Junior Great Books and the Shared Inquiry Method for All Students

A young girl engages other students online using the shared inquiry method

Although at the time I did not know it was going to change my life, my first encounter with the Great Books Foundation was through my daughter, who was then in kindergarten. One day, she couldn’t stop talking about a folktale her class had discussed that afternoon and how “the teacher could only ask us about our ideas.” With a little research, I found out it was a story from Junior Great Books and that the teacher was using the Shared Inquiry method of learning that guides students, starting as young as kindergarten, to build their own understanding and interpretations of enduring pieces of literature, poems, and other texts.

Fast-forward to one year later, and as a reading teacher at a Title I K–8 public school, I had completed the Introduction to Shared Inquiry training, brought the method back to my school, and found that it changed the way I taught and the way my students thought. I wanted other teachers to know all about it too. The following year, I found the ideal way to make that happen when I was accepted as a training instructor with the Great Books Foundation.

All of this happened while I was living in New York City. However, the trajectory of my career with the Foundation reflects the fact that Junior Great Books and Shared Inquiry find a place in all types of school settings. In my open-registration training sessions, I began to meet educators from private schools, charter schools, and parochial schools, as well as parents who volunteered in schools or were homeschooling their own children. I was also getting to work with ESL teachers and special education teachers who were eager to bring this method, oftentimes considered under the purview of gifted and talented programs, to their students.

The reach of Junior Great Books and the Shared Inquiry method is also geographically very broad, to which my own travels to conduct training sessions and work in classrooms will attest. I have had the privilege of being invited into schools and classrooms not only coast to coast here in the United States but also in China, Australia, and the Netherlands. Today, we are broadening our horizons even further as we engage in online Shared Inquiry discussions with students across this country and in other countries too!

Senior Professional Learning Consultant Linda Barrett has over 20 years of experience as both a professional development coach and a training instructor with the Great Books Foundation, working with a wide range of student populations in schools throughout the country and abroad. She has supported Great Books implementations, including several Comprehensive School Reform projects in the New York City area. Now based in Florida, Linda continues to support a number of large Junior Great Books implementations, while also growing multi-school Junior Great Books initiatives in several Florida counties and a number of other states.