Earlier this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a multi-day institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Teaching for Engagement, Inquiry, and Understanding: Reaching Beyond the Standards . Led and facilitated by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels (whose work I’ve used and referenced frequently on this blog over the last two years), Nancy Steineke, Christopher Lehman, Kristin Ziemke, and Sara Ahmed, this workshop provided participants the opportunity to explore strategies for creating a culture of curiosity and inquiry-driven learning. The workshop, which took place against the gorgeous backdrop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was organized with multiple learning structures. In a nutshell, here is what we were promised in the workshop flyer:
This institute is a mix of keynote sessions, breakout workshops, and “homerooms.” Our watchword is curiosity, and we’ll work to turn our own curricula into questions that kids cannot resist answering. You’ll spend part of each day in groups that match your area of expertise: high school, middle, intermediate, primary, or leadership. You’ll also join a team of colleagues in a tech-enabled, multidisciplinary inquiry project, drawing on the extraordinary sights, sounds, people, and history of the Santa Fe area itself. As curious adults, we will experience everything we want our students to do, firsthand; then, we will make the practical adaptations to our back-home realities.
The workshop indeed delivered exactly what was promised and more. After a social gathering and mixer Friday afternoon/evening, here is a breakdown of the schedule we followed:
Saturday, 1/16 (Day 1)
The day began with a delicious breakfast and an opportunity to meet other educators participating in the workshop as well as our presenters/facilitators/co-learners. It’s hard to say how many people were there, but I would guess 125-150? We had educators from all over the United States; some came solo like me, and others came in teams from individual schools or districts. Participants included classroom teachers K-12, literacy coaches, and administrators. We then jumped in with a marvelous keynote from Smokey Daniels, “Curiosity, Inquiry, and Santa Fe.” This opening session provided us a framework of how we would go about our learning experiences and put curiosity and inquiry at the heart of our work. We also explored the role of curiosity in learning and how that drives an inquiry culture in classrooms and schools. We also discussed the obstacles or forces that crush curiosity in our schools (yes, TESTING).
We then took a short break and had grade level or “Job Alike” meetings for close to two hours. We then were provided lunch and an additional hour to walk about Santa Fe to begin noticing what we saw and thinking about questions. Fortunately, I arrived late Thursday afternoon, so I had already been exploring the downtown area and had some working ideas of questions and wonderings. We resumed our grade level or “Job Alike” meetings at 2:00 and met another hour and half.
I was part of the high school group with Nancy; in these sessions, we focused on ways to support more effective group-work. The morning “job alike” session kicked off with a focus on the question, “How do we get group members to work together vs. individuals working together at tables?” Nancy referenced a study that showed students spend close to 60% of their time sitting in cooperative groups, yet 80% of their time is engaged in individual tasks. We explored structured icebreaker activities for building trust in groups as well as identity webs. Other topics/activities/strategies:
- Defining social skills with T-charts
- Informational Text/Article Tasting (we quickly sampled a variety of articles and ranked our area of interest on a scale of 1-5)
- Text annotation strategies
- Modeling strategies for working with informational text (as in Think Alouds) for students
The article tasting activity was our springboard to brainstorming topics we were interested in during our afternoon session. As we sat at round tables in small groups, we brainstormed additional topics or subtopics of some of the bigger areas for inquiry (Georgia O’Keefe, Los Alamos, Trickster tales, myths of Santa Fe culture, Japanese interment camps, and the Pueblo Revolt). Nancy served as the scribe as she jotted down the new suggestions we had developed in our small groups. We then did roughly two rounds of voting to eliminate topics and to see which ones had generated the most interest. Once we had narrowed this list to four or five topics, we formed interest groups in different corners of the room. Within these groups, we then further hashed out and refined our points of interest within our groups that would be our starting point for our group inquiry work on Day 2. I have to say this method of forming “birds of feather” interest groups was both fun and super effective; I would love to try this with a class that is doing group projects.
The afternoon ended with a menu of choice sessions that were held from 3:45 until 5:00 PM that afternoon. These choice sessions included:
- Kristin Ziemke: Amplify Literacies for a Digital Culture
- Sara Ahmed: Building Compassion in Your Classroom from the Inside Out
- George Wood: “Leaders, Deserters, and the Change Process”
- Smokey Daniels: Supporting Comprehension and Inquiry with Images
- Nancy Steineke: Content Area Writing: Using Short Mentor “Texts” for Inspiration and Revision
- Christopher Lehman: When Nonfiction Reading Attacks or How to Help Your Students Survive Notetaking.
It was really hard to choose a session; I think in designing this institute for the future, it might be better to shorten the job alike sessions (maybe by 30 minutes each?) and build in time for a second choice session. I attended Christopher Lehman’s session on notetaking since that seems to be a challenge at all grade levels. Some takeaways and ideas:
- Notetaking can’t be a thing with a capital N. Keep the focus on the process and don’t get fixated on locking kids into a certain way of taking notes.
- What are notes? Examples: Not just information or recording facts, but what you thinking, dreaming, wondering (example: DaVinci’s notebook);Brainstorming and reflection (Newton); Sketch Notes; not just facts but a person’s ideas
- Give them a choice in strategies for taking notes; Lehman prefers that students not use graphic organizers.
- We spent a good bit of time on the “Read, Cover and Sketch, and Reread” method (click here for slides from a similar presentation on this topic he did last year)
Other strategies/methods: bullet points: main facts with sub points below; T-Charts: helps to compare; Post-It notes—multiple/move them around to group; write paragraphs—summary, background knowledge, cause and effect;webbing/mapping;Venn Diagram; highlighting; index cards.
In the discussion that happened in this session, I discovered/observed some points of interest that bubbled up toward the end of the session:
- Some of the teachers in the session don’t have a school librarian to help them with research or inquiry projects.
- Some teachers don’t consult their school librarian when doing a research project. I personally find managing all the pieces of research and inquiry very intense, so it’s hard for me to understand why someone would go it alone though there might be valid reasons such as scheduling issues (fixed schedules can be problematic in elementary and middle schools), lack of resources, or perhaps having a librarian who is not strong in teaching research skills (yes, it happens, sadly).
- Many teachers don’t know that there are tools their librarians and schools can purchase for them to make citation easier, like EasyBib. This observation worries me because students may be forced to do citations in a laborious and/or erroneous manner that is not preparing kids for the kinds of research tasks (and tools) they may encounter in high school or college settings.
I have not had a chance to read Lehman’s book on teaching research though I do agree with some of his talking points from his book outlined in this post on his blog. This session left me thinking about how people perceive and define research vs. reporting vs. inquiry–how are they different, what are some commonalities, and how do as a school develop a common vocabulary when we talk about these concepts. I think a choice session on these points in future institutes would be beneficial and perhaps looking at some of the inquiry models from the world of information literacy (Stripling, Kuhlthau) to contextualize those discussions would be useful for participants.
I would also like more discussion on the discursive nature of research and inquiry (too many teachers and librarians think it is linear and a single “process”) and going deep and slowly instead of making research and inquiry a “drive-by” exercise where things happen way too fast and processes are skipped. This approach is not only difficult for students, but it is also difficult for school librarians when we are asked to teach five or six major concepts/skills/processes in 20-50 minutes! These are not new issues by any means, but in talking with fellow school librarians, it seems more of us getting requests to teach “the research” process in a single class period, which is completely irrational and impossible. Maybe these topics on my wish list come under a bigger topic umbrella of “Challenges of Designing and Implementing Sustainable Inquiry Driven Projects”?
You can see all the Tweets and social media curated by Heinemann PD from Day 1 here on Storify.
Sunday, 1/17 (Day 2)
This was a super intense day! Breakfast began at 7:30 and at 8:30, Nancy led us through her keynote that gave us strategies for “Going Live with Inquiry” or ways students can report out their findings. We looked at different methods of “live” or performance sharing to “liven up” standards for speaking and listening, reading literature, reading informational text, and writing. Some of the strategies we learned about and actually got to test out/practice/model/sample in this session:
- Skit with Narration (lots of room to interpret on this one)
- Song Parodies
- Talk Show
For our group inquiry project that we were going to finish refining, planning, executing, and sharing, the end point was developing a 2 minute presentation (low-tech using these methods or some combo) for the performance dinner later that evening! We had tremendous fun in this session, and I feel I left with some really powerful ideas to share with teachers and kids. This was one of my favorite sessions of the entire weekend. They presentation methods sound simple but as we saw later that night, these can pack a powerful punch when it comes to demonstrating what you’ve learned through inquiry. I also loved the low-tech nature of these different performance modes. Here is a sample of us practicing a song parody:
Nancy stressed that performance projects always start as formative assessments; here are key things to remember (I have lifted this from our conference workbook we received):
- They’re never going to be perfect the first time around.
- If possible, video to examine performances carefully (I agree–sometimes you get so caught up emotionally in the performance that you might miss something as an observer).
- Always have learners self-evaluate/reflect.
- Teach specific performance skills (this is where her book is helpful–see below).
- Value the process.
- Ultimately, value the depth of understanding presented—we are assessing the learning that happened, not the actual quality of the performance itself.
You can learn more about these strategies and ideas in Nancy’s book, Assessment Live!
This session was followed by an hour and 15 minute session by Christopher Lehmann on “Grounding Inquiry in Hearts, Not Just Heads.” I will say that perhaps for future institutes, substituting a slot for an additional choice session rather than a 2nd keynote might be a tweak to consider to the schedule, and I would have liked an opportunity to learn from one of the speakers in a smaller setting like the choice session. Even though we were somewhat active in both presentations, it was a lot of ideas to process.
We then went into our “job alike” groups again and spent most of this time working on our inquiry plan. We also learned a few more techniques and strategies for growing groups, like compliment cards (group members write something constructive and specific about each team member and a contribution they made to the process/project) before going deep with our drafting our inquiry plan on large/oversize Post-It notes.
My group decided to investigate turquoise jewelry as we wondered who was being helped or hurt if we made a purchase of turquoise; we wondered about the different kinds of turquoise available and how did you distinguish between these different types; we also wondered about the differences of buying turquoise jewelry from high end stores vs. the Native American artisans at the Palace of the Governors vs. vintage shops. If I had an additional suggestion for the Sunday schedule, it might be to shorten the Sunday “job alike” session to give groups more time to develop their inquiry plan in the job alike groups without feeling rushed. We then had a short break for lunch before our groups converged again at 1:30 to hit the town and begin our investigation.
One of our group members did a little leg work during the lunch break by interviewing one of the concierge staff at our host hotel, LaFonda, and this person was a wealth of knowledge that helped confirm our framework for research was on target. We started together by visiting a vintage turquoise shop called Rainbow Man’s. There we were lucky to meet Randy, an employee who was like a walking encyclopedia about all things turquoise and Santa Fe. We really enjoyed learning about the different kinds of turquoise, particularly vintage grade, and the dynamics of the different turquoise markets in Santa Fe.
We then split up with part of our team going to some high end stores; some of us went to the Palace of the Governors to talk to the vendors there. At all times we were upfront with everyone we met and interviewed about the purpose of our project; we were very grateful for people being so generous in sharing their time, expertise, experiences, and knowledge in such a thoughtful, honest way. After we did some our small group interviewing, we re-convened and did a quick tour of the museum of the Palace of the Governors.
We then came back together at the hotel to have some snacks and to begin planning our performance project. We did a lot of discussion for about 45 minutes around what we had learned through our information gathering (interviews and some reading) and the wide range of questions that this research had spawned as well as answered. We decided to do a skit with a narrator, me as the shopper, and our other three teammates portraying a high end jewelry seller, a seller at the Palace of the Governors, and Randy from the vintage turquoise shop. We decided our skit would end with a question for our audience, “What are YOU shopping for?” We worked collaboratively and individually for about another hour or so writing, revising, and refining our pieces of the script both individually and together; it was like being part of a writing group. This was a really great experience to be the learner and to go through these processes. I loved how we had a lot of discussion and fine tuning of the project performance; no way would the experience have been the same if everyone had done this as an individual inquiry project.
Around 6:30, a delicious feast was served as we all reconvened in the upstairs ballroom for dinner and the performances from each group. We were all nervous, but in the end, I think this was a favorite part of the entire experience for many of us. For me, this is where it all came together and crystallized. I got SO much from watching the other group performances as well as the experience of performing with my group. I loved how supportive everyone was of each other and was incredibly impressed by the creativity and different range of performances groups crafted to share their insights and what they had learned about their topics. Each was fantastic in its own way; we did a lot of laughing as well as some crying. My favorites were a parody of “Chopped”; a group performance that involved individual reading (representing a different voice from a walk of life in Santa Fe) that culminated in a very moving choral reading that had many of us in tears.
My ultimate favorite was the final performance, which I tried to capture with some Vine videos. I referenced it as “Intersection of Santa Fe” at the time of the presentation. However, it is actually “The Heart and Sounds of Santa Fe” (thank you team member and narrator Charlie Folsom!) They had a single group member in the middle of the ballroom holding a sign that had a heart and the words “Santa Fe”; four other group members spread out to the four corners of the big ballroom, each holding a LONG colored piece of ribbon that corresponded to a colored sticky notes at the tables, creating “zones”.
These ribbons went back to the group member in the middle. A narrator instructed us to look at the color of the sticky note at the table and when he put it on the document camera, to do as he instructed (we did a little practice for each one, so for example—if you had an orange sticky note, you were to hum). The narrator then began reading recitations representing an aspect of life, an event, or group in Santa Fe. He would then put the colored sticky note on the document camera, and as that part of the room did their part of the performance (humming, stamping feet, etc.), the four members in the corners would move around and the ribbons would wind about more concentrically around the person in the middle, “The Heart of Santa Fe.” See the Vine videos below (note: look in the lower right hand corner of each video to unmute it and hear the audio):
It’s hard to find words to express how this shared experience felt, but it was incredibly moving and powerful; it almost felt cathartic in a way. I was both energized and exhausted when we ended around 9:30 that night! There was a fun dance party in the ballroom afterwards, but I sadly bypassed the celebration because I was so very sleepy.
You can see all the Tweets and social media curated by Heinemann PD from Day 2 here on Storify.
Monday, 1/18/16 (Day 3)
We met the next morning for breakfast with a modified agenda since many participants were flying out that morning (it’s not easy to get in and out of Santa Fe!). I frankly was still feeling exhausted (and still grappling with the effects of the altitude there), so I decided to decompress a little bit and take a final walkabout around the plaza (you simply cannot get enough of Santa Fe). After getting some fresh air and visiting one last time with some of the vendors (they were super friendly and interesting to talk to!) at the Palace of Governors , I returned for the final keynote by Sara Ahmed and Kristin Ziemke—they did a fabulous job wrapping our workshop with their poignant and heartfelt talk on “Student Voice: Live and Digital.” I thoroughly enjoyed what both of them shared, and in the future, I’d love to attend an individual session with each of them (again, more choice sessions, please!).
We then concluded with all of our teachers taking a seat up front panel style and people spoke freely with their reflections on the weekend. It was very moving, and many of us shed a few tears as people shared successes, struggles, and insights, plus it is hard to say goodbye to people you’ve shared an amazing time with! Here were some of my closing thoughts/observations I Tweeted if you are interested in seeing them. You can also see Heinemann PDs Storify from Day 3 here.
I cannot say enough about this amazing learning experience! I had such authentic learning experiences and left with many new questions, insights, and strategies. I wish more professional development learning experiences were structured this way. Being part of this institute made me yearn to have this kind of learning community with me locally in my own workplace, something I know many of us desire and have desired for a very long time. The experiences there also reinforced for me the kinds of work I do and do not want to do as a school librarian and educator. As you saw earlier in my post, I had a few minor suggestions for the schedule, but overall, I wholeheartedly recommend this workshop. I think the fact it was in Santa Fe made it even more special, and I don’t know that the experience would have been the same for me had it been elsewhere. I love and appreciate that issues of equity and social justice and how that intersects with an inquiry approach to learning were always at the forefront of conversations in Santa Fe.
I am thankful to our workshop leaders and my fellow participants as well as the people of Santa Fe for such a memorable, unique and special time that I will forever cherish. It’s not forever you go somewhere or to a professional development workshop and leave feeling changed in some significant way. I hope to honor all of this by bringing back what I’ve learned and integrating into my daily work wherever my path may take me. I hope I will have the opportunity to participate again in this workshop in the future. Thank you to my school administration and district for supporting me and making it possible for me to attend this fantastic multi-day institute.