To comment on the outcomes and discoveries of my journey with the Year 4 ILA, I firstly need to set the scene and ask ‘What does best practice look like in geography?’. Obviously, we are considering inquiry-based learning as a major contributor to this answer, and according to Kidman (2012) best practice in geography would have questions being posed, and students playing major roles in answering those questions themselves. When an instructional team enables the student to become researcher, the inquiry approach is not only a teaching method but also a strategy. The focus of an inquiry should engage the students in their own learning, when their knowledge grows from content they understand, while building upon skills that they are able to do. When pondering Kidman’s thoughts I know that one must also follow the breadcrumb trail and look at the structures that help build the foundations of this best practice scenario.
Many learning frameworks, models and teaching styles have been developed around inquiry learning, for the good reason that it is a natural and instinctive way for humans to learn in their lives, by simply asking questions and seeking answers. However, when asking questions we need a focus, especially when taking students on an inquiry-learning journey. The inquiry-learning model demonstrated by the classroom teacher for this ILA, provided the focus via teacher-direction and structured activities, as the teacher posed questions along the inquiry journey while prescribing the procedure of how the students would take their learning path. Students were frequently asked to reflect on their progress by asking themselves ‘KWHL’, while also referring to the retrieval wall charts that documented their key focus lessons.
As a new initiative in the way geography was learned in this classroom, the teacher knew that the students would need to be set up for success with key focus activities, which would scaffold the skills required in tasks later on in the project. The role of the teacher at the beginning of the 9-week unit was presented as ‘expert’, as she demonstrated the knowledge and skills in set class lessons, focusing on key concept areas such as identifying genre and learning intention, Australia’s geographical location, film and generic structure, reading maps, words study, Movie Maker and an introduction to Africa. The students were aware they would be expected to take over control of their individual project in week 3, when they were given an opportunity to gradually develop a familiarity and fluency in their own learning process (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, Caspari, 2012). It is here that the teacher took off the ‘expert’ hat and played the role of a co-learner alongside her students. It was not in true sense an open inquiry, as students were still guided by the retrieval charts and encouraged to collaborate with peers, but the teacher had shifted the control over to the students.
This pedagogical style is one that the whole school adopted during 2014 and was incorporated into the English improvement plan. Hattie’s theories on visible learning and visible teaching have become the driving force behind this change, as teachers started to consider themselves as activators instead of facilitators. To be an activator you are an active teacher, passionate for the subject and for learning, and acting as an agent of change. However, to be a facilitator, you are a provider of inquiry or discover based activities that engage the students. It would appear that in my delving I have uncovered a huge clash in theories, which leads me into unknown territory. If I were to believe everything that Hattie claims and ignore all of the world scholars who have written about inquiry learning, I would be supporting the notion that inquiry based learning is not as effective as previously thought. As Hattie (2009) reports, inquiry based teaching from the facilitating teacher does not rank as high on the effect size scale for successful teaching and learning, as other elements such as feedback, reciprocal teaching, direct instruction and goal setting.
Now, with what little experience I have had with Hattie’s theories I am not about to argue that he is wrong, however, I believe that I observed a combination of his techniques alongside an inquiry-based learning model, during my involvement with the Year 4 geography class. The classroom teacher had designed a project that followed the very nature of an inquiry model as it:
- asked answerable questions and identified researchable problems
- developed a plan and took a form of action
- gathered resources and analyzed and summarized the information
- drew conclusions and reported findings
- reflected on the process (Audet & Jordan 2008)
My recommendation to assist this merging of models in the future would be to create a more authentic Guided Inquiry (Kuhlthau et al, 2007) and assemble an instructional team, where by guidance and scaffolding could be provided throughout the project from a teaching team, instead of a single teacher. Being part of the instructional team would enable me to support not only the students but also my colleagues, bringing a richness to the inquiry journey that previously was not there. Within this recommendation I would suggest that Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry design process model (2012) be our guide, but presented with a new look. In my personal experience with an inquiry learning process, I found the words of Kuhlthau matched my process, however, the visual suggested a strong linear process. I most definitely did not experience a linear journey, and with the help of an information search process model created by WISPR, I propose the following design that displays a more accurate model of my experience.
Inquiry Skills We Need
A main purpose for my inquiry blog journey, was to document students during their own inquiry based project, and collect data to assist in assessing how the students used and developed their inquiry skills. To understand how deeply the students engaged in the skills required and at what level they demonstrated their information literacy, we need to consider were these skills fall within the GeST perspectives of information literacy (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). The students were able to demonstrate their competencies with the skills required for the geographical inquiry which aligned with the generic perspective of information literacy, as students evaluated, managed and organized information while practicing search skills and following a series of stages to complete their projects. Most students also displayed skills within the situated perspectives as they created new knowledge through the process and outcome of engaging in authentic information practices. The focus of this ILA did not venture the students into the transformative perspective of information literacy, as the knowledge that they gained did not inspire any social change activities outside of the classroom. However, in saying that, the students’ reflections on life as a child in the countries they had researched, did bring a new found awareness as discussions emerged and the teacher realized that this style of ILA would have the potential to activate learners to challenge existing practices or the status quo. My recommendation would take this inquiry based project to the transformative level by using the GeST windows as a framework to guide the design of the ILA journey in the future. With the aid of an information literacy model such as the GeST windows, particular practices would be explicitly approached, and in turn assist in the shaping of the curriculum (Lupton & Bruce, 2010).
As mentioned above, the GeST model could assist in the planning phase of an inquiry unit as it shapes the journey intended, and therefore students would also require support and scaffolding that provides guidance. Considering the fact that all students used a computer to research their African country of choice, I would incorporate a retrieval wall chart that offered guidance in digital information searching, only after teaching a library lesson about there uses, of course. It is important to provide charts that are ‘at a glance’ easy to read, especially for middle school students. Another alternative might see the classroom teacher and students creating their own class digital information searching model, after focus lessons and exposure to charts such as the example featured below.
The Digital Information Fluency (DIF) is the ability to find,evaluate and use digital information effectively, efficiently and ethically.
DIF involves knowing how digital information is different from print information; having the skills to use specialized tools for finding digital information; and developing the dispositions needed in the digital information environment.
As teachers and librarians develop these skills and teach them to students, students will become better equipped to achieve their information needs.
Heine, C. & O’Connor, D. (2011)
While considering skills that students need to successfully travel through their inquiry, we need to draw attention to questioning. The very nature of the word ‘inquiry’ is to question and then ponder the answer. Students need to be equip with the adequate skills to question, and as Hattie (2009) reminds us, students can’t ask the questions unless we teach them how to ask them. Thus, bringing us to the questioning frameworks which act as our tools for inquiry, which build on our skills of inquiry.
Inquiry Tools that Aid Us
There is a plethora of inquiry questioning models and frameworks to consider, and all of which require modelling through a teacher-directed strategy before students can gain independence. During my own inquiry journey I compared three different frameworks to analyze the similarities and functionality of their structures, and how they might assist students in developing their skills. As above, we know that the classroom teacher used the ‘KWHL‘ model, however in my role as one of the instructional team members, I would recommend a questioning framework such as Gourley’s (2008) Inquiry Circle. The nature of this holistic model supports inquiry learning with a questioning framework, information literacy/information search process and an action research process (Lupton, 2012). How the students’ progress through their inquiry can be scaffolded through the use of the question framework, when a range of relevant questions are provided for students to use to guide their learning. Featured below in the blue bubbles, Gourley demonstrates the cyclic style of a questioning framework that I would recommend to use. What sets Gourley’s Inquiry Circle in front of the other models displayed, is the connection to personal reflection during each stage of inquiry. Many models are linear in nature and present personal reflection on conclusion of the learning journey, however asking students to reflect during the process would activate a stronger sense of self-awareness, knowledge and understanding of their learning, and in turn enhance the whole inquiry learning process.
To assist within this questioning framework even further, an information evaluation model should also be incorporated into the students inquiry skills base. Most of the Year 4 students involved in the ILA were inexperienced at making value judgements about the websites they were searching, and how relevant the content was to their inquiry. Within the proposed questioning framework, I would advocate for students to develop an awareness through the use of a website evaluation criteria, to assist in their digital information searches. When personally searching for quality sources on the internet, I now utilize the CARS checklist, which navigates the user to consider the Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness and Support of the website source. However, for primary school students I would suggest the RADCAB poster, a mnemonic acronym for information evaluation.
Also during the information search phase some Year 4 students struggled to find relevant websites. Advocating for information technology lessons to occur during the project, could have the teacher-librarian providing key focus lessons on how to use search engines with Boolean Operators, as well as the information evaluation criteria. This action plan should become a high priority for any inquiry learning project which uses the internet as its main information collection tool.
The role of the teacher-librarian and the school library are essential in the development of the learning skills recognized in the ILA discussed above, and recommendations that would improve it. The AASL’s standards for the 21st-century learner (2007) clearly support this notion, as they describe school libraries as a stimulating and safe environment, in which equitable physical and intellectual access is provided for the resources and tools required for learning. In conjunction to this, teacher-librarians should have the opportunity to collaborate with their colleagues and students to provide instruction, learning strategies, and practice in using the essential learning skills needed in the 21st century.
My aim as a teacher-librarian, would be to activate this vision in the way that I involve myself and extend my role into co-teacher, collaborative planner, and media specialist, whilst continuing to make the school library a hub for learning in all its forms – great and small.
The following Emaze presentation highlights the first steps I would take to begin the journey of supporting the 21st-century learners in a future ILA at my school. All steps have been discussed at length above, but I would like to leave you with this quick refresher.
Audet, R. H., & Jordan, L. K. (Eds.). (2008). Integrating inquiry across the curriculum. Corwin Press.
Gourley, B. (2008). Inquiry Cycle Journey. Retrieved on 15th September, 2014.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning; a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.
Heine, C. & O’Connor, D. (2011). Digital Information Fluency.
Kidman, G. (2012). Geographical inquiry in Australian schools: a retrospective analysis. International research in geographical and environmental education, 21 (4), p. 311.
Kuhlthau, C.; Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A, (2012). Chapter 1: Guided Inquiry Design: The Process, the Learning, and the Team. In Kuhlthau, C.; Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A, Guided inquiry design: a framework for inquiry in your school, (pp.1 – 15). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
Kulthau’s Guided Inquiry Design: Kuhlthau, C.; Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A, (2012). Chapter 1 : Guided Inquiry Design: The Process, the Learning, and the Team. In Kuhlthau, C.; Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A, Guided inquiry design: a framework for inquiry in your school, (pp.1 – 15). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
Lupton, Mandy. What is inquiry learning? Inquiry Learning and Information Literacy. 22 August 2012.
Lupton, Mandy and Bruce, Christine. (2010). Chapter 1: Windows on Information Literacy Worlds: Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives in Lloyd, Annemaree and Talja, Sanna, Practising information literacy : bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, pp.3-27.