Thursday, December 4, 2014

Guided Inquiry: Gather

We've started the "Gather" phase of Guided Inquiry in our seventh grade "We the People" project. This has been a bit challenging for the students due to the fact that they had no formal library research projects in the sixth grade. Because of that, they do not have any experience making notecards in NoodleTools and have lost what little knowledge that they have of creating citations and just the general note-taking process. We are also short on time because we want to get the project completed before the Winter Break. Additionally, we start their time with Inquiry Circles. Some of them are having difficulty with creating a "Fat" Question which will be their Inquiry Question or Research Question. I feel for them.

In order to help them with the process, I check the students' citations each day. Many of the kids catch on quickly to the process. They see a logic in it, and don't have many problems. To others, citations are simply Greek. There are just too many component parts for them to keep up with.

I also taught a bit about plagiarism and primary sources. Therefore, the "information literacy" part of this unit is rather minimal, but hopefully the thinking part will help them a great deal. (I even identified what type of source each of the provided resources were.) This is training wheels for sure.

Today in inquiry circles, the Lowell Mill Worker group created their own strategy for getting their research done. They went through their questions, decided which were simple answers and could be found easily, and then discussed questions/ideas that would require more work. I was impressed that they organized themselves in a systematic way. When I asked if they thought the Mill Worker felt like "All Men are Created Equal," one of the members of the group piped up quickly, "Yes! Because of their jobs in the mills, the girls had the ability to earn money, live on their own, make friends, and leave the farm." When I asked if there he had notecards to support his ideas, it was "Oh, yes!" We've taught them that they can take either side as long as they can support their arguments.  At least there is some progress being made somewhere!

I was hoping that I'd see some of the "Third Space" emerge at this point. This is where the students' interests and the curriculum overlap. While there are some that are excited about their topics, ("I MUST have the Delegate to the Seneca Falls Convention.") others still seem to look at this as just another assignment.

Then there's the problem of notecards not saving in NoodleTools...alas!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Yesterday the book discussion group that I joined discussed The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I wrote about this in an earlier blog post. The Miniaturist is an adult book with adult themes which is very different from my usual reading materials. While historical fiction, there are elements of magical realism? in the book. We had a very lively discussion!

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, the story's protagonist is eighteen year old Petronella who has just married wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. Having lived in the country, she arrives at the Brandt home and is greeted by Johannes' domineering sister, Marin. The house is staffed by Otto, a black servant, and Cornelia a maid. As a wedding present, Johannes gives Petronella a dollhouse. (The story is based on an actual dollhouse located in the Rijksmuseum.) This very expensive dollhouse was designed to teach girls how to manage a home. Petronella commissions a miniaturist to complete items for the dollhouse. What she doesn't realize, however, is that the Miniaturist seems to know more about Petronella's situation than Petronella does.Not only does the Miniaturist create the items commissioned, other items appear as well. Mysteriously, these items are exact copies of items in the home and seem to predict future events.

We never really know much about the Miniaturist. All we know is that she is female, is not part of the guilds, and has learned how to make such intricate items from her father, a clockmaker.

The Church and the strict rules that everyone must live by become an overwhelming theme in the book as well. Is the Miniaturist a witch? If so, will she ever be exposed? Or is her ability to predict the future magical realism? Will Johannes die because of his sexual orientation? Are Marin's wardrobe choices and secret addition to sweets in direct opposition to the teachings of the Church or does she not wish to appear weak?

I'm anxious to see if a sequel to the book emerges. There were many questions that had us wondering. Unfortunately, by the time a sequel is published, I'll probably forget everything about the book and need to reread it again!

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.