The Institute on Descriptive Inquiry

Established in 2011, The Institute on Descriptive Inquiry Inc. is a 503(c) nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve, promote, expand, and augment the concept of descriptive inquiry. With historical roots in the descriptive processes developed at the Prospect School and at the Prospect Archive and Center for Education and Research, the Institute uses group process to describe, look closely at, and reflect upon student and teacher work in order to enhance teacher and school practice. Purposes of the Institute include:

  • To work to make descriptive inquiry accessible to a broad array of educators

  • To work in concert with other organizations with the same or similar objectives

  • To support projects by educators with similar interests

  • To organize and conduct workshops, lectures, and symposia based on the concept of descriptive inquiry.

  • To publish pamphlets, articles, and books on descriptive inquiry or related topics

The Institute on Descriptive Inquiry traditionally conducts two summer institutes:

The Institute on Descriptive Process can be an introduction to descriptive processes, or may serve to deepen understanding of them. The Institute explores the many ways children and youth express their ideas about the world through activities, words, and works. The Institute’s work rests on close observation and description, giving teachers an opportunity to look at children’s (and their own) works from multiple perspectives, while also serving as a way of considering connections to and implications for teacher practice, curriculum, school policy, and assessment.

Registration for summer institutes is currently closed.

Check back for more info on Summer 2020 institutes soon.

The Summer Institute on Descriptive Inquiry, brings together teachers, parents and others who are familiar with descriptive processes. Participants share a commitment to creating classrooms and schools where all children, and all people, are valued. As they work from their experiences, ideas and questions, those who attend participate in spanning studies of children and works, philosophical inquiry and in depth study of the descriptive processes.


We grieve the passing of Pat Carini, co-founder of the Prospect School, member of the Prospect board, author, speaker, independent educator, friend and teacher to many of us. May she rest in peace and power.

Attending with Care: Continuing Legacy of Patricia Carini

Please consider contributing your thoughts, reflections, and memories to a symposium Attending with Care: Continuing Legacy of Patricia Carini to be published in Schools: Studies in Education.

This symposium is a gathering to celebrate, describe, and name, the profound impact Patricia Carini has had on so many lives. We seek a diversity of responses that recognize Pat’s impact on the way people work and play, and in the way they see, attend, think about, and make sense. We celebrate and reaffirm her beliefs in human capacity widely distributed; in observation and description as a vital way of learning, knowing, and valuing; and in the necessity of making and doing.

We invite those who knew Pat directly, working with her at Prospect or one of the many schools and groups with whom she worked. We invite those who knew her indirectly through her writing, or through participation in an inquiry group, school or teacher education program that builds on the philosophy and processes of Descriptive Inquiry.

Recognizing Pat’s wide reach, for this symposium we want to embody a variety of perspectives and kinds of writing. Complementing a “from the archives” selection featuring Pat’s own writing, we seek original works that reflect the broad scope of Pat’s influence. We welcome papers that ground us in the philosophy, describe the history, and/or speak to current openings and future possibilities. In the democratic spirit of Pat’s work, we encourage collective and co-authored pieces.

We will be working as co-guest editors for this group of essays and written contributions along with Andy Kaplan, the editor of Schools: Studies in Education.

Tentative Timeline

  • July 15, 2021 Submission of a 750-1000 word abstract

  • Fall 2021 Accepted authors workshop draft papers with editors and fellow contributors on zoom

  • May 2022 Submit final drafts for copy editing

  • Fall 2022 Publication


Joan Bradbury, retired teacher, long time summer institute participant

Cara Furman, assistant professor of Literacy Education University of Maine at Farmington and former elementary school teacher, co-director of the Institute on Descriptive Inquiry, co-author of Descriptive Inquiry in Teacher Practice: Cultivating Practical Wisdom to Create Democratic Schools

Please send all submissions to

Published by the University of Chicago Press, Schools: Studies in Education is an international journal devoted to the life of the classroom, to stories and reflections about what happens when learning actually occurs. It is a place for teachers and other practitioners to write about their experiences. If you are not familiar with the journal, please take a look at the free sample issue online. Schools: Studies in Education uses The Chicago Manual of Style format of citation and reference. Please consult this link. We welcome any inquiries as you consider a potential contribution.