The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort: Issue 35

@BookFortNews #BookFort

Big picture

Week 35: Dive into Inquiry

In addition to my work as an English instructor and Educational Consultant, I am also very proud to say that I am a Wonder Lead Ambassador, a Wonderologist really (thanks Carol!) for Wonderopolis, an inquiry-based, student-centered branch of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). What does that mean exactly? It means that I encourage and spread wonder everywhere I go. It means that I research inquiry-based methods for teaching and create lesson plans and resources that teachers can use to implement those methods. It means that I constantly re-think educational approaches. It means that I never stop learning.

In my research, I came across this week's feature, Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice (2016) by Trevor Mackenzie. Written by a teacher for teachers, this book is a thought-provoking, practical, and real story of how shifting traditional instructional methods into an inquiry-based approach can transform learning for even the most challenging students, those who we've busted our butts to help, despite the constant barriers that seem to impede academic progress. In Mackenzie's Introduction to the book, he speaks of something many of my colleagues know well, particularly those who work in Title I schools: " spite of all we were doing to better meet the needs of our students, I felt I was missing something I continued to ask the big questions I think all educators ask: Am I doing enough? Am I doing it right? What can I change? What can I do to support everyone in my room?" After many approaches and years of changes, Mackenzie decided to #diveintoinquiry.

This week I present a few ideas of his that I think you might find both useful and interesting. Get a copy of the book here and follow Mackenzie on Twitter @trev_mackenzie. He has a newer text out for younger students as well called Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners (2018). Also, don't miss the fabulous and talented artist (among many other things!) Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth) who is featured in the fabulous graphics below.

Big picture

Changing the Landscape of Learning

"Adopting an inquiry-based learning approach in my classroom has been the most meaningful change I have made in my teaching" (ch. 1).

If you're ready to take the plunge into inquiry-based learning, Mackenzie recommends setting three big goals for the first few weeks of the process:

  1. Gradually begin to flip control of learning in the room from the teacher to the learner.
  2. Create an atmosphere of trust on which we can rely in the coming months.
  3. Begin to unpack inquiry and build the foundation for our learning for the year.

The biggest takeaway from Chapter 1 is relationships must come first. You know it, I know, Trevor Mackenzie knows it, but this gets lost in the clerical part of the first few days of school, the shuffling of schedules, the administration of pre-tests, the countless interruptions, the meetings. Commit to setting aside dedicated time for getting to know your students, for developing peer-to-peer relationships, for co-designing the learning, and for redefining the role of the teacher. Challenging students to co-design the curriculum (Chapter 2) will also be challenging and uncertain for you if you've never taken this leap. Try giving surveys and a offering the few non-negotiables, such as standards you must cover, but asking various types of questions early on about topics, ways to demonstrate learning, and methods of instruction. Ask students what really good teaching looks like (Chapter 3) and redefine your role as their teacher.

Be open to their responses and adapt your class curriculum to them. If you do this in the first few weeks, inquiry-based learning will begin to take root and flourish more easily.

Big picture

Understanding and Assessing Inquiry

"While giving students a definition of inquiry and elaborating on it is a good start, adding an authentic example of students learning in an inquiry framework allows them to begin to grasp what our time together may (or may not) be like" (Chapter 4).

Mackenzie moves beyond setting the framework and environment for learning into the actual process of learning by first providing multiple, varied perspectives and definitions of inquiry-based learning, including videos and projects from various schools using the method successfully. The students critique the definitions and approaches, identifying and discussing the risks and opportunities in each. As a whole class, they draft a list of the insights, thus setting the stage for student agency and ownership of their learning.

Then, consider the five types of student inquiry, featured in the graphic below, which has been featured on Edutopia and KQED MindShift in the past. "Students should feel connected to their learning, certain about how to plan their inquiry, and comfortable with its responsibility" (Chapter 5). This allows for a gradual introduction to the inquiry process, just as a gradual release of control in the classroom.

Big picture

The Free Inquiry Process

Once you make it to Free Inquiry, the Holy Grail of inquiry-based teaching, Mackenzie recommends a seven step process:

  1. The Four Pillar of Inquiry (shown below)
  2. Create an Essential Question
  3. Create Your Free Inquiry Proposal
  4. Begin to Explore and Research
  5. Collect Learning Evidence
  6. Create Your Authentic Piece
  7. Public Display of Understanding

Very similar to the Genius Hour steps recommended by Andi McNair, this approach scaffolds learning and focuses on formative assessment checks throughout the free inquiry process to add some structure and culminates in a public display of student work, which is always a win. Mackenzie has found that following these steps allows him to truly tailor his attention and instruction to the individual needs of his students and the process has increased the authenticity of student work exponentially. Lord knows we could use more of that!!

Big picture

Website of the Week

Free Rice

Not a new site by any means, I kind of forgot about this one because I am teaching in the K-12 classroom right now. Free Rice is an interactive website that makes reviewing math, English vocabulary, languages, chemistry, and even test prep fun and charitable. The nonprofit organization behind Free Rice, The World Food Programme (WFP), donates pounds and pounds of rice to communities in need around the world. The site is free for all users and students can sign up for accounts to track their progress. I used this for some fun vocabulary work and test prep when I taught 10 - 12th graders. Check it out here and follow them on Twitter for updated news @Freerice.
Big picture

Ed Tech Tool of the Week


Not able to use Google tools with your students? Looking for something outside G Suite to be a repository for digital student work? I know I love not carrying home papers whenever humanly possible. Check out Showbie! The free version of this tool includes unlimited classes, up to 10 active assignments at once, recorded voice notes up to one minute in length (kinda like Flipgrid!), annotation tools, and pre-loaded assignments. Sign up today to check it out here and follow them on Twitter for new ideas @Showbie.
Big picture

What Students Are Reading

Big picture

Wednesday, July 11th, 8am

This is an online event.

This FREE six-session series offers an amazing opportunity to learn from innovative educators who are moving beyond the basics. These teachers are leading the charge to bring creativity, individuality, achievement, and real understanding back to the classroom. You’ll hear their stories, learn their methods, and discover how to inspire positive change in your own students! Hosted by Kim Strobel, Happiness Coach and Education Consultant, featured presenters include Hal Bowman, Matt Miller, Whitney Litherland, Jennifer Mitchell, and Gina Stancombe. The six session topics are:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Homework
  • Assessment & Grading Practices
  • Genius Hour
  • Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms
  • Revolutionizing School Culture

Register today!

Missed Previous Issues?

Big picture

Kristie Hofelich Ennis, NBCT

In an effort to systematically study relevant research and stay connected to the teachers I greatly respect and with whom I have worked for years to successfully implement independent reading, this newsletter came about. It will offer research and practical ideas for quick implementation and may prompt further discussion or study with your colleagues. I hope you'll find it useful and thought-provoking; I also hope you will stay in touch if you implement any of the ideas with your students. They are, after all, why I do what I do!