A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.

Skeptics 101

A few weeks ago, we were allowed to choose from professional development books in my Special Methods for Teaching English Class and I chose Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. I finally made time to read it today and I’m not entirely sure I agree with his approach.


First off, he uses the term “guiding questions” a lot. Like a lot a lot. And it bothers me. I am uncomfortable with the idea of standing in front of my class and handing out Romeo and Juliet and then asking them about what makes relationships work and then finding examples in the text. While, yes, this does relate this information back to my students and to their personal lives, I find it very canned. It’s canned inquiry. I ask a question, albeit more relevant than most, and most all of my students will come up with the same responses. I’d be that teacher that thought I was ‘tricking’ my students into learning and none of my students would fall for it. Students don’t even come up with their own questions (which would be the invention part of this model) until way later, after they have the skills of the expert. Wilhelm makes this sound as though it doesn’t take much time and perhaps it doesn’t, but I am skeptical.


Sometimes it’s really hard to keep an open mind.

I want students that can develop their own questions about the text, not some trite connection I’ve come up with that links books and material to their own personal lives. I really want to know how to teach students to create that connection on their own. I feel like ‘guiding questions’ may be something that I just do at the very beginning of the year and that they begin to do on their own before Christmas. I don’t want to feed them questions; I want them to be able to question on their own.


Maybe I’ll just write Santa a letter asking for my students to be able to come up with their own guiding questions.

I’m not very far into this book, but I’m not sure about how much I want to use from it. I’ll give it a chance though, perhaps I have been too quick to judge. After all, this book does have a subheading that reads “Let’s Not Let Scientists Have All the Fun.” A book for English teachers that has science references can’t be that bad.


I’m not a cynic yet, because I still have hope for this book.

One comment on “Skeptics 101

  1. Elisabeth Ellington
    September 25, 2013

    I do think that this method of teaching canonical literature is probably more engaging and interesting than the way I was taught in high school (chronology formed the only organizing structure of the classroom reading list). However, I share many of your concerns. It IS canned inquiry when the teacher is the one who has come up with the interesting question. And sure, it’s generally true that most people are interested in understanding how and why relationships work, but not every student in the class is going to be motivated by that question. So you’ve already lost some of the class before you begin. But for some teachers, these guiding questions are a way of teaching that suits their personality and beliefs about learning. I think the key is to find the method that works for each of us–because there are many different and valid and valuable ways of developing students’ literate lives.

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