were wealthy to their size and the type of clothing they wore. They were a bit perplexed about the inclusion of the African American woman. Several noted that the three family members were touching in the photo, but they did not touch the African American woman. However, several of the kids noted that the woman seemed to be better dressed than the other slave photos they'd seen and she was wearing rings which most slaves would not have had.

Overall, I thought this was a good immerse activity. Peggy noted that the kids had really learned a great deal just looking critically at the pictures. We could see the kids getting better at analyzing the pictures the longer they got into the activity.


1. Several students were a bit unnerved because they said they didn't know what was expected of them at this point in the project.  I explained that this would be explained after Thanksgiving "in due time." Being so "assignment programmed," one of the students tried to guess what we were going to expect the students to do for an assignment.

2. Many of the students don't know what "immerse" or "bias" mean. Explanation of those terms would prove helpful in the activity.

3. Using the Visual Thinking Strategies prior to this activity would have been helpful. When I sat down with a group and asked them a number of questions about the photos, they began to see what was entailed. While many of the students innately understood how to look at a photo critically, others were very superficial. For example, some kids looked at the photo of the slaves in the cotton field and simply said, "There are some African American slaves." Others noted that there were a number of people in the picture, many of them  small children. They also noted what they wore, the expressions on their faces, and what they were doing in the field, etc.

4. I would recommend NOT identifying the photos as "African Americans," "Chinese Immigrant," "Delegate to the Seneca Falls Convention." One of the students noted that she would not have known that the photo was of a Chinese immigrant had she not been told. Instead, I think it would be better to identify the stations by number or letter and have the kids hypothesize who the image was portraying.

5. It is still difficult to take the "Inquiry Stance." When kids have questions, we as educators want to answer those questions, but I think it would be better to have the kids come up with their own ideas.

6. An Inquiry Circle at the conclusion of the activity (with kids in different groups), would have been a great way to debrief.

7. Peggy mentioned that we could have added an Irish American and a Cowboy to the mix. We may decide to do that next year.