We are always excited to share with you what we know and are learning about inquiry-based teaching. Now we are also inviting educators to highlight their Shared Inquiry classroom strategies and pass on their practical experiences.

For this month’s resource guide, we asked Dennis Forde, assistant principal at PS 6 in Staten Island, New York, to answer a series of questions about what he and teachers at his school learned while educating students during the pandemic. He reached out to two outstanding third-grade teachers, Rob Lentz and Lauren Minichello, and together they answered the following questions.

What have you learned about inquiry-based teaching during the pandemic that you’d like to continue with?

We have noticed that engaging around one text during virtual meetings allowed students to stay engaged with one another throughout class discussions (which we call Socratic seminar).  However, we also noticed that the more motivated the child or the more support they received from a parent, the easier it was for them to do the work and and stay focused.

How has your school used remote (or hybrid) learning to create an effective learning environment? What part has Junior Great Books® played in that effort?

Our school has relied heavily on Google classroom, having each teacher create a flow or plan for each day. Junior Great Books was of course one of the lessons planned three times a week. We found that the Junior Great Books classroom lessons were easily adapted  to the Zoom model. We have also found ways to incorporate Junior Great Books into writing and social studies.

What have you seen teachers learning and sharing with each other?

Our school uses Google Drive and our teachers collaborate and share their lessons with each other. We have Junior Great Books lessons easily ready to use, adapt, and plan around.

What strategies have teachers developed or modified?

Social emotional learning has been at the forefront throughout the pandemic. With that in mind, our teachers have developed ways to incorporate SEL lessons into Junior Great Books when possible. They found that the Junior Great Books themes and prereading questions connect to the SEL activities quite nicely.

Your school’s mission is to create “independent, self-motivated learners” who are prepared for a rapidly changing world. What part does Shared Inquiry play in that effort? What are you seeing students learn from engaging in discussions?

We find that asking and answering questions, along with annotating and supporting ideas with text evidence, becomes the focal point of each school year.  Thus, Junior Great Books in many ways becomes the focal point for that learning. We also see our students engaging in persuasive conversations and changing their ideas when relevant or plausible.

Why do you think your teachers enjoy using Junior Great Books? What benefits do they see?

We find that Junior Great Books

  • Builds reading comprehension
  • Is structured and fits into the workshop model
  • Leads to higher order thinking
  • Includes rich and engaging stories
  • Is teacher and student friendly
  • Sits well with social emotional learning goals
  • Fits nicely with our social studies units
  • Leads to strong conversation and debate

Rob Lentz, third-grade teacher, PS 6

Lauren Minichello, third-grade teacher, PS 6

Dennis Forde, assistant principal, PS 6

Would you like to learn more about how Junior Great Books can engage students, keep teachers collaborating, and meet students’ social emotional needs? Please get in touch with your K–12 partnership manager to discuss how we can help!