Shared Inquiry Educators Share Their Expertise with You!

Lisa Pagano, Jennifer Flannery

We recently spoke with Lisa Pagano and Jennifer Flannery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), part of a thriving Junior Great Books implementation. Pagano, the Academically/Intellectually Gifted (AIG) and Talent Development district lead teacher, says that CMS revived their Junior Great Books program in 2019, picking up on a program first established in the district about 10 years ago. “We set clear expectations around usage and provided new resources and professional development to all fourth- and fifth-grade teachers, as well as to Learning Immersion/Talent Development (LI/TD) coordinators and Talent Development (TD) teachers at our six LI/TD magnet schools.”

According to Pagano, Junior Great Books is now being used by 42 classroom teachers, six LI/TD magnet coordinators, and six TD teachers in grades four and five across six schools. The LI/TD theme in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is designed to provide gifted and advanced learners with a challenging learning environment focused on best practices for gifted education. Pagano says, “the Shared Inquiry approach used with Junior Great Books strongly aligns with the LI/TD theme and is the perfect blend of input (reading and listening) and output (speaking and writing). We knew that reviving this approach would strengthen our magnet theme and improve student outcomes.”

Approximately 1,300 students enjoy participating in Junior Great Books in these six schools. “The benefits are clear for both students and teachers. Our teachers are asking stronger questions to foster both critical and creative thinking skills. The open-ended nature of the questions has also provided our diverse learners with multiple entry points, expanding access to advanced learning opportunities. Our students are showing increased confidence in both written and oral language and their ability to sustain discussions,” Pagano says. “We are looking to conduct another training in fall 2022 for grades four and five and have plans to purchase new materials with training for third grade in fall 2023, expanding to second grade in fall 2024, and so on.”

The benefits are clear for both students and teachers. Our teachers are asking stronger questions to foster both critical and creative thinking skills. . . . Our students are showing increased confidence in both written and oral language and their ability to sustain discussions.

Jennifer Flannery, a TD teacher in the district, is someone who Pagano describes as a Junior Great Books “superuser.” Flannery has taught second- and third-grade students as a classroom teacher and now works with students in grades K–5. She has used Junior Great Books for the past seven years in both roles.

In her unique position, Flannery splits her time between two schools, one of which is a Learning Immersion/Talent Development school. “I will typically do Junior Great Books with all kids in first and second grades, and then the gifted cluster classrooms in third through fifth grades,” Flannery says. “My other school has a very small gifted population, sometimes with only one student identified as gifted in the grade level, so I will do Junior Great Books with gifted students in the classroom or slow down the pacing and use the program with the whole group, with lots of scaffolding and tiered questioning to help support students and enable them to understand the readings and activities. Simply put, Junior Great Books is great for ALL learners, not just the gifted ones!”

Flannery observes that many TD teachers in her district use Junior Great Books in a co-teaching model with classroom teachers. She says, “Our department has tried to completely get away from the ‘pullout’ method of enrichment, and we are moving towards all TD teachers throughout the district pushing into classrooms and co-teaching.”

We asked Flannery a few questions to highlight the benefits Junior Great Books brings to both students and teachers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

How do your students benefit from participating in Junior Great Books?

The students benefit from the program because the stories are rich in content and vocabulary but still relatable and interesting. The stories can be very challenging, as they are complex and urge readers to think deeply and push them to consider ideas that they hadn’t before. They are also culturally diverse and expose readers to lots of different ideas compared to the typical book pulled off the shelf in a classroom library. The Junior Great Books stories were meticulously chosen, and they all have a way of grasping the readers’ attention and leaving them eager to read more.

Students take the skills they learn from respectfully debating in Shared Inquiry discussions and bring those skills into other content areas, the lunchroom, and the playgrounds—we are building social skills!

Students take the skills they learn from respectfully debating in Shared Inquiry discussions and bring those skills into other content areas, the lunchroom, and the playgrounds—we are building social skills!

Have you changed the way you teach or have your skills grown through the use of Shared Inquiry? If so, how?

Junior Great Books has changed the way I teach in many aspects. I have found that I am more comfortable with giving students the “big words,” allowing for time to struggle in an uncomfortable space to challenge them, and it has become habitual to ask higher-level thinking questions—even outside of the Junior Great Books Shared Inquiry seminars!

It has also made co-teaching so much more successful. By using Junior Great Books alongside classroom teachers, we have been able to break away from the uneasy feelings that often arise with collaborative teaching—and jump right into engaging both adults. I like to have one of us share the first reading, the other do the second reading, collaborate on questions and vocabulary, and then work together as a team during the Shared Inquiry discussions.

It has been awesome to split into two smaller groups and use the fishbowl model during lessons to demonstrate leading the group, with the other teacher taking notes, then working together to have students reflect and share out how everything went.

What do students like about Junior Great Books?

The students like Junior Great Books because they love the stories—many of them are funny and lots of them are shocking or suspenseful. But the best part of the program for the students is the chance to take their ideas, knowing that there are no right or wrong answers, and debate and discuss with classmates! Even the struggling readers love Junior Great Books because they have the opportunity to hear/read each story twice—and everything will be discussed and explained as we go along.

How does using JGB further the mission of your school and/or the district?

It is my role to provide inclusive services to support growth, academic achievement, and social-emotional needs to my students, and Junior Great Books is a program that meets all of those needs! I am always confident that if I am planning a Junior Great Books lesson with a class, that they will enjoy it and we will be challenged to work hard, communicate with one another, and think more deeply.

Consider Junior Great Books for Your School or District

Would you like to provide incredible growth opportunities for both students and teachers? See students continue discussions from the classroom in the lunchroom and on the playground? We can bring engaging fiction and nonfiction content to your setting, along with top-notch professional development in inquiry-based learning. Contact your K–12 partnership manager to start the conversation today!

Marketing Manager Dan Lindstrom is a marketing manager for the Great Books Foundation. Among his diverse roles, he has served as a liaison to Great Books groups and councils in the United States and Canada, promoting discussions and events for lifelong learners. He has helped organize Great Books Chicago for many years running.