GME Inquiry Institutes: Emergent Literacy and Arabic


We were so excited to welcome back FOUR colleagues from Ibn Rushid Academy, Amman, Jordan who attended our Summer Inquiry Institute last August and decided to come back for more!  Also, we enjoyed meeting SIX new participants from IPS-KSA.  We had a marvellous international conversation around Emergent Literacy and Arabic at this institute and we hope to possibly offer this opportunity again in the future.


GME August Summer Inquiry Institute News!

We are excited to report that the GME Summer Inquiry Institute was a great success August 11-12-13 at the Le Meridien Commodore Hotel in Hamra, Beirut!  

We hosted around 45 teachers and administrators from Lebanon, Jordan, and KSA. We were also pleased to have Margaret Banjo from ECIS main office in London attending the event as well.   Our team of 7 experienced workshop leaders led a fun and intensive 3 days of highly interactive sessions diving deeply into student-led inquiry.  We hope to offer this Institute again very soon as well as many more GME institutes!



Just “good enough” is not good enough in education.




I was recently talking to a primary school teacher who prides herself on being innovative and striving to engage her students in transdisciplinary inquiry on a regular basis.  She no longer uses textbooks as a main basis for instruction, but opts instead to engage students with more primary sources and to learn skills more in the context of doing inquiry.   Her supervisor approached her recently and asked her to stop “over working,” to lighten up a bit and maybe take up textbooks again.  The argument given to her was that if they ever had to replace her they would not be able to make the new person work as hard.  It was all too much effort, she was told,  no need to try so hard to get it right.

Her story reminded me of a personal experience years ago when I started a new University teaching job.  I was called in one day by a supervisor and told that some students were complaining that my course was too challenging and I was expecting too much from them in some of the assignments.  Without hesitating, I said, “So what I hear you saying is that you would like me to give the students a mediocre course experience.”  My supervisor immediately protested, “No no, of course I am not asking you to do that!”  I never heard about that complaint again.

The forces of conformity and mediocrity are strong indeed–in his wonderful blog, marketing guru Seth Godin referred to them as The Merchants of Average–but the funny thing is no one really wants to BE thought of as mediocre, right?   Does anyone really believe that mediocre learning environments are better?

My feeling is that when it comes to educating children we cannot afford “just good enough” anymore.  The great Italian Educator, Loris Malaguzzi once remarked that children are miracles and that we educators have to make learning environments worthy of miracles.  There is no place for mediocrity in the pursuit of building excellent learning environments.

The idea of getting away with “just good enough” may be a seductive one, but it is simply NEVER good enough when it comes to education.  I want to salute all those educators I know, both young and old, who realize this fact and who consistently see obstacles as opportunities to do more, not less.


Kiran Sethi: Catch the “I Can” bug!

Take time to view this inspiring talk by Kiran Sethi.  She and her students have shown that the “I Can” bug is contagious and it’s a bug we all need to catch.

Good Inquiry=Good Content




by Marjorie Henningsen, Grey Matters Education

I’ll begin this post by stating up front that I do believe that an inquiry approach to learning and teaching in which students are protagonists in defining their own learning agenda offers the best hope for schools to continue to have relevance in today’s world.  So when people talk about inquiry learning I often take notice.   A colleague was recently overheard making the following statement:

“I do believe in inquiry, but I also care about content.”

My colleague certainly has a right to her own beliefs and opinions and many people out there might find a great deal of resonance with that statement.  However—and I know this may sound harsh –I firmly believe the above sentiment is used consciously and unconsciously on a regular basis to justify complacency and cowardice or worse in education.

The underlying assumption in my colleague’s statement seems to be that inquiry lovers don’t care about content or that you cannot have strong content learned in the context of inquiry.  I must reject these assumptions wholeheartedly in either case.   I would actually argue that when anyone engages in an authentic inquiry learning experience that person is absolutely guaranteed to learn something of great value.  My colleague would probably agree as long as the content learned is what is supposed to be learned.   What IS supposed to be learned anyway?  And who gets to decide?

I believe we all care about content, but I’m just not sure that the content in question needs to be thought of in such a rigid way or whether it is even useful at all to think about curriculum in such terms anymore.   Hasn’t “what we need to know” become kind of a moving target these days?   Why should “what kids need to know” remain so unchanged or unchangeable through generations—as if frozen in time.   That doesn’t make any sense to me in today’s world.  I believe the obsession with defining and covering standardized “content” is a simple artifact of a living inside a system that has given over intellectual authority to the corporate textbook and testing industries, or some other centralized authority.   I am sure in the past I fell prey to the same obsession, but thank goodness I got over it.

Lilian Katz (2010) suggested that perhaps rather than content standards we should be more concerned about having Standards of Experience, a suggestion that I think is on the right track in terms of defining what we should be worrying about in schools.  The preponderance of evidence from educational research tells us that we really do need to be far more concerned with how kids are learning than with trying to pin down, define (or limit) what is being covered at a given point in time.  I believe we tend to gravitate toward the latter because it is much easier to deal with and can be talked about without actually ever getting involved in the messiness of a real life classroom.   The idea that we can just settle on a narrowed list of content objectives and hand them to teachers and then test the outcome later on to know what has (or more often has not) been learned is a seductive one to be sure.  But it’s a well-documented trap.  We cannot “student-proof” the curriculum (or “teacher-proof” it either!)  So why do we all keep falling into that trap over and over again?

Certainly we do have to acknowledge that even inquiry lovers are not all the same.  The two broad categories are those who believe the process ought to be determined more by the a priori curricular agenda (as understood by teachers and/or parents) versus those who believe students should primarily determine the inquiry agenda.  Not to be judgmental, but rather just to be realistic…I would argue that those in the first category ought to admit that they are control freaks and work harder at learning how to cope with the uncertainty and the need for  “on the spot” professional problem solving that comes from engaging with students in authentic student-led inquiry.  Because in the end, the truth is that the less say students have in their own learning agenda, the less relevant school is to their lives and there is no way around that truth.  We adults just kind of tacitly agree on a certain level of boredom and irrelevance kids must tolerate in order for us to “get our work done” or for the so-called greater good.

In the past 25 years I have observed an estimated 1200+ preK-12 classroom lessons in several different countries.  I used to be able to sit through an entire lesson taking copious field notes and collecting all sorts of data.  In fact I am highly skilled at that activity.  But lately, in the past couple of years I find myself barely able to sit still in most classrooms for the entire period as I try to imagine how the children are experiencing what I am observing.  In general it’s boring and uninspired at best and intellect and curiosity crushing at worst.   And it’s not because anyone wants it to be that way.  That’s just how it is.   It makes me profoundly sad to observe sometimes because I feel as if I can actually see the natural enthusiasm for learning literally oozing out of kids onto the floor to be mopped up by the end of the period and forever gone.  Of course I paint this bleak picture with all optimism that it doesn’t really have to be this way.  My dad always said that “if it matters to you, you’ll be there, you’ll do it—or at least you’ll give it your best shot.”

In other words, if it really matters to us, then maybe we have to have the courage to face the unknown and start making some new choices about what happens in school.