In August 2017, Questar III hosted teacher-librarian teams for a three-day institute to design and implement inquiry-based lessons using primary sources from the Library of Congress.  At the institute, teacher-librarian teams engaged in an extensive exploration of the primary sources available on the Library of Congress website and learned and practiced strategies that allow students to analyze historical artifacts and develop historical content knowledge through inquiry-based learning experiences.

The work, funded in part by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Eastern Region Program, coordinated by Waynesburg University, was designed to support districts with the implementation of inquiry based instructional practices that are at the heart of the new New York State Social Studies Framework.

The New York State Social Studies Framework emphasizes the importance of inquiry-based instruction in the social studies.  As the NYS Field Guide to the Framework explains, instruction aligned with the Framework requires the teacher to serve, “… as a facilitator and coach, providing support for student-centered sustained inquiry, productive collaboration, and informed action.”

16 educators from six districts spent three days in August exploring ways to engage students with primary sources.

In an inquiry-based social studies classroom, students analyze a variety of sources, both primary and secondary, to develop an understanding of the past.  Through this work students investigate the past and use their skills of historical analysis to determine reliability of a source.  In this way, students learn to use evidence-based reasoning to develop an understanding of a historical event or time period.

“What we’ve found is that educators are interested in experimenting with inquiry, but they frequently do not have time to plan,” said Project Coordinator Tasha Anderson. “Implementing new instructional practices takes time.  By pairing educators with school librarians, classroom teachers had locally-based expertise to support the shift.”

A rigorous application process was used to select institute participants.  In all, Questar III welcomed 16 educators from Brunswick-Brittonkill CSD, New Lebanon CSD, Averill Park CSD, Chatham CSD, Taconic Hills CSD, and Ichabod Crane CSD.

Questar III school librarian Jane Bentley said she was glad to be part of the institute.

“It was powerful to see the teachers get excited about the learning, in particular since we know that excitement will translate to their classrooms and the students.”

While inquiry based learning is a significant component to the new NYS Social Studies Framework, few teachers have been trained or have experienced inquiry-based learning.  At the same time, school librarians have used inquiry-based learning in their instructional practice for some time.

“We know that teachers prefer active learning.  As a result, the three-day institute was designed as an inquiry-based learning experience so teachers could experience the process themselves,” Anderson explained.  She continued, “what we often find is that teachers have not experienced inquiry learning in a classroom setting so they benefit from seeing what it looks like in practice”.

“It was a natural partnership,” said Kerrie Burch, Director of the School Library System. “Teachers had content knowledge and librarians had the pedagogical experience and together they were able to create and implement incredible active learning experiences for their students.”

Participants were also tasked with sharing their learning with colleagues.  Through faculty meetings, department meetings and even individual coaching sessions, institute participants shared inquiry-based learning experiences and Library of Congress resources with their colleagues.

Participant Maureen King says giving students control helps them get more out of each lesson.

“Kids extend their learning beyond what we can possibly imagine when we allow them to take the driver’s seat.  Inquiry-based learning allows students to drive their own learning.”

Questar III will be hosting another Summer Institute on inquiry and primary sources from the Library of Congress in the Summer of 2018. Click here for additional information and to access an application.

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