Gladbrook-Reinbeck: Creating Meaningful and Authentic Learning Through Inquiry

Periodically, educators are asked to reflect on their “why.” Why do you continue to show up? Why did you choose this profession? Why do you seek ways to be better? In turn, students have their own use of “why.” Why are we learning this? Why does it matter? These can be challenging questions, but they don’t have to be. These are challenging questions, but through a teaming up between a Social Studies teacher, an ELA teacher, and an AEA consultant, two educators reconnected with their “why”. Two middle school teachers in the Gladbrook-Reinbeck School district, one in Social Studies and one in ELA, collaborated with an Instructional Coach and an educational consultant from Central Rivers AEA, to reconnect with their why, and in the process, make the questions from students easy to answer, in fact, students stopped asking them altogether. 

The process started with work around Teacher Clarity. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey are co-authors of The Teacher Clarity Playbook. The ideas supported through research and expressed by these authors are based around the philosophy that, as teachers define specific learning goals aligned to clearly understood standards, confusion between expectations for students will disappear. Teachers must work through their lessons, identify specific learning goals, and create clear success criteria in order to meet the goal. All of this is then shared with the students, including them in the process. This is also how both teacher and student will be able to answer the question, “why”. Why am I teaching this and why am I learning this, the same answer to both questions. 

Within the current Humanities class, students are being tasked with identifying and analyzing global issues that push their thinking and their prospective impact. Social Studies was embedded through these global issues and problem solving, and both ELA and Social Studies meshed together the reading and writing components, all the while providing students an applicable, authentic purpose to their work through a Shark Tank project. The goal was to create realistic and actionable solutions, and the AEA provided guidance, strategies, and learning that the teachers could apply. Instead of just presenting hypothetical solutions to their peers, students were provided a panel of members of the community to share their work with. From loan officers to business owners, the community members gave meaningful connections and feedback for the students to further develop their work, or to put their work into action. 

Not only was the learning successful, but students were able to present their learning and plans in front of community members, making students’ impact go beyond their own learning but actually into the community. In more than a couple of instances, students were able to either spark enough interest that a local business built on their idea.. Others created businesses or concepts that provided funds or attention to certain issues within their worlds. In one, a struggling student found a passion and a cause for repairing bicycles. This student was able to connect with a local business who offered space and support. This student then started repairing bicycles for his classmates. This is just one example of student success in a real world scenario. 

The partnership between Gladbrook-Reinbeck schools and Central Rivers Area Education Agency, has continued to create more authentic and engaging learning for students in the district. The model that has been created in the middle school, is now being shared and integrated in other grade levels throughout the district. All PK-12 teachers are going through the process of creating learning goals and success criteria, better identifying their ‘why’ and at the same time, sharing that information with their students.  
If you would like to learn more, please contact Keith Halverson at Central Rivers AEA.