Reflect – In the final lesson 4, students reflected on the masks and supporting paragraphs they had produced over the Easter holidays. Students paired up and filled in the ‘Peer reflection’ sheet in their inquiry workbooks, answering statements about their partner’s mask – what they had learnt, liked and suggested they could improve. This activity required students use questioning, listening, reflecting and summarizing skills. They then presented their partner’s masks to the class, reinforcing these skills, whilst also helping to improve their presentation and communication skills. From this, the whole class learnt about the different types of masks that each student had produced.
Students completed the ‘Self-reflection’ sheet as homework and discussed in the next library lesson (the inquiry consequently spilled over into 5 lessons and 4 homeworks). In lesson 5, students fed back to the class what they had found hardest, what they did well, what they had learnt, what they felt they could do better and how successful they thought their inquiry was overall. The students overwhelming focused on reflecting about their masked product – the practical making of it, materials used etc. – rather than the overall inquiry learning journey – the questioning, investigating, knowledge and new skills gained etc. I consequently think that further scaffolding is needed to guide students when filling in this sheet (or perhaps more precise questioning to encourage students to reflect about the overall inquiry process?).
Final reflections as a librarian on the Mask and Masquerade inquiry
The Inquiry into Masks and Masquerade was a rewarding, creative and challenging experience, for both myself, Julie as collaborative teacher and the year 8 students participating. I think we all learnt many knew skills, shared and developed our topic knowledge and gained a clearer understanding of inquiry, the FOSIL framework and the overall process of learning through investigation.
The inquiry began by looking at superhero masks in lesson 1, aiming to draw on students own popular cultural knowledge, whilst connecting the themes to Shakespeare’s plays and the Venice festival, which we also looked at. From this, students gained a much deeper understanding of the masquerade ball and use of masks in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which they will hopefully be able to apply to other Shakespeare’s plays that they will be studying in future years and contain similar themes (Romeo and Juliet in year 9 and King Lear in the sixth form).
Students were encouraged to explore and build on their own personal knowledge of masks and masquerade, resulting in a much wider type of mask being investigated. These personal investigative journeys were expressed through the diversity of styles, techniques and materials students used to create their masks in the construct and express phases, including a manga character from Naruto, a villain influenced by the most recent James Bond character Safin in No Time to Die, a El gato (cat) mask from the Venetian festival and a Brazilian bird mask from the Maadi Gras. The masks were a creative, expressive way for the students to display what they had learnt, and a visual way for their classmates to instantly see what they had investigated.
The inquiry was a very different form of learning from the usual prescribed curriculum delivered in a formal classroom, where a limited range of work and assessments are used. The benefits of allowing students to go on their own individual and explorative learning journeys (within the time limits) and the knowledge and confidence they gained, cannot be underestimated. The students enjoyed a much more open ended and creative learning process, which could be tailored to the individual student’s abilities and interests. The reflection at the end of the inquiry was a relaxed and organic way to assess learning, which was led by the students themselves. They did not seem to perceive this as onerous or intimidating, which is sometimes the case with more traditional individualistic and comparative assessments.
As librarian, I felt I gained a much clearer understanding of how to run an inquiry-based learning project and the planning, reflecting and collaborating that was required for it to be successful. This included putting together the inquiry workbook for students to work from, appreciating the worksheets available on the FOSIL site to download for adaption. The importance of spending time on the initial planning with the collaborative teacher, and the ongoing reflection and adaption needed as the inquiry progressed. I also gained an understanding of the benefits of uniting both subject and skills teaching in one inquiry, whilst adapting both these types of instruction to the students’ own knowledge.
It was through the practical application of the FOSIL cycle and working through the six phases that the learning process became clearer, and the necessary stages needed to help students progress through their learning journey. The FOSIL model provided a clear and logical structure to the inquiry, whilst reassuring Julie and I that this much freer form of learning was going in the correct direction! To do each phase justice and ensure students understood the cycle, I think considerably more time is needed to explain the model and stages to them (more than 4/5 lessons anyway). It would be great to see students become familiar with the FOSIL cycle through repeated inquiry projects and then be able to place themselves within the framework whilst undertaking an inquiry project, moving forward or backwards as they require.
Through running an inquiry project on a topic related to the English curriculum, specifically Shakespeare and Much Ado, I felt in sync and embedded with what other teaching staff were doing and the curriculum being taught in school. This is in contrast to my usual year 7 and 8 library lessons, which are not always directly correlated to the specific curriculum (English or otherwise) being taught at that time. The teaching of information literacy skills through the curriculum topic of masks made the skills feel much more relevant and necessary to the construction of a final product and the overall learning process (as opposed to a standalone skills lesson, not integrated directly in curriculum teaching).
I found the subject teaching on masks and masquerade the most challenging and out of my comfort zone. This was due to being used to teaching skills-based library lessons, rather than English subject content and also being unsure what students already knew on the topic. This was where having Julie as the subject teacher in the inquiry lessons was invaluable. Her knowledge of the curriculum and also, the students individual learning abilities was something that I didn’t possess and could be drawn on as the inquiry progressed. Julie informally co-taught the lessons, sitting with the students during the activities, reflecting and discussing ideas as the lessons progressed. This was a great and quite novel experience as a librarian, to have a supportive educational partner and co-teacher to bounce ideas off, both during and in between lessons. I felt reassured by Julie’s presence as we ‘live’ collaborated in lesson, responding and adapting sometimes the lesson content and homework given etc. I also felt the masked inquiry gained gravitas in the eyes of the students and they took it more seriously than would perhaps be achieved otherwise.
Julie and I had the opportunity to do something creative, collaborative, experimental and dynamic through the mask and masquerade inquiry. It was very different from the usual, prescribed curriculum, enabled me to teach information literacy skills in a more meaningful and I think useful way for the students, who gained a lot overall from the inquiry in terms of knowledge, skills and the ability to reflect.
An Easter Update on the year 8 Mask and Masquerade Inquiry
As we have reached the Easter holidays, I thought that I would provide an update on how the year 8 Mask and Masquerade inquiry has been going, including a few reflections and observations on each phase of the FOSIL framework that we have covered so far.
I have created a ‘Mask and Masquerade’ student resource booklet for the year 8 students to work from over the inquiry, including a number of the worksheet documents freely available to download from the FOSIL resources area (very useful, thank you). I have adapted a number of these for our inquiry, whilst also adding a few additional ideas that I have discovered whilst researching mask projects on the web (specifically, designing a superhero mask). In this resource booklet, I included a resource list for students to use whilst investigating masks and masquerade, which I spent quite a bit of time researching and compiling. As with a lot of free resources available on the open web, ensuring these are at the correct academic level and accessible for year 8 students has been a real challenge. I have provided mask molds for the year 8 students for them to take away and create their masks over the Easter holidays (more on this below in the Express section).
Whilst this inquiry is for one year 8 English class (18 students), I decided to extend the mask theme to coincide with Shakespeare Week, 21-27th March 2022, inviting all students in the school to ‘Design a Shakespearean mask to represent a play, character or theme’ competition in St Benedict’s Library. This was a good way of ensuring students outside the inquiry had a chance to explore the themes of mask and masquerade further and create their own mask. During lunchtimes in the library, we provided mask templates and materials to decorate their masks, including feathers, ribbons, sequins and paints etc. We had many lovely student entries; the winners can be viewed here on Twitter.
Time management and Planning
I agreed with the collaborative inquiry teacher, Dr Julie Greenhough that we would schedule the inquiry over four English Library lessons, which are 50 minutes each. During this time there have also been three inquiry homework’s, which have helped move the students’ inquiry projects forward and cover activities that we didn’t have time to complete in lesson. My key take away from this is that four lessons are not enough to thoroughly cover all the inquiry phases or to do them justice. I have also not had time to explain the phases clearly to the students (and wondered if the terminology of each phase would confuse them further).
I have also found that there has not been enough time to cover the huge topic of masks and masquerade suitably. This has required numerous adjustments and the narrowing down of what I have been able to teach and the student activities in each lesson. From this, I think in future inquiries it is important to focus what you’re teaching and the range and depth of skills you can impart in this time. It is important to not be too ambitious with what you try and achieve in each lesson, both subject content and practical activities.
I have taken on the role of teaching both the subject content and the practical skills needed for this inquiry project, which has been novel for me, and made feel like a ‘real’ teacher (a classroom teacher etc!). It has taken me out of my comfort zone and made me question, can I really do this / am I qualified to teach this (the subject content anyway). Luckily, English teacher Julie Greenhough who I am collaborating with has been encouraging and supportive throughout the process, reflecting on what she likes about each lesson and providing advice on what students do/don’t already know about Shakespeare and curriculum content. Julie has also advised on where to share documents with the class and how to set homework on Microsoft Teams etc (which I rarely, if ever do in my role as librarian). I am hoping for overall feedback from Julie at the end of the process of what can be improved for the next inquiry.
Julie, as the class’s English teacher for the last two years, knows the students very well, which has helped provide me with an insight into their strengths and weaknesses and where more support is needed in terms of subject and skills. During the lessons, Julie has supported the students when they have been carrying out the various activities I have set, which has been of great help to both me and the students and almost felt like a role reversal from the normal dynamic of teacher – librarian in the classroom or library. The knowledge and understanding of the students in the class is something that I, as the School Librarian, don’t necessarily possess and is consequently a vital ingredient to the successful running of the inquiry – to have a collaborative partnership with the subject teacher. The inquiry lessons have demanded that I reflect with Julie repeatedly both before, during and after the lessons, discussing how much longer we should we spend on a certain activity and whether it can be given as homework etc. It has required a flexibility and adaption on the spot, which I have found challenging, but also a dynamic and exciting way of teaching and interacting with students.
Reflections on each of the FOSIL phases:
Connect – In the first lesson, I provided students time to write down what they already knew about masks. During this lesson we focussed on superhero masks as a more accessible way of understanding masks and I was impressed by the knowledge they already held (they introduced their own cultural knowledge, such as the masked character in the most recent Bond film etc). I found it harder to draw out the themes of why people wear masks, resulting in responses from the students that were mostly limited to ‘to hide identity’. This revealed that closer teacher support and scaffolding was needed in this area to get a more nuanced student response and understanding.
Wonder – As helpfully suggested in the above post, I centred the inquiry around an initial essential question ‘What’s behind the mask’? This prompted students to think about the question from the start of the inquiry, but I found the wider ‘Wonder’ phase difficult to communicate and elicit from the students. Asking students to wonder about masks and masquerade seemed perhaps too abstract a concept. I found that the questioning phase needed close scaffolding; providing students with a set of questions or prompts for ideas for the students to pick out themselves helped. This may because the students have not followed an inquiry model before and are not used to having this freer form of exploration and questioning (though they have all completed an HPQ this year).
Investigate – I introduced the investigative stage by spending one lesson looking at a source that I had selected for them – the V&A collections website – identifying images and objects of masks and masquerade that they hold in their collection. I first showed the class an object I had discovered on this website and summarised what I’d learnt about it as an example. Whilst providing just one source limited what students could investigate, it ensured that they did not all search and select the same thing from Google images, whilst also opening out to them this valuable online resource and museum collection. The students found a wide array of objects and paintings, summarising them well to the rest of the class (filling in an adapted ‘Investigative Journal Years 6-8’ document, as found under the FOSIL resources). For their homework, students were directed to look at the ‘mask and masquerade’ resource list I had put together at the back of their booklet and identify 3 sources, filling in more of the ‘Investigative journal’ sheets in the booklet.
Construct – In the third inquiry lesson, I provided students time to feedback to the class the useful sources that they had identified and researched for their homework. This was then used as a foundation for the students to start constructing their own ideas around their mask design during this lesson. The students had the opportunity to brainstorm what their designed mask would look like etc….
Express – The students have been provided mask molds to create their masks over the Easter holidays, including half face, full faced and cat shaped masks (bought from Hobbycraft). They have also been asked to write 250–300-word paragraph to explain their decisions around their mask, including at least one source from their research. I have asked student to think about the following when creating their mask and writing their paragraph:
What is the style of your mask? (Venetian, Shakespearean, Elizabethan, Superhero, Mexican, Japanese, Halloween etc)
Where will you wear your mask? (Masquerade ball, festival, carnival, theatre, wedding, medical, battle)
Why are you wearing the mask? (Disguise, hide identity, freedom of speech, medical or war protection, rituals or religious ceremonies)
What is the design and materials used to create your mask? (half or full faced, facial expressions, colours symbols, images, quotes or music, accessories)
Reflect – To do after Easter holidays. I am planning for this to be an informal, peer-on-peer assessment and then class feedback.
As this is my first inquiry project, I feel I have learnt a lot, but still have much to learn! Any help with understanding a number of the inquiry phases and how to best communicate and model these in practice to the students would be really helpful for future inquiries.
Hi Jenny, thank you so much for your reply, really useful!
The inquiry project is going to be over 4 lessons, with a couple of homeworks included for students to carry out research during the investigate phase and create their masks during the express phase (over Easter holidays). I realise this is not very long, so your advice on providing lots of guidance and also limits to the inquiry is really important. I think guiding students to possible/suitable inquiry questions they could ask and limiting down their investigation to a currated list of sources, plus mask styles / themes will ultimately help support and direct the students.
I really like the broad question of ‘What’s behind the mask?’ to lead the inquiry as that encompasses so much and is also elusive, which I guess is what masks are! And I’m going to have the glossary running alongside the inquiry for students to register words as they proceed as you suggest. Thank you also for the worksheet idea for the construct phase – I’ll give it a go creating something and see how it works.
Thanks again, I feel like this is also my own inquiry into inquiry – an opportunity to investigate and experiment!
I’m Emma Wallace, Librarian at St Benedict’s School, West London, an independent Catholic school. I have worked as the senior school librarian now for over five years and run library lessons for all year 7 and 8 students, plus some one off research sessions with sixth formers. I am also very involved in supporting the HPQ (whole of year 8) and EPQ ( year 12), acting as EPQ Lead Supervisor, helping to teach some of the taught element skills sessions and organise research trips to a range of libraries, as well as university outreach skills training. It is through the EPQ that I have developed a close working partnership with English teacher Dr Julie Greenhough, who is also the EPQ Centre coordinator, writing a number of joint pieces and presenting together at conferences on topics such as, critical thinking skills, digital literacy and dis and misinformation (all leading to the below SLA publication).
I first became aware of Inquiry Based Learning and FOSIL when attending a Haileybury Group Librarians meeting in the summer of 2019 at Oakham School, when Jenny Toerien explained the concept and how the framework is used there. I was so inspired by this introduction that I came back to school and immediately emailed my Senior team about what a great student learning model this is! Whilst I have used some of the ideas of Inquiry, a number of the stages of the FOSIL cycle, including the worksheets available on this website, I haven’t yet managed to fully implement IBL as a programme. I also attended an excellent training session with Elizabeth Hutchinson in March 2020, when I was reinvigorated with the idea of implementing IBL at my school, but unforutnatley the pandemic then struck!
I have though been lucky enough to be invited to write a new School Library Association Guidelines on the topic of Inquiry Based Learning. The working title for this guide so far is ‘SLA Guidelines: The Librarian and Teacher Mindset: A Practical Guide to Inquiry Based Learning‘ and is still a work in progress. It would be really great if I could engage further with the community here to discuss ideas, content and key focuses – it is very much intended to be a practical guidelines to help other school librarians so any help would be appreciated.