Final Reflections

The end of a journey… for now!

As I stand back and look at what I have achieved over the past four months, I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with not just how far I have come, but how significantly my perceptions and attitudes of inquiry learning have changed.

From the beginning of this unit, I knew it would be a long and challenging process. I had very little prior knowledge, and was rather sceptical about how effective this pedagogical approach would really be for primary school learners. However as my journey began, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my journey was not only filled with uncertainty, confusion and doubt, but also optimism, clarity, confidence and a renewed sense of accomplishment (Kuhlthau, 2004). From the Expert Searches in Module 1, to the Information Learning Activity (ILA) in Module 2, I gradually began to piece together 21st century pedagogy one brick at a time. I could not possibly have prepared myself for the authentic learning opportunities that took place. Having the opportunity to participate in an inquiry on inquiry learning, enabled me to follow my own learning transformation alongside my students. This gave me greater insight into the affective, cognitive and physical processes that the students were experiencing, and allowed me to provide more informed scaffolding and support when required.

Reflecting on my inquiry learning journey is a very satisfying task. However, I realise that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my relentless questioning along the way. Some questions of which have been answered, and others of which have transformed into more defining questions. McKenzie (2005) believes questioning is a vital part of developing understanding and insight, and ultimately helps learners make sense of the world around them. I agree, and believe it has been my questioning that has put me in a better position to return to the very first questions I asked on this journey. It is now time to see if my newly found wisdom and understanding of inquiry learning enables me to confidently answer these initial concerns.

 

How do you fit inquiry learning into a content heavy curriculum?

Before commencing on this journey, I saw inquiry learning as a separate pedagogical approach that sat outside of the ‘regular’ curriculum. As a result, I found it extremely difficult to visualise how inquiry learning would fit into the content heavy Australian Curriculum, without creating more work for teachers. Thankfully the new understandings I have developed throughout my inquiry learning journey, put my mind at ease.

My first major discovery was that the Australian Curriculum actually supports and promotes the pedagogy of inquiry across a number of subject areas (ACARA, 2014a). Within the History, Science and Geography curriculum areas in particular, students are encouraged to develop an interrelated set of inquiry skills by participating in the ‘regular’ subject-related content (Lupton, 2012). However for this to occur, it is paramount that students are effectively guided towards the development of these inquiry skills. This process is known as Guided Inquiry (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). Guided Inquiry is situated between structured inquiry (teacher-directed) and open inquiry (student-centred) and is built on the constructivist approach. Guided Inquiry aligns closely with the Australian Curriculum, and believes that the most effective learning occurs when “planned, targeted [and] supervised intervention” occurs at critical points throughout the process (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 4).

In addition to understanding the level of inquiry required in the Australian Curriculum, visualising how inquiry learning should occur is important. Through analysing a number of inquiry models, two in particular stood out to me; Kuhlthau’s (2004) Information Search Process (ISP) model and the Alberta Learning (2004) Inquiry Model. Both of these models align with Kuhlthau’s et al. (2007) Guided Inquiry and acknowledge that “inquirers follow a general cognitive and affective pattern” that needs to be scaffolded and supported at critical stages to enable students to move successfully through the learning process (Alberta Learning, 2004, p.9). I believe a chosen model should be posted on the classroom wall, so as students and teachers can internalise the learning processes involved at each phase and self-direct themselves towards the next task. By referring to it regularly, teachers are better able to anticipate when students’ feelings change, and students are better able to understand when their feelings and experiences are actually normal parts of the process. This certainly helped me throughout my own journey.

By applying these theories to the content demands of the Australian Curriculum, it appears to me that instead of creating more work for teachers, inquiry learning actually supports the learning processes already in place, and makes the content descriptors easier to achieve. In addition, inquiry learning also makes the content more relevant and meaningful to the learner.

 

Can inquiry learning be implemented across all subject areas?

I posed this question at the beginning of my journey with a very narrow mindset. A mindset that believed inquiry learning only occassionaly occurred in particular subject areas, for high-achieving students. However as I began my discovery, I quickly realised that inquiry learning is a pedagogical approach that is becoming increasingly common across all subject areas in the curriculum.

Although the Australian Curriculum only overtly specifies the inquiry skills that occur in the subjects of History, Science and Geography; there is a large scope for inquiry learning in other subject areas as well (ACARA, 2014a). ‘Inquiring’ sits as one of the elements of the Critical and Creative Thinking General Capability (ACARA, 2014b). Within this element, students are encouraged to identify, explore, organise and question information to create meaning, which is essentially what inquiry learning is. It is vital that educators take the opportunity to embed these inquiry skills into all subject areas such as Mathematics and Music, even if just in small parts, to create deeper learning experiences for all.

 

How do you guide students to develop suitable questions for inquiry learning?

When I began asking these questions in my initial post, I had no idea how important these questions would be to the inquiry process. I did it, because it was part of the task requirements, not because it had any real meaning to me at that stage. However, I quickly learned how wrong I was.

Like me, it is important that all learners are given the opportunity to ask their own questions and voice their curiosities (McKenzie, 2005). Murdoch (2012) believes questions empower learners to take control of their learning and make sense of the world around them. From my own observations, I realise that students enjoy being able to explore their own questions and therefore approach their learning journey more confidently when they have control. But how do we encourage students to develop suitable content-appropriate questions?

It is important to start with one or two overarching essential inquiry questions. These can be either teacher-created or teacher-student-created, and are used to drive the inquiry. Starting out with well-constructed essential questions, only invites students to ask many more sub-questions (Murdoch, 2012). For this to occur, students need to be explicitly taught how to use a strong questioning framework. Throughout my journey I have analysed a number of questioning frameworks. One questioning framework that stood out to me in particular was Gourley’s (2008) Inquiry Circle model. Initially I just liked the visual appeal, but upon closer examination I realised how useful this framework would be, not only for the students, but the teachers as well. I also liked this framework because it was similar to the Alberta Learning (2004) Inquiry Model, previously mentioned. This framework includes a range of guiding questions at each phase, which can drive investigation, connect to students’ prior learning, build on learning strategies, promote ownership and independence, as well as encourage the development of deeper understandings (Gourley, 2008). When students are taught how to explicitly use this framework, questions become more content-relevant and research-relevant, and genuinely drive a student’s individual inquiry to deeper understanding.

Although this part of my inquiry learning journey is now over, one of the most prominent things I have learnt over the past four months is that inquiry learning does not end. In fact as the cyclical nature of inquiry learning suggests, I am actually back where I started, at the beginning of a brand new journey.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey so far, and have found it a truly transforming experience. This discovery has enabled me to develop a range of new knowledges, understandings and skills, which I will continue to enhance through professional practice. This unit has significantly validated the importance of my role as a primary school educator in the 21st century, as has positioned me in great stead to enact pedagogical change. With change, comes a new beginning, a beginning where I again begin by asking some important guiding questions…

  • Which inquiry model is best for my school?
  • Is there a place for open inquiry learning in the classroom context?
  • Should some information literacy skills be taught prior to the commencement of an inquiry project?
  • How can I encourage others to start their own journey of inquiry learning?

 

References

Alberta Learning. (2004). Focus on inquiry: A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning.

Daily Mail Australia. (2008, May 6). The world’s tallest Lego tower which took 500000 bricks to build [Image]. Retrieved October 29, 2014.

Enatai Elementary PTSA. (2014). Lego robotics [Image]. Retrieved October 29, 2014.

Gourley, B. (2008). Inquiry: The road less travelled. Knowledge Quest, 37(1), 18-23.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Information search process.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 1-12.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari, A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Lupton, M. (2012). Inquiry skills in the Australian Curriculum. ACCESS, June, 12-18.

McKenzie, J. (2005). Learning to question to wonder to learn. Washington: FNO Press.

Murdoch, K. (2012b, October 28). Walking the world with questions in our heads [Web log post].

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2014a). Australian Curriculum.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2014b). Critical and creative thinking: Organising elements.

 

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Analysis and Recommendations

Now let’s take a closer look…

Within today’s globally interconnected and constantly changing world, there is demand for a new culture of learning. A culture that inspires, motivates and prepares students for living successfully in today’s complex and challenging information society (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012). My previous essay, The Importance of Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century Primary History Classroom, uncovered a range of lifelong learning skills and knowledge sets that students are now required to cultivate. No longer is learning curriculum content in isolation an efficient or effective practice, instead “learning how to learn and understanding one’s own learning process” is now more important (Kuhlthau et al., 2012, p. 1). The inquiry learning pedagogy provides a relevant and authentic context in which this can occur (Kuhlthau, 2010; Murdoch, 2012a). This approach is strongly advocated by the Australian History Curriculum and as a result, the Information Learning Activity (ILA) undertaken in this study, demonstrates how this can be achieved (ACARA, 2014a). This analytical essay will examine the ILA and compare it to a range of learning models, theories, frameworks and standards. Throughout this analysis, recommendations for future practices and improvements will also be discussed.

The level of inquiry best depicted in the ILA is Guided Inquiry (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). Guided Inquiry is situated between structured inquiry (teacher-directed) and open inquiry (student-centred) and is built upon the constructivist approach (Kuhlthau et al., 2012). Maniotes (2005) describes this midpoint as the “third space” and suggests that it is formed when student-centred worlds and teacher-directed curriculum effectively interconnect (as cited in Kuhlthau, 2010). During the ILA this environment was created regularly, to enable meaningful and long lasting learning. Figure 1 illustrates the creation of “third space” in the ILA. As this was the students’ first unit of inquiry, the ILA was slightly more teacher-directed. The teacher posed the essential questions as well as structured and resourced the research project. Alternatively, students were given some individual control over their First Fleet Convict choice, and some topic specific sub-questions. Through this constructivist inquiry approach, “planned, targeted [and] supervised intervention” was possible at critical points during the ILA (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 4). This intervention occurred within the “third space” individually, in small groups and in whole class groups on a daily basis, and enabled students to develop deeper, more personal understandings (Kuhlthau, 2010). Guided Inquiry aligns closely with the expectations of the Australian History Curriculum, which believes that historical inquiry is best developed through a combination of both teacher-directed and student-centred learning opportunities (ACARA, 2014a).

Figure 1 Adapted version of Maniotes’ (2005) Third Space in Guided Inquiry

Despite the positive outcomes demonstrated within the ILA, intervention strategies could have been improved. Kuhlthau’s (2010) Guided Inquiry promotes the use of a flexible team approach to guide and support students’ learning. However, as discussed in the Action Taken post, this was not possible during the ILA. As a result, the teacher was solely responsible for planning, supervising and scaffolding the students’ inquiry on her own. With the addition of a Guided Inquiry team in the future, students would receive more specialised learning support and relevant expertise. In particular Kuhlthau et al. (2007) believes the teacher librarian as an information literacy expert, is an essential member of the Guided Inquiry team. With a teacher librarian’s guidance, students can learn how to locate, evaluate and use a variety of resources effectively within their research. In addition, Kuhlthau et al. (2012) also strongly recommends the addition of a third core team member. A third member would provide “additional professional guidance and ongoing [specialised] support for students” as well as the teacher (Kuhlthau et al., 2012, p. 12). If this team approach is built thoughtfully, and expertise from within the wider school community is utilised more effectively, learning opportunities will become more authentic and relevant.

The underlying principles of Kuhlthau’s (2004) model of Information Search Process (ISP) can be directly applied to the ILA. Throughout the research project, students’ feelings, thoughts and actions gradually transformed, closely aligning to each of the six stages of inquiry. Students began with very vague thoughts, and as these matured and became more focused, their interest levels also increased. As interest and motivation are fundamental components of inquiry learning, engaging students early in the process was vital (Murdoch, 2012a). Effectively created climates of discovery empower students to inquire, participate, create and learn in ways that are more meaningful (Kuhlthau, 2010). Student interest and engagement alone can potentially influence what is learned, and how much is retained (Suda, 2009). Emotions also play a key role in the quality of inquiry learning, and therefore the interventions and support previously discussed were necessary for regulating these experiences (Kuhlthau, Heinstrom & Todd, 2008).

Despite the overall effectiveness of Kuhlthau’s (2004) ISP model, it does not work on its own and needs to be situated within a larger, more defined inquiry model. Although Bateman (2014) suggests that inquiry learning is more than just the adoption of a single pedagogical model, the use of an inquiry model is imperative to the process as it connects learning and provides a structure for content and skills development (Alberta Learning, 2004). In redesigning this ILA, the Alberta Learning (2004) inquiry model should be drawn upon. Figure 2 illustrates how this ILA could align with this model. This model works alongside both Kuhlthau’s (2010) Guided Inquiry and Kuhlthau’s (2004) ISP model and acknowledges that “inquirers follow a general cognitive and affective pattern” that needs to be scaffolded and supported at critical stages to enable students to move successfully through the process (Alberta Learning, 2004, p. 9). In contrast however, this model is organised by a set of non-linear phases, which encourages a flexible and individualised journey. Each phase explicitly outlines the skills and strategies that should occur, and invites inquirers to reflect on the process in an ongoing manner. This model should be posted visibly on the walls of the classroom to enable students and teachers to internalise the learning processes involved at each phase. By referring to it regularly, teachers are better able to anticipate when students’ feelings change, and students are better able to understand when their feelings and experiences are expected. Alberta Learning (2004, p. 8) suggests this process encourages students to recognise “each phase as part of the whole process” and move effectively from one phase to the next.

Figure 2 Adapted version of Alberta Learning (2004) inquiry model

Throughout the inquiry process, students’ cultivated a range of important skills that can be examined through the theory of GeST windows (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). Of particular importance are the information literacy skills that were developed, as these are integrated throughout each stage of the process and are transferable to a wide range of situations. However as seen in Figure 3, the skills developed within the ILA were mainly located within the Generic and Situated window of the theory, and overall fail to mature to the level of Transformative (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). At the Generic window level, students developed and practiced a range of skills and processes for finding and managing external information, and evaluating its quality. This was a particularly large focus of the ILA. In contrast, the Situated window tasks saw students engage in more complex thinking and reasoning. During this level students were authentically guided towards internalising the information found in multiple sources and reconstructing personal knowledge and understanding. This is evident in the following student’s response to what he learned throughout the inquiry (see Findings):

“The First Fleet convicts built most of this country that we are living in.”

Figure 3 Adapted version of Lupton & Bruce’s (2010) GeST windows model

Although the Transformative window of the GeST windows theory is the most challenging to embed, it should have been more prominent in the ILA. At the Transformative level students learn to observe information literacy as a social practice, one that can transform individuals as well as communities (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). Within the ILA, students only marginally entered this window (Figure 3). This occurred as students began more closely evaluating information sources and asking questions about their generation purposes. One task students worked on in particular, asked students to observe two different paintings of the First Fleet landing, and identify what group of people were responsible for painting each one. This exercise encouraged students to see how information resources can serve different interests while portraying different perspectives (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). This participation enabled students to think about the power of assumptions, and apply this evaluative criterion to multiple sources of information. However, this was not enough. Students need to be challenged to enter this window more often and become empowered to take social and personal action in the real world. In this ILA specifically, students should have been more formally encouraged to critique ideas about the treatment of Indigenous Australians during settlement, and identify ideas that could transform their treatment and presence in modern society. By making a connection between these values and attitudes, students are empowered to adapt their own values and attitudes within the society in which they live.

Central to the act of inquiry learning, are the questions and questioning that empowers learners to make sense of the world around them. Questioning techniques form an essential component of the ILA, and have been used to “provoke thought and inspire reflection” at various critical stages (McKenzie, 2005). This ILA was driven by two overarching essential questions, both of which were teacher-directed (see Description of ILA). Murdoch (2012b) believes using such compelling and enriching questions to drive the inquiry, immediately positions the learning as an investigation and invites students to explore and think about these questions in new and innovative ways. These two essential questions were established inline with ACARA’s (2014b) Historical Knowledge and Understanding content descriptors, were shared with the students at the beginning of the inquiry and returned to on a regular basis throughout the journey, as new thinking and perspectives were constructed. Murdoch (2012b) suggests starting out with well-constructed essential questions invites students to ask many more sub-questions along the way, evoking deeper curiosity and enhancing richer engagement in the whole process.

It is vital that students feel supported to voice their own curiosities throughout inquiry learning, as student driven questions are the most powerful of all (McKenzie, 2005). Lupton (2012) believes that essential inquiry questions invite a range of unique sub-questions that can be investigated by the students. Within this ILA, students were encouraged to pose and explore a range of sub-questions about the journey of the First Fleet as well as the convict they were investigating. Some questions posed by students include:

  • Where did the First Fleet stop first?
  • How many stops did the First Fleet make on its journey?
  • What crime did this convict commit?
  • Why did this convict commit this crime?

According to ACARA (2014b), posing a range of questions about the past is a specific historical skill that Year 4 students need to demonstrate. With guidance, these sub-questions empowered students to pull apart the essential questions and take control of their own learning (Murdoch, 2012a). Observations throughout the inquiry indicated that students enjoyed being able to explore their own questions and therefore approached their learning journey more confidently. Alternatively, students were also invited to use a KWL chart. However this chart was not used to pose content related sub-questions, but was a resource that invited students to share their prior knowledge and ask generic questions about the research process itself (see Action Taken). Murdoch (2012a) suggests that it is important for students to share their conceptions and misconceptions about researching, as this can enhance their confidence and reflective thinking later in the inquiry.

Whilst students certainly had the opportunity to form their own questions during the ILA, this pedagogical practice was not explicitly implemented. Students needed to be more carefully taught how to use an independent and strong questioning framework such as the Inquiry Circle model (Gourley, 2008). Gourley’s (2008) Inquiry Circle model is similar to the Alberta Learning (2004) inquiry model previously recommended, but includes a range of guiding questions at each phase. These questions drive investigation, connect to students’ prior learning, build on learning strategies, promote ownership and independence, as well as encourage the development of deeper understandings (Gourley, 2008). Like the Alberta Learning (2004) inquiry model, Gourley’s (2008) Inquiry Circle model operates a non-linear approach to questioning, which enables students to recognise that information seeking is a cyclical process. Although this model adds an additional layer to student questioning, it also replaces the KWL chart used in the ILA, as it enables students to raise questions not only about the topic content, but also the research process. Figure 4 illustrates how this model aligns with the questioning present in the ILA. This model should be visibly posted on the wall of the classroom, and referred to on a regular basis throughout the inquiry process (Gourley, 2008). Teaching students how to use their individual “questioning toolkits” is fundamental to the success of inquiry learning (McKenzie, 2005).

Figure 4 Adapted version of Gourley’s (2008) inquiry circle model

In addition to this student-questioning framework, students also need to be guided towards using disciplinary specific questioning frameworks as well (McKenzie, 2005). As historians ask a variety of discipline-specific questions, this ILA should have placed more emphasis on historical-based inquiry questions. These questions can be formed using the 7 Ws and H approach, and are specifically relevant for investigating primary and secondary sources. HistoryOnTheNet (2014) recommends a series of historical-based inquiry questions, which should be incorporated into any historical inquiry. An example of these questions are illustrated in Figure 5. Kiem (2012, p. 66) reveals that “working with [authentic] inquiry questions, interrogating historical sources and being able to communicate the results of their investigation in a way that develops and demonstrates historical skills and understandings” is the ultimate goal of historical inquiry learning.

Figure 5 Adapted version of HistoryOnTheNet (2014) Historical-based inquiry questions

With the prevalence of the Internet in our society increasing rapidly, students also need to develop the skills to critically evaluate and ask questions of the information they locate online. Although this was not built into the original structure of the ILA, these questions are recognised as an important component of information literacy and a vital inquiry skill that leads to “information power” (McKenzie, 2005). After concerns were raised about two websites showing conflicting information, this skill became a targeted intervention that occurred. The Australian Government Cyber Smart website was drawn on for ideas, and discussion revolved around the importance of the information in the URL, knowing who created it, knowing when it was created and knowing where it was created (see Action Taken). Although students were guided through this evaluation process carefully, this was not enough. Kuhlthau (2010) suggests, students need to be introduced to a specific set of evaluation criteria that they can use to determine information suitability. Harris (2007) recommends the use of the CARS checklist (credibility, accuracy, reasonableness and support). The CARS checklist provides a list of criteria that students need to critically ask of the information they find to determine its suitability (Harris, 2007). In addition, students need to be taught where to look for this information. Unfortunately knowing what to look for could be a challenging task for young students, and therefore Figure 6 illustrates an adapted version of the CARS checklist that students will find more efficient and easy to use. As students tick off the criteria, they are challenged to make critical decisions on the accuracy, reliability and value of each source they encounter, and the assumptions that each promote (McKenzie, 2005).

Figure 6 Adapted version of Harris’ (2007) CARS checklist

From the outset of the ILA, ACARA’s (2014b) historical inquiry skills featured prominently in the design of this inquiry project. At Year 4, ACARA (2014b) expects students to:

  • Pose a range of questions about the past
  • Identify sources
  • Locate relevant information from sources provided
  • Identify different points of view
  • Develop texts, particularly narratives
  • Use a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written) and digital technologies

However authentic history teaching and learning pedagogy demands that there should be no separation of content and process, therefore each of these historical inquiry skills have been demonstrated through involvement in the historical knowledge and understanding content of the First Fleet (ACARA, 2014a). However age and inquiry experience can play a vital role in the successful development of these skills. It is imperative that teachers are aware of how these lineal factors affect student learning, and be able to differentiate and scaffold when required to meet students’ individual needs.

In addition to ACARA’s (2014b) content descriptors, the Standards for the 21st Century Learner (AASL, 2007), also provide a practical set of skills, dispositions, responsibilities and self-assessment strategies that students need to cultivate in order to be successful in the 21st century. These broad standards are not prescribed to a specific level or age, and therefore allow for individual and personal growth (AASL, 2007). As Figure 7 illustrates, this ILA achieved a number of 21st century standards. In particular, the ILA focused heavily on developing and demonstrating many skills, dispositions, responsibilities and self-assessment strategies that allow students to inquire, think critically and gain knowledge. In contrast however, the ILA provided less opportunities for students to draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations and create new knowledge. This may have been because these standards were not explicitly outlined to the students. In the future, this needs to be a practice that occurs, so as students are aware of what they need to achieve and therefore take control of their own learning pathway.

21st century learner page 1

Figure 7 Adapted version of AASL’s (2007) Standards for the 21st Century Learner

Within today’s globally interconnected and constantly changing world, we have entered a new era in education. An era that inspires, motivates and prepares students for living successfully in today’s complex and challenging information society. This ILA clearly reflects these characteristics by aligning with several inquiry learning models, theories, frameworks and standards. Unfortunately the ILA does present some shortfalls, and as a result a number of recommendations have been suggested for future practice. Figure 8 summarises these recommendations.

Figure 8 Summary of ILA Recommendations

 

Now that my bricks have been carefully analysed and put into order, it is time to reflect on my knowledge, understanding and experience in my Final Reflections.

 

References

Alberta Learning. (2004). Focus on inquiry: A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning.

American Association of School Libraries. (2007). Standards for the 21st century learner. 

Bateman, D. (2014). Developing teachers of inquiry: An emerging humanities model of inquiry (HMI). Ethos, 22(1), 8-11.

Gourley, B. (2008). Inquiry: The road less travelled. Knowledge Quest, 37(1), 18-23.

Harris, R. (2007). Virtual Salt: Evaluating internet research sources.

HistoryOnTheNet. (2014, July 7). Questions to ask of a source [Web log post].

Kiem, P. (2012). Have we lost the plot? Narrative, inquiry, good & evil in history pedagogy. Agora, 47(4), 28-32.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Information search process.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 1-12.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Heinstrom, J., & Todd, R. J. (2008). The ‘information search process’ revisited: Is the model still useful? Information Research, 13(4).

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari, A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari, A. (2012). Guided Inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Lupton, M. (2012). Inquiry skills in the Australian Curriculum. ACCESS, June, 12-18.

Lupton, M., & Bruce, C. (2010). Windows on information literacy worlds: Generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In A. Lloyd & S. Talja (Eds.), Practising information literacy: Bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together (pp. 3-27). Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre of Information Studies.

McKenzie, J. (2005). Learning to question to wonder to learn. Washington: FNO Press.

Murdoch, K. (2012a). Inquiry learning – Journeys through the thinking processes. 

Murdoch, K. (2012b, October 28). Walking the world with questions in our heads [Web log post].

Suda, L. (2009). The Melbourne story: Posing essential questions for inquiry. Agora, 44(1), 55-59.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2014a). The Australian Curriculum v7.0 History: Implications for teaching, assessment and reporting.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2014b). History: Curriculum: Year 4.

Waisberg, D. (2012, March). Web analytics experts – Lessons from Lego [Image]. Retrieved October 26, 2012.

 

Findings

Look at what we found!…

As described in the Methodology, students completed three SLIM Toolkit Questionnaires at three specific stages of the Information Learning Activity (ILA). These questionnaires were the main form of data collection. Below, the results of these questionnaires have been presented and interpreted. These results have enabled comparisons to be made between each questionnaire, and changes in the development of student knowledge and skills throughout the inquiry learning process to be demonstrated (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005). The previous Action Taken post describes some intervention that occurred throughout the research project, as a result of some of the preliminary findings.

 

Question One – Take some time to think about your topic. Write down everything you know about it.

In all three questionnaires students were asked to identify their existing knowledge and understanding about the First Fleet. Student responses were analysed and individually categorised into fact statements, explanation statements and conclusion statements. Incorrect responses were not counted. Figure 1 illustrates students’ responses for all three questionnaires.

Figure 1

This data shows that the number of student responses increased significantly between each questionnaire, demonstrating a clear growth in topic knowledge throughout the ILA. In particular, factual statements were the preferred method of student response. Kuhlthau, Heinstrom and Todd (2008) believe this is a normal approach, and most students feel more comfortable listing general facts from the information they have gathered, at the beginning of the research process. However as the inquiry progressed, so to did the number of factual statements, increasing from 13 to 42 to 60 in Questionnaire 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Here is an example of how a student’s response changed between Questionnaire 1 and Questionnaire 3:

Questionnaire 1 – Student M: “I don’t know a single thing.”

Questionnaire 3 – Student M: “There were 11 ships. The ships were called Charlotte, Fishburn, Friendship, Prince of Wales, HMS Sirius, HMS Supply, Scarborough, Alexander, Golden Grove, Lady Penrhyn and Borrowdale. They left on May 13 1787. They got to Botany Bay 18 January 1788. They left Botany Bay. They got to Port Jackson 26 January. Sarah Bellamy was a convict. Nancy Yeats was a convict.”

While the quality of factual statements improved significantly from Questionnaire 1 to Questionnaire 3 (as seen in the above student’s responses), there were only very few students who engaged more deeply or analytically with the information. Throughout the ILA, there was only a very small increase in the number of explanation statements and conclusion statements given between Questionnaire 1 and Questionnaire 2, before these statements appeared to regress again in Questionnaire 3. Surprisingly, one student provided an explanation statement early in Questionnaire 1, but it was later observed that she had previously engaged in a similar inquiry at her previous school. Here is an example of a student’s explanation in Questionnaire 1:

Questionnaire 1 – Student L: “In the First Fleet they sent convicts over to Australia because there wasn’t enough room left in England jails.”

Here is an example of two more students who moved towards developing a deeper engagement with their research in Questionnaire 2 and Questionnaire 3 respectively:

Questionnaire 2 – Student E: “Before the transportation to Australia, there was the prison hulks, jails and they were sending convicts to America but America said stop sending the convicts here because we are no longer in the Commonwealth. So they needed a new idea. That’s when they decided to send convicts to Australia on the First Fleet.”

Questionnaire 3 – Student O: “The First Fleet were a group of 11 ships in search of a new colony because the jails were overflowing with convicts and the British could not send them to America anymore because they were their own country and no longer in the Commonwealth. So the British decided to send them to New Holland, which is now called Australia.”

As the main objective of an inquiry project is to go beyond simple fact finding, it is evident that these students have been able to synthesize and assimilate general facts, before constructing new knowledge (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). However, not all students progress through this construction process independently (Kuhlthau et al., 2008). Therefore it is vital that students’ actions and expectations are carefully guided by teacher instruction to enable deeper knowledge development (Kuhlthau et al., 2007).

 

Question Two – How interested are you in this topic?

In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify their interest in learning and researching about the First Fleet. Students indicated their interest by selecting one of four responses – Not at all interested, Not much interested, A little bit interested and Very interested. Figures 2, 3 and 4 illustrate students’ responses in all three questionnaires.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

This data shows that student interest overall increased throughout the ILA. By grouping together the ‘A little bit interested’ and ‘Very interested’ categories, it is evident how significantly this interest increased – from 50% in Questionnaire 1, to 93% in Questionnaire 2, to 92% in Questionnaire 3. In particular the ‘Very interested’ category increased from 21% in Questionnaire 1 to 67% in Questionnaire 3. Kuhlthau et al. (2008) suggests that it is expected that students would have a lower level of interest at the beginning of the research project, as they are lacking in prior knowledge and are yet to refine their topic relevance and meaning. However once students take authentic ownership, become more involved in the construction of their own knowledge, and receive specific interventions by skilled professionals, the more interested and engaged students become (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004).

This data also aligns neatly with the Information Search Process (ISP) model, which suggests that although students may begin with vague thoughts, as these thoughts become more focused, their interest level increases (Kuhlthau, 2004). As interest and motivation are fundamental components of inquiry learning, Murdoch (2012) emphasises the importance of engaging students early, as a way of tuning students in. It is imperative that teachers create this climate of discovery and empower students to inquire, participate, create and learn in ways that are meaningful to them (Kuhlthau, 2009). Student interest and engagement alone can potentially influence what is learned, and how much is retained (Suda, 2009).

However it is important to note that there has been a very slight 1% dip in interest between Questionnaire 2 (93%) and Questionnaire 3 (92%), where the ‘Not at all interested’ category returned to feature. This was the result of one student who lost interest throughout the research process. Interestingly, this particular student responded with ‘A little bit interested’ in Questionnaire 1, but due to being absent for a good part of the ILA, he missed crucial elements of the research process and went without critical and timely interventions, which may have encouraged him to focus and make better sense of the information. Kuhlthau et al. (2008) suggests these interventions are an essential part of regulating a student’s emotional experience.

 

Question Three – How much do you know about this topic?

In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify their topic knowledge about the First Fleet. Students indicated their perceived level of knowledge by selecting one of four responses – Nothing, A little bit, Quite a bit and A great deal. Figures 5, 6 and 7 illustrate students’ responses in all three questionnaires.

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

This data shows that students’ perceived levels of knowledge increased throughout the ILA. In particular it can be seen that the 43% of students with no knowledge in Questionnaire 1, reduced to 0% by Questionnaire 2. It can also be seen that the 0% of students who identified as having a great deal of knowledge in Questionnaire 1, increased to 14% in Questionnaire 2 and 50% in Questionnaire 3. This significant positive trend demonstrates that students have gradually built on their prior knowledge and constructed new knowledge and understanding by participating in this research project. It is important to note that all students who identified as lacking in knowledge in Questionnaire 1, developed some knowledge by Questionnaire 3. Developing “independent learners who know how to expand their [topic] knowledge and expertise through skilled use of a variety of information sources” is the ultimate goal of inquiry learning (Kuhlthau et al., 2007, p.3).

The increased level of perceived topic knowledge in all questionnaires also links directly with the work produced in class and the factual statements that students provided in the questionnaires. By grouping together the ‘Quite a bit’ and ‘A great deal’ categories, it is interesting to see that students’ topic knowledge increased from 0% to 93% to 100% in questionnaires 1, 2 and 3 respectively. This indicates that students acquired many new facts during the early to middle stages of the ILA, and as the research project drew to a close, students became more critical of the information they had already found and began developing a deeper understanding of that content. Once again, this data aligns neatly with the ISP model, which suggests that students begin by seeking and exploring relevant information, before pursing and documenting more pertinent and refined information (Kuhlthau, 2004).

However it is interesting to note that there are still 50% of students in Questionnaire 3 who have identified as having ‘Quite a bit’ of knowledge, but not ‘A great deal’. This is important because it means that these students feel they have not made the final steps within the ISP model and may still be stuck in the exploration and/or formulation stages with more questions to ask and more clarity to seek (Kuhlthau, 2004). Alternatively, these students may just be very modest and feel that there is always more learning to do. The latter appears to fit this scenario a little better, when class work produced and statements made in the questionnaires are analysed. As Kuhlthau et al. (2007) suggests, inquiry learning does stimulate future learning opportunities, by engaging students’ innate curiosity.

 

Question Four – When you need to find something out or do some research, what do you generally find easy to do? Please list as many as you like.

In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify what tasks they found easy to do when conducting research. Students documented their feelings using open-ended responses. These responses were then categorised into five themes – traditional literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, visual literacy and other. Figure 8 illustrates the scope of students’ responses. Identical responses have been omitted from this table.

Figure 8

This sample of responses indicates that students found a range of tasks easy to master at different stages in the ILA. Although these comments are specific to individual students, by examining these responses more closely, it is interesting to note that across all themes some responses have remained constant over the research process. For example, looking at and using pictures and graphics throughout the research project has remained consistently easy to master for students. In addition, the ability to use the Internet to find websites has also been considered as an easy task to master across all stages of the research project. However other tasks appear to have transformed at various stages in the ILA. Here are some examples:

  • Reading information featured heavily in Questionnaire 1 and 2, but transformed into thinking about the information being read in Questionnaire 3. This demonstrates that students have reached the end stages of Kuhlthau’s (2004) ISP model, and are no longer just reading information for relevance, but are more actively engaged in the subject content and have become critical of the information they are reading.
  • Finding websites was a task that students found predominately easy in Questionnaire 1. However in Questionnaire 2 this transformed to finding the right website. This may have been a direct result of specific intervention that occurred in the early stages of the ILA, which targeted students finding the right websites using safe search engines and Boolean search strategies. It is interesting to note however, that this is no longer mentioned as being easy to master in Questionnaire 3, and may have required more specific intervention later in the research project. As Kuhlthau et al. (2007) suggests, although students require considerable guidance throughout the whole inquiry process, levels of intervention, timing of the invention and specific students requiring this intervention may differentiate considerably.
  • Finding something good to write featured in Questionnaire 1, but by Questionnaire 3 this heavily changed to putting information into dot points and notes. This may have been another direct result of the critical intervention that occurred in the middle to late stages of the ILA, which focused on note taking using graphic organisers. This intervention appeared to be very timely, as students competently rose to the challenge of taking their own notes for their Convict Autobiography.

 

Question Five – When you need to find something out or do some research, what do you generally find difficult to do? Please list as many as you like.

In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify what tasks they found difficult to do when conducting research. Students documented their feelings using open-ended responses. Like Question 4, these responses were then categorised into five themes – traditional literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, visual literacy and other. Figure 9 illustrates the scope of students’ responses. Identical responses have been omitted from this table.

Figure 9

This sample of responses indicates that students found a range of tasks more difficult to master at different stages in the ILA. Although these responses are specific to individual students, a clearer trend can be seen in students’ responses for this question. This data indicates that most students found Information Literacy skills harder to master for this task, followed by Traditional Literacy skills. This remained quite constant throughout the research project. Alternatively, Digital Literacy and Visual Literacy skills were not viewed as difficult, which directly correlates with students’ responses to Question Four.

The main Information Literacy difficulty students appear to have faced throughout the ILA is finding trustworthy websites with reliable information. This concern was initially raised in Questionnaire 1 as well as through informal classroom conversation. As a result classroom discussion quickly highlighted the possibility of finding conflicting information during the research process, and specific intervention was targeted at finding correct and reliable information on the Internet. In particular, students used the Cyber Smart: Finding and Identifying Appropriate Online Content Unit, to guide them in effectively evaluating websites they used. It was pleasing to see that only two students still found this skill difficult by Questionnaire 3, which can be attributed to the success of this intervention. It is interesting to note that even after this research project finished, students continued to use this Cyber Smart guide to evaluate websites they visited. This suggests that these students have not only mastered an Information Literacy skill essential for this research project, but a transferable skill that is necessary for living in the 21st century (Pappas, 2009).

However it was worrying to see that the Traditional Literacy difficulty of summarising research and putting it in your own words still featured heavily across all questionnaires, significantly contradicting the data provided in Question Four. This could indicate that the targeted whole class intervention on note taking did not adequately address this skill in the depth that individual students actually required. Instead Kuhlthau et al. (2007) suggests the importance of flexible groupings when intervening, enabling individual students to receive tailored support and guidance from a community of like-minded learners in their own time. This pedagogy may have attributed to more students mastering this skill earlier in the research project. It is interesting to note however, that although a number of students found this skill difficult throughout the entirety of the ILA, note taking was completed quite successfully in their own research.

 

Question Six – How do you feel about your research? Tick the box that shows how you feel.

In Questionnaire 2 and 3, an additional affective question was added to gauge students’ feelings about their research. Students identified their feelings by selecting one of four emotive options – Unhappy, Confused, Confident and Happy. Figures 10 and 11 illustrate students’ responses to this question in Questionnaire 2 and Questionnaire 3.

Figure 10

Figure 11

This data clearly demonstrates that all students identified as experiencing positive feelings throughout the middle to the end stages of the ILA. In particular, the number of students feeling happy about their research project rose from 57% in Questionnaire 2 to 75% in Questionnaire 3. As a direct result, the number of students feeling confident about their research dropped from 43% in Questionnaire 2 to 25% in Questionnaire 3. It is important to note that throughout this unit of inquiry all students either maintained a steady set of feelings or actually became more positive about their research.

It is interesting that the data collected in Questionnaire 2 contradicts the Kuhlthau’s (2004) ISP model that students have been closely following throughout their research project (Figure 12). As Questionnaire 2 was administered in the middle of the project while students were busy researching, it would be expected that students were still working in the ‘Exploration’ stage, where feelings of confusion, frustration and doubt were more apparent (Kuhlthau, 2004). Instead no students identified as having this feeling. This could have been attributed to the fact that students were actually further along in their inquiry discovery then they led me to believe. Students may in fact have entered in the ‘Formulation’ stage of the ISP model, where although it looked like they were busy taking notes, they were actually beginning to form a focus and become more critical of the information they encountered (Kuhlthau et al., 2008). This would prove to explain the more positive feelings experienced by all students, as it is expected that feelings of uncertainty transform during this stage (Kuhlthau, 2004). It would have been interesting to administer this questionnaire a week earlier to see the scope of this change.

Figure 12 Adapted version of Kuhlthau (2004) ISP Model

At the end of the research project when Questionnaire 3 was administered, it can be seen that again all students have recorded positive feelings about their research. This closely matches the ISP model, and as expected, students feel very satisfied about their work and believe it has been successfully completed. In addition this data also correlates very closely with data collected earlier in Question Two and Question Three, where overall students identified as being interested in the topic and knowing a lot about it. In particular these results could have been attributed to a large number of factors including:

  • Timely and specifically targeted interventions and guidance enabled students to progress successfully throughout the various stages of their research project.
  • Students enjoyed researching a topic that was of interest to them.
  • Students were happy that they acquired new historical topic knowledge.
  • Students enjoyed learning valuable and transferable research skills that they could use and apply to other contexts in their own life.
  • Students were satisfied with the way they presented their end product.
  • Students were proud of themselves for completing the inquiry journey and successfully overcoming any challenges they may have faced along the way.

 

Question 7 – What did you learn from doing this research? Please list as many things as you like.

In Questionnaire 3, one final question was added to determine what students felt they had learned throughout the entirety of the research project. Students documented their thoughts with open-ended responses. These responses were then categorised into a series of themes. The themes used were identical to the ones previously used in Question Four and Five to maintain consistency (Traditional Literacy, Digital Literacy, Information Literacy, Visual Literacy and Other), with the addition of Curriculum Content. Some students’ responses could be classified into multiple themes, while other students provided multiple responses. Therefore it is important to realise that the number of responses provided does not correlate with the number of students who completed this questionnaire. Figure 13 illustrates the scope of students’ responses.

Figure 13

This data shows that students learned a range of skills throughout the ILA. Overwhelmingly, the largest number of responses (8) related directly to Information Literacy skills. Here are two sample responses from this category:

Questionnaire 3 – Student A: “It is important to check more than one website for specific information in case the first website is not correct.”

Questionnaire 3 – Student F: “When you search in Google you don’t type the question in, you need to choose a small number of important words to search for.”

These results show that this research project had a beneficial outcome in improving students’ Information Literacy skills. It is particularly pleasing to see students make advances in these skills, as students identified them as the hardest to master in Question Five. These skills also received the highest level of targeted intervention and guidance in the project. In addition, it is also very pleasing to see that students have realised the importance of these skills to the whole research process, regardless of their complexity.

The second largest number of responses (4) related directly to Curriculum Content. Here are two sample responses from this category:

Questionnaire 3 – Student O: “The First Fleet convicts built most of this country that we are living in.”

Questionnaire 3 – Student G: “People in England were very poor and therefore couldn’t resist stealing things to survive.”

These results show that this research project did increase students’ historical knowledge and understanding. Although I expected a higher number of responses in this category, I am pleased that the majority of students did not perceive this task solely as a fact-finding mission and saw other research skills as more important. As this was the first inquiry learning project undertaken by these students, this type of learning is not what they are used to and I am extremely satisfied that only four students deemed solely the accumulation of facts as meaningful learning.

Traditional Literacy skills and Other skills followed closely behind in the number of responses. Two students revealed that they had learned valuable lessons in note taking and putting notes into their own words, while two students revealed their understanding of the research process being made up of steps that you have to take one at a time. It was pleasing to read these comments as I did spend a substantial amount of time discussing and guiding students through both.

Digital Literacy skills and Visual Literacy skills were recorded as having the lowest level of learning. This directly correlates with student responses in Question Four, where the majority of students believed these were the easiest skills to master, thus no further intervention or guidance was required. This indicates why only two students felt they learned valuable digital literacy and visual literacy skills throughout the ILA. Here are the two responses:

Questionnaire 3 – Student D: “If you look carefully at pictures they can answer questions too.”

Questionnaire 3 – Student P: “Using Google Chrome when Internet Explorer doesn’t work properly.”

It is interesting to note that no student responses aligned directly with the social process of working alongside other students. Although not surprised, I found this interesting, as Kuhlthau et al. (2007) emphasises the range of social skills students can learn by interacting with their peers. This is particularly relevant as my class spent a great deal of time working in small groups, which although assisted in facilitating more effective and targeted intervention, also provided students with valuable opportunities to learn to work with different people. This collaboration enables students to think and construct deep understandings, with the support of a community of like-minded learners right beside them in the learning process (Kuhlthau et al., 2007).

 

Now let’s examine these Findings a little closer, by Analysing and making some Recommendations.

 

References

Educational Broadcasting Corporation. (2004). Concept to classroom: Inquiry-based learning: How does it differ from the traditional approach? 

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Information search process. 

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2009). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Paper presented at the International Association of School Librarianship Annual Conference.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Heinstrom, J., & Todd, R. J. (2008). The ‘information search process’ revisited: Is the model still useful? Information Research, 13(4). 

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Marin, L. (2013). Let’s #color the world with #Lego! # Dispatchwork by Jan Vormann [Image]. Retrieved September 24, 2014.

Murdoch, K. (2012). Inquiry learning – journeys through the thinking processes. 

Pappas, M. (2009). Inquiry and 21st century learning. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(9), 49-51.

Suda, L. (2009). The Melbourne story: Posing essential questions for inquiry. Agora, 44(1), 55-59.

Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C. C., & Heinstrom, J. E. (2005). School Library Impact Measure: A toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of Guided Inquiry through the school library. 

 

Action Taken

The Action Taken…

For this Information Learning Activity (ILA) to be successful, it was essential that students were guided through the entire inquiry process with one brick at a time. As the classroom teacher, this was my responsibility. Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2007) believe guidance throughout the inquiry process is vital, as it enables students to construct a greater depth of content knowledge as well as useful research competencies. Through careful planning, observation and assessment, I was able to target specific intervention at critical points, in particular ways to enhance student learning (Kuhlthau, 2009). It was important for me to consider not just what students were learning, but their thinking dispositions throughout the journey as well.

After administering Questionnaire 1, I could quickly see what the students’ concerns were by analysing their responses for Question Five – “When you need to find something out or do some research, what do you generally find difficult to do?” Some common responses included:

  • Finding a website that answers my questions
  • Finding correct and reliable information on the internet
  • Putting research into my own words

These concerns were also voiced during Questionnaire 2, but students felt more confident about where their research was going at this stage, due to the intervention they were receiving.

To address these concerns, I decided to tackle one problem at a time. I reorganised my term planning and decided to set aside one 45 minute lesson each week, over the whole 8 weeks, to work specifically on these skills. As Murdoch (2012) asserts, effective scaffolding needs to be articulated very explicitly. Without this guidance, little real learning would occur.

My first step was to approach the teacher librarian. I hoped she might have some time to share her expertise in the area of evaluating information, and help to guide my class through their research project. Unfortunately this was not possible during Term 3, due to timetable clashes and prior engagements. Instead she was able to assist me in finding a selection of non-fiction books on the topic of the First Fleet that we could use in the classroom for the duration of the unit.

 

 

My next port of call was to approach the Information Technology teacher. I hoped he might be able to share his expertise in the area of locating appropriate websites on the Internet, and help guide my class through their research project. Unfortunately this was not possible during Term 3 either, due to delayed correspondence, timetable clashes and the fact he was going on camp with another grade half way through the term.

 

Therefore it was up to me, and to be honest, it was not the first time this had happened!

I started with a KWL chart. I wanted to make what we were doing explicit. I wanted the students to be able to make connections to their prior research knowledge and develop questions about what they wanted to know (Pappas, 2009). More importantly, I wanted this to be shared and visible to everyone. I started by discussing what I had noticed on their questionnaires and how these skills that they believed were difficult were really important. Using post-it notes, students wrote down what they found easy with research and what they already knew how to do, and we stuck this on our KWL chart. Next the students wrote down what they found difficult about research and we stuck this on our KWL chart too. Murdoch (2012) suggests that it is important for students to share their conceptions and misconceptions with their peers as this can enhance confidence and active reflective thinking later in the inquiry.

It was now time to begin addressing the concerns explicitly one at a time.

 

“Finding a Website that Answers my Questions”

This concern was broken into two components: Using safe search engines and using the correct search terms.

I initially taught the students how to use ‘child friendly’ search engines including; KidRex and KidCyber. Unfortunately the information that these search engines returned was not detailed enough to answer their questions. We then explored the use of SafeSearchKids, which is powered by Google, and found this to be a lot more informative.

Next I gave students an introduction to basic Boolean searching. This helped them to narrow down the number of websites that appeared. Students were then given time to practice using Boolean search strategies before applying it to their research project.

 

“Finding Correct and Reliable Information on the Internet”

I found it was important to emphasise the fact that just because a safe search engine found it, does not guarantee the resource is relevant or of a high quality. This lesson proved to be quite timely, as a student had just the day before raised a question about two different websites showing conflicting information. At this stage most of the students were very confused, so we jumped into some website evaluation together.

As a class we looked at some websites that appeared in our SafeSearchKids search on the ‘First Fleet’. I asked students to think about what makes a website reliable. I used the Cyber Smart: Finding and Identifying Appropriate Online Content Unit to guide our discussion. We discussed the importance of the information in the URL, knowing who created it, knowing when it was created and knowing where it was created. After evaluating some websites together, students were given time to practice evaluating websites on their own and in pairs using the following worksheets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Putting research into my own words”

Again, this concern was broken into two components: Effective note taking and turning notes into their own words.

Before students began note taking, I provided them with the following graphic organiser to help keep their notes organised. One of the templates we used can be seen below. It keeps each question (under the guiding question) neatly in a separate box. The students found this template very easy to use. I did however, have to provide significant guidance and time for students to practice note taking as a skill. I found I did have to emphasise the importance of using dot points and not writing out whole sentences. This skill was also practiced during Literacy Groups for a number of weeks throughout the term.

Next it was time for me to focus on how to turn notes into sentences, using our own words. This commenced in week 6, which was perfect timing for students to start writing their Convict Autobiographies. After some direct instruction and examples demonstrating how to think carefully about what our notes say and how to summarise these, students were given time to practice these skills before applying this to their research project. This conveniently tied in very well to our classroom work on forming paragraphs using topic sentences as well. When it came time for students to write their Convict Autobiographies, students used the following graphic organiser to help them plan their writing in a useful way.

Convict Autobiography planner

Now let’s begin unpacking all the Findings.

 

References

Australian Communications and Media Authority. (2011). CyberSmart: Middle Primary unit: Finding and identifying appropriate online content. 

Drupal Association. (2014). Drupal training: Taking the developer fast track [Image]. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Education Place. (2014). KWL Chart. 

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2009). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Paper presented at the International Association of School Librarianship Annual Conference.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

LEGO Minifigures. (2013). Librarian [Image]. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 

Murdoch, K. (2012). Inquiry learning – Journeys through the thinking processes.

Pappas, M. (2009). Inquiry and 21st century learning. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(9), 49-51.

Plays in Business. (2012). All work, no play – Lego serious play [Image]. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

Methodology

Here are the building methods…

Context

This History Information-Learning Activity (ILA) about the First Fleet was conducted over an 8 week period in Term 3. Students were given approximately three 45 minute lessons each week to work through this research project. One lesson each week was spent in the computer lab and a class set of iPads were available for use during class time. The teacher-librarian assisted in finding a selection of non-fiction books on the topic, and these were also available for use in the classroom throughout the duration of the unit.

As the classroom teacher, I was responsible for managing and implementing this ILA. During the 8 weeks, the students were engaged in a number of class discussions, activities and research sessions. Generally each lesson would begin with a whole class introduction. This was then followed by time for students to uncover and develop new understandings, either individually or in small groups. This ensured that everyone was supported and resources could be shared. During this time I was there to provide guidance and scaffold learning opportunities. There were no focused library lessons throughout this unit.

 

Participants

The school is located in a middle to high socio-economic demographic of Melbourne, and draws a large percentage of Greek families. The sample Year 4 class consists of nine females and seven males. Whilst all students completed the research project, only nine students completed all three questionnaires. As the participant number was so small, data from all questionnaires was used.

 

Data Collection

Data was gathered by a number of sources at various points throughout the ILA. This data was used to critically inform me about my teaching, and assist me in improving my students’ learning.

  • An adapted version of the School Library Impact Measure (SLIM) toolkit was used as the primary method of data collection, and took the form of three questionnaires (Figure 1, 2 and 3). These questionnaires were administered to students at three pivotal times throughout the research project; at the beginning (week 1), in the middle (week 5) and at the end (week 8). These questionnaires sought to measure how students’ knowledge, interests, feelings and experiences changed throughout the duration of the unit (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005). Although all 16 students completed the research project, only nine students completed all three questionnaires. Three students completed Questionnaire 1 and 2, two students completed Questionnaire 1 and 3, and two students completed only Questionnaire 2.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

 

  • Informal observations and anecdotal records were used to gather informative insight into student engagement and achievement. This valuable information about student learning was collected during whole class discussions, independent work and while students were working with their peers. These records provided information about a student’s strengths and weaknesses, and allowed for intervention and the adaption of strategies when required (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007).
  • Student-teacher conferences were conducted with all students during the ILA. These conferences were held during almost every lesson across the 8 week period. These discussions revolved around knowledge construction and understanding, and were used to expose individual student thinking, feelings and actions. (Kuhlthau et al., 2007). These conferences were also used to motivate students throughout the research project.
  • Written Work Samples were collected at the completion of each of the main tasks. These samples provided evidence of topic knowledge and understanding. Examples of these are seen in Figure 4, which shows a student’s Convict Profile and Figure 5, which shows some students’ First Fleet Timelines. These samples amongst others, were used to inform the informal observations and anecdotal records, as well as the student-teacher conferences.

Figure 4

Figure 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These data collection techniques produced a range of quantitative and qualitative data. This data provided me with feedback about my teaching, but also about student learning. Now let’s look at the Action Taken.

 

References

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Monde Animation. (2013). The Lego Movie reveal characters! [Image]. Retrieved September 18, 2014.

Rutgers School of Communication and Information. (2014). Impact studies: School Library Impact Measure (SLIM). 

Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C. C., & Heinstrom, J. E. (2005). School Library Impact Measure: A toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of Guided Inquiry through the school library. 

Description of Inquiry Learning Activity

Let’s start building … again!

My information-learning activity (ILA) was set in a Year 4 classroom at a Melbourne K-12 independent school. 16 students worked on this ILA over an 8 week period in Term 3. Each week the students were given approximately three 45 minute sessions to work through this unit, which included a computer lab session. Students also had access to a class set of iPads during class time. This unit was devised by my teaching partner and the teacher-librarian, but was managed, supported, scaffolded and implemented by me.

 

This unit formed part of the Year 4 History curriculum – First Contacts. The students’ exploration and investigation was led by two inquiry questions:

  1. Where did the First Fleet travel on its way to Australia?
  2. Who travelled to Australia with the First Fleet and what was the reason for the journey?

 

To demonstrate their learning, the students were asked to complete three tasks along the way.

  1. Create a Timeline – Students had to locate information in sources about the journey of the First Fleet, select significant events to label on the timeline and explain the significance of each of the events.
  1. Create a Convict Profile – Students had to pose questions about what is important to know about a convict who travelled on the First Fleet, and use a database of convict records to find answers to questions about a convict.
  1. Create a Convict Autobiography – Students had to imagine they were a convict who had travelled to Australia on the First Fleet (the one they chose for their Convict Profile), and write about their life in England before they were arrested, on the ship and in the new colony.

 

The Australian Curriculum History Content Descriptions covered throughout this ILA were:

Historical Knowledge and Understanding

  • Stories of the First Fleet, including reasons for the journey, who travelled to Australia, and their experiences following arrival (ACHHK079)

Historical Skills

  • Sequence historical people and events (ACHHS081)
  • Use historical terms (ACHHS082)
  • Pose a range of questions about the past (ACHHS083)
  • Identify Sources (ACHHS216)
  • Locate relevant information from sources provided (ACHHS084)
  • Develop texts, particularly narratives (ACHHS086)
  • Use a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written) and digital technologies (ACHHS087)

Now let’s look at the Methodology behind this.

 

References

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. History: Curriculum. 

The Brick Blogger. (2011). Lego model ships – Introduction [Image]. Retrieved September 17, 2014.

Final Post

Now all the pieces are finally in place, it is time to sit back and reflect on my journey…

Reflecting on my Inquiry Learning Journey is a very satisfying task. Looking back over the entirety of my inquiry re-search journey, I am impressed with the wealth of new knowledge and skills I have acquired. Through conducting a range of expert searches, piecing together my annotated bibliography and preparing my essay, I feel very positive about the understanding I have developed in relation to effective inquiry learning in the primary history classroom. I have also learned some new and innovative technological skills. However it is important to note, that the driving force behind this entire process has been my relentless questioning along the way.

Although not initially intended, my Inquiry Learning Journey has closely followed alongside Kuhlthau’s (2004) Information Search Process (ISP) Model. Kuhlthau’s (2004) ISP model is divided up into six stages and follows the thoughts, feelings and actions of learners during the process of information seeking. I will now use this model to reflect on my own Inquiry Learning Journey. The following table illustrates this model.

Initiation

Commencing this inquiry re-search journey was a difficult task. I aimed to start working on this task in the holidays to get ahead, but upon reading the class blog and scrolling through past student blogs, the whole process seemed far too daunting. Upon commencement of the semester, I approached the class blog again and this time decided to give it a go. With immense feelings of uncertainty, I took one small step at a time! I had never created a blog before so I started with this task. After exploring the features of WordPress, I created my own blog and set up the layout. I also decided to create an ‘About Me’ page to kick-off my professional footprint.

 

Selection

It was now time to start tackling the actual inquiry journey. Before writing my initial post, I thought it was important to select my ILA. I decided to focus on History in the middle primary years, as this is what I am currently teaching. From here I started writing my initial post. With a vague understanding of what inquiry learning really was, I initiated my investigation with 3 key questions:

  1. How do you fit inquiry learning into The Australian Curriculum?
  2. Can inquiry learning be implemented across all subject areas?
  3. What is the teacher’s role in implementing inquiry learning?

Posing these questions allowed me to be a little more optimistic about the journey ahead and I starting looking forward to what I might actually find out.

 

Exploration

Time had come to start exploring a range of search tools for information about inquiry learning in primary school History. I was fairly confident starting with Google. However this confidence quickly changed to nervousness when I learned of the Boolean Search Operators that were required to help narrow or broaden a specific search. I had never used these before, so this was a big learning curve that took quite some time to master. I probably spent more time than was actually required on my Google Search, as I was determined to learn how to use these Boolean Search Operators effectively. Luckily as I approached my Google Scholar search, the Boolean Search Operators were the same, which enabled me to conduct this search quite quickly. I then moved on to A+ Education. I really liked this search tool and was very happy with the results I found, although again there were some new search operators to learn for this database that I had to spend time familiarising myself with. I particularly liked using the Thesaurus Tool in A+ Education but I am anxious about whether I actually used it correctly. At this stage in my Expert Searches, my questions were becoming more frequent and my confusion was growing. I had earmarked a number of relevant articles, but as I came across new resources, were my previous ones still relevant? I finally approached ProQuest Education. This database frustrated me immensely at the beginning. As this was an international database, I found it very difficult and time consuming making sure that my search terms and phrases were recognised. Although I had a bank of synonyms ready to go, I found myself scrolling through each resource abstract in hope of adding more relevant words or phrases to my list. Due to these problems, I did find that my expert searches took a lot longer to complete than I had planned for and this left me feeling extremely frustrated and anxious about the time I had left to complete the rest of my inquiry.

 

Formulation

Once my expert searches were completed, I decided to look back over all my resources that I had collected and the questions I had asked along the way. These resources and questions provided some overall clarity and focus for my investigation. I used these to establish a specific topic direction that I would use for my annotated bibliography and essay.

 

Collection

It was now time to choose the eight best resources for my annotated bibliography. However, with the information overload of the 21st century, this meant sifting through a large amount of information. It was imperative that I applied some evaluative criteria to help me with this process. I used the Rheingold’s (2009) CRAP test to help me evaluate the quality of my resources. It was important that the resources I selected for my annotated bibliography formed a coherent whole. Overall I found this process quite easy and particularly insightful. As I selected my eight articles, I was confidently formulating a strong argument for my essay, which in fact would answer a number of the questions that I have posed along the way. This was a satisfying process.

 

Presentation

The time had finally come to bring all my findings together and present my essay. Having collected my resources and posed a number of questions, the framework of my essay was easy. My goal was to answer and bring clarity to as many questions as possible. Although I used the resources in my annotated bibliography, I did find it was necessary to use other sources to validate my argument as well. As a primary school educator, I found this task very accomplishing and extremely useful to my own professional practice.

 

Although this part of my Inquiry Learning Journey is now over, even this assignment submission will not stop my real-life learning journey from continuing. This assessment task has sparked my professional interest in the area of inquiry learning, and my own inquiry will continue for some time yet. I have thoroughly enjoyed creating this blog and have found it professionally renewing and rewarding. It has validated the importance of my role as a primary educator in the 21st century and thus generated a range of new questions that I will continue to inquire about.

  • How can I begin implementing this pedagogy in my own classroom?
  • How can I encourage others to get on board with this pedagogy?
  • What is the best way to teach students the information literacy skills they will need to enable them to inquire more effectively – one at a time, or all together?
  • How can this pedagogy be adapted so that it will suit all learning styles?

 

References

Housley, M. (2011). Rainy day LEGO challenge! [Image]. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 

Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Information search process. 

Rheingold, H. (2009). Crap detection 101.