“I Can’t Do Inquiry! I’m on a Fixed Schedule!”

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Sue Kowalski, one of our favorite partners in crime here at School Library Connection, put out the APB over Twitter this weekend at #ALAAC16, mentioning how much our colleagues in Orlando have been discussing the need for great resources on making the most of a fixed schedule. So this week on the blog, we’re highlighting a couple of our faves from our online archives, starting with these quick ideas from the fabulous Kristin Fontichiaro. Enjoy!


It’s true that doing inquiry on a flexible schedule offers opportunities that a fixed schedule does not. At the same time, the budgetary pressures make flexible schedules a difficult reality.

Fixed schedule solves two problems for administrators: it facilitates release time and ensures consistent information literacy instruction. Additionally, flexible schedule only thrives in buildings with a generous and robust collaborative culture. A solo-practitioner mindset won’t take advantage of a collaborative librarian. Consider, too, that many states’ new teacher evaluation programs pose new pressures for teachers to cocoon themselves in their rooms. If a teacher’s professional future will be based, to any degree, on student test scores, then relinquishing personal control of those students poses a credible hazard. In some states, teacher evaluation scores determine class assignments; pitting colleague against colleague can further diminish reasons for collaborative work. So, let’s brainstorm alternate possibilities for those librarians wanting to achieve inquiry within their fixed schedule routines.


Bring inquiry into storytime: model active reading and questioning. Debbie Miller’s Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades (2nd ed., Stenhouse, 2013) is a great resource. Keep a running list of questions on chart paper. Then, instead of a worksheet or craft, point students toward resources that can help them answer those questions. Ask students to share answers when they check out.


To avoid the problem of students losing interest, try breaking research into stages, varying topics to keep them engaged. For students of any age, the toughest parts of inquiry are getting started (presearch and “getting to know” a topic’s foundational keywords and ideas) and synthesis. Targeted mini-lessons can focus on these trouble areas. A quick readaloud or video clip about a topic can lead to a mini-lesson on questioning. Point students toward online encyclopedias to search for answers, start a keywords list, and brainstorm deeper questions. At class’s end, ask students to share what they learned on a collective bulletin board, with the class or a partner, or sharing at check out.

Similarly, construct mini-lessons that take three short texts and give students practice with synthesis. “What can we learn if we smush up these three readings? What’s the big takeaway?”


If Mr. A has library class from 10-10:30, and Ms. B’s class comes from 10:35-11:05, ask if they would mind if Mr. A’s class came from 10-11:05 one week and Ms. B’s came the next. Short planning periods have limited usefulness for some teachers; a longer free period may be worth the temporary sacrifice.


Many librarians reach students by hosting before-school, lunchtime, or after-school clubs. Clubs provide ongoing access to a consistent set of kids and flexible pathways to inquiry skill development. A library-hosted broadcasting or journalism club can encourage students to question current events and seek answers, and those skills can build week after week or day after day—you determine the frequency. Maker activities naturally evoke “What if?” questions that can be answered through hands-on inquiry or online searching on sites such as https://diy.org/.

Fixed schedule isn’t an excuse for avoiding inquiry and research skills, if you think creatively.

FontichiaroKristin Fontichiaro, MLIS, is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, where she coordinates the school library media specialization. She earned her master’s in library and information science from Wayne State University. Formerly, she was an elementary school librarian and staff development facilitator for the Birmingham Public Schools in Michigan and a classroom teacher. She co-edited an eBook original, School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come, and is the author and co-author of numerous books and articles. You can visit her website at http://www.fontichiaro.com.

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3 thoughts on ““I Can’t Do Inquiry! I’m on a Fixed Schedule!””

  1. Kristin is “right on the money” here! In a list of MYTHBUSTERs this would be my first. Librarians can make an impact on every student. How many teachers can claim that?!

  2. Well said and thanks for sharing. I’ve fixed schedule but during my lessons I try to scaffold Information literacy, Library literacy and Media literacy into my lessons. Since I’m the whole school Teacher-Librarian, sometime it is challenging to collaborate but I’m lucky enough to get some good people on board.

  3. This is awesome! I have been in and our flexible and fixed schedules the past two years as a librarian. This year I am currently with a fixed schedule, and to be honest I feel like I can make a bigger impact on the students BECAUSE I know I will FOR SURE see them. In the past, having a flexible schedule it was a struggle to get some teachers on board, which was hard for the students to change out books and get instruction from me. Always pros and cons, but you hit it right on!

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