Disclaimer: as I was unable to personally witness many of the Inquiry sessions, my analysis and recommendations are based on the information received via the questionnaires students completed, as well as two after school hours discussions with the classroom teacher.
Inquiry in Action
Over the course of Term 3 I had the opportunity to participate in Action Research with a Year 3 cohort. During this time the students were engaged in an Inquiry unit (ILA) based on the “Big Idea” of Cultures, Citizenship and Communities. Under this banner the students were tasked with the challenge of discovering information on an Australian celebration or commemoration of their choice.
Action Research the Process of Finding Out
Throughout the Inquiry the classroom teacher guided the students through Kath Murdoch’s (2010) Phases of Inquiry which provided a structured approach in which the classroom teacher modeled the skills and processes the students required to conduct their Inquiry. The students were “tuned in” to the topic through a brainstorming session based on their prior knowledge of Australian celebrations and commemorations and then continued through the finding out, sorting out, making conclusions, going further and reflecting/taking action phases of the Inquiry. This approach was hugely beneficial to the students who require structure. However, both myself and the classroom teacher noted that although this approach can be conducted in a cyclical and free flowing manner, high achieving students were held back by the focus on a step by step methodology.
Guided Inquiry, Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2012)
In conducting the SLIM questionnaires it was clear that the students required interventions throughout their Inquiry. Guided Inquiry is a process that is planned, targeted and provides supervised intervention (Kuhlthau, 2010) and would have been highly valuable to this cohort of students. The supervised intervention would be extremely valuable when used in conjunction with the SLIM toolkit and with the support and guidance of an experienced teacher librarian. Without guidance students tend to approach the process of Inquiry with a simple copying and pasting mentality that leads to very little authenic and deep learning (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 4). As the school currently does not have a teacher librarian on staff, the classroom teacher found the sourcing of resources problematic. Kuhlthau (2010, p. 3) notes that school librarians are integral in enabling students to learn through varied resources and a variety of communication modes. She also believes that the classroom teacher and teacher librarian need to collaborate and implement the Guided Inquiry process as a flexible team with interventions being initiated by all team members. As the school in question will have a teacher librarian in 2015 it is suggested that classroom teachers and the new teacher librarian establish a collaborative working relationship in order to provide students with interventions at key stages in their inquiries.
The Information Search Process, Kuhltahu (2013)
The Information Search Process (ISP) underlies the Guided Inquiry approach and seeks to describe the thoughts, actions and feelings of the students (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 4) as they progress through the Inquiry process. The SLIM toolkit was extremely valuable in assessing the students thoughts, actions and feelings at key stages in the Celebrations and Commemorations Inquiry. It was through these questionnaires that I identified the need for information literacy (IL) interventions (see Action Taken post). Although information literacy was touched upon during the ILA by the classroom teacher, it was by no means a focus of the unit of Inquiry. It is suggested that this particular unit of Inquiry would benefit from a Guided Inquiry approach with the use of the SLIM toolkit to asses interventions at key stages.
Student work sample
The questioning framework for this unit was based on Barell’s (2007) KWLAQ (see image below, see also Q1).The students constructed their own learning pathways through the use of a “data chart” in which they transcribed their research and chose the direction of their personal Inquiry. This often led to students questioning on a very basic and surface level often reaching only the understanding level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Anderson et al., 2001). Rothstein & Santana (2011) note that having the ability to form and ask their own questions allows students to take ownership of the their learning, deepen their comprehension and arrive at conclusions and connections on their own merits. However, questioning needs to be deliberately taught to students in order for them to engage deeply with inquiry and maintain that skill as a lifelong learner (Rothstein& Santana, 2011).
KWHLAQ Questioning Framework. Image adapted from Barell (2007) using PicCollage
Fact finding vs deeper understandings
Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2007) suggest that it is the expectations and instructions of teachers and librarians that have a significant impact in nurturing meaningful and deep understandings in their students through the inquiry process.
Rothstein & Santana (2011) suggest a questioning framework to guide students in posing and then answering meaningful questions. The students conducting this ILA would have greatly benefited from step three in the process where students improve their questions by comparing the differences between open and closed ended questions. The work sample above and the work samples in the Description of Information Learning Activity show examples of closed ended questions.
Question Formulation Technique, (c) The Right Question Institute. Image source: Harvard Education Lette
Information Seeking/Information Literacy Process
As mentioned previously, the focus of this Inquiry was literacy and history outcomes rather than on information seeking or information literacy outcomes. When comparing the Inquiry unit to the American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner (2007), the outcomes do not meet many of the criteria. Whilst this unit was not designed to include a focus on information seeking and information literacy, this was an element that was discovered (through the questionnaires) to require targeted interventions.
Standard 1 American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner (AASL 2007)
The Inquiry unit can also be examined through the theory of the GeST windows (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). This inquiry sits mostly in the Generic window, as the information they produced is external to the students and they do not affect the information in any way. The assessment of the ILA however, sits in the Situated window as the students participated in authentic peer and self-assessment through formative practice. The students were involved in generating an assessment rubric and had ownership of the assessment outcomes. This unit of Inquiry would be further transformed by making information literacy a focus of the Inquiry and situating the information literacy components in the Situated and Transformative windows wherever possible. This is again linked to improved questioning and a focus on the information literacy process. This can occur in the classroom as well as part of the library curriculum.
The history curriculum lends itself to a strong inquiry learning focus as it involves asking important questions and making connections with the past. It is important for students to undertake historical inquiry, Foster & Padgett in Lupton (2012, p. 14) suggests that it helps students to understand the human condition and helps them to begin to develop a sense of self underpinned by their own values and beliefs. The analysis of primary and secondary sources is prominent in the Australian Curriculum historical inquiry (Lupton, 2012, p. 14), a Guided Inquiry approach combined with a strong information literacy component would greatly enhance this particular ILA. The skills obtained by the students through an improved Inquiry approach would enhance their ability to ask better questions, to go beyond remembering and understanding and develop application, analysis, evaluative and creative skills (Anderson et al., 2001). It is hoped that a Guided Inquiry approach with a focus on meaningful questioning will ensure students become information literate with a view to transcending the Generic window of the GeST model (Lupton & Bruce, 2010) and achieving outcomes in the Transformative window.
American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Chicago: American Library Association.
Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., & Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, abridged edition. White Plains, NY: Longman
Barell, J. (2007). Problem based learning: An inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Kuhlthau, C. (2010).Guided inquiry: school libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide 16 (1) pp.1-12.
Kuhlthau, C.C. (2010). Information Search Process. Retrieved from https://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/information_search_process.htm
Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K., & Caspari, A.K. (2007). Chapter 2: The Theory and Research Basis for Guided Inquiry. In, Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (pp. 13-28).Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
Lupton, M. (2012). Inquiry skills in the Australian Curriculum. Access 26 (2) pp.12-18.
Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Chapter 1: Windows on Information Literacy Worlds: Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives. In A. Lloyd & S. Talja, Practising information literacy: bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together (pp.3 – 27). Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies.
Murdoch, K. (2010). Phases of Inquiry. Retrieved from http://kathmurdoch.com.au/fileadmin/_migrated/content_uploads/phasesofinquiry.pdf
Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. (2011). Harvard Education Letter. Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Retrieved from http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/27_5/helarticle/teaching-students-to-ask-their-own-questions_507#home
Todd, R.J., Kuhlthau, C.C., & Heinstrom, J.E. (2005). School library impact measure (S*L*I*M): A toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of guided inquiry through the school library. Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, Rutgers University. Retrieved from http://cissl.rutgers.edu/images/stories/docs/slimtoolkit.pdf