Harada & Yoshina (2004) remind us that assessment must be continuous to be effective in an inquiry activity. This aligns closely with the continuous cycle of reflecting on the process outlined by Branch & Odberg (2004). I viewed collecting information using three questionnaires derived from the SLIM Toolkit at various points along the ILA as part of my reflection on this ILA . The following are my findings, observations and interpretations of the data.
Question 1: Existing knowledge statement types.
The students in this class are mostly high achievers and participate willingly in any activities that will assist with their learning. All students completed the survey. The numbers on vertical axis indicate students’ responses counting the number of statements individually. For question 1, the statement types of Fact, Explanation or Conclusion were employed as described in the SLIM Toolkit methodology.
In survey 1, the students gave mainly concise, factual answers. The types of questions affect how a student will answer, (YouthLearn Initiative, 2009). Students may have viewed some of the questions in a purely factual light that required a factual answer rather than an evaluative or interpretative one. Several students offered some reasons for their facts but no one put forward a personal opinion or evaluation therefore no conclusion statments were given. They wished to comply by completing the survey but it was at the end of an English unit on a completely different topic and just before the holidays. It was to be expected that they would have their minds on the work they were currently completing.
The next survey was administered after lesson 5. Survey 2 showed increases in all statement types. The quality of the responses improved which could be attributed to the fact that the students had been involved in the planning, retrieving and processing phases to this point. They had also been exposed to the use of the thinking skill ‘examine’ from Bloom’s Thinking Framework. Murdoch (2006) underscores the importance of integrating thinking skills in the inquiry to challenge students to think at higher levels and so develop deeper understanding.
Survey 3 was conducted verbally and online using Collaborate. Students demonstrated a wider factual knowledge and this was represented by the increase in the number of factual statements. The use of inquiry learning is designed to increase the students’ knowledge of the specific curriculum area, (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005). Students were able to identify the mechanics of short story writing as well as explain and draw conclusions about the structure, illustrations and word usage. Two examples of Conclusion and Explanation statements given were:
N stated: “Short stories should engage the reader quickly and I feel that illustrations that appeal to the emotions are very effective in achieving this.”
J stated: “I found it particularly difficult to keep within the word limit of 800 words. Probably because we haven’t done a lot of this type of writing. When I think about it, it isn’t really my favourite writing either. I wasn’t keen on having to do the illustrations but it was better being able to use Google Images.”
Question 2: Interest in Topic.
As demonstrated in figure 2, a majority of the students had ‘quite a bit’ of interest in the topic and a few ‘not so much’. The topic was already chosen without consultation with the students so this may have had some influence on their levels of interest at the beginning. Branch & Solowan (2004) point out, “What is important to any inquiry is that students have choice so that they can develop the commitment to the question that will sustain them through the hard, messy work of retrieving, processing and creating.”
In discussions with these students, it was found that it wasn’t so much the writing of the story but the illustrations. that they weren’t interested in doing. They disliked drawing and painting. At this point they had not seen the assessment task. It can be seen in survey 2 that these students have increased their interest as there are no ‘not much’ replies shown. The students now knew the conditions of the assessment task and that they were given the choice of how they created their illustrations. It is probable that this increased their confidence in creating illustrations in a medium of their own choosing. It was also important for the students to acknowledge their feelings as a part of the learning process, (Branch & Odberg, 2004).
Surveys 2 and 3 show no variance in the other two areas. In discussion with the students responding ‘quite a bit’, it was found that they fell into two groups: those who were really interested in the writing part and not as interested in the illustrations and those who were really interested in making the illustrations perfect for their story and quite interested in the writing. For some reason this did not change in survey 3. It would appear that personal preferences for tasks influence the student’s interest, (Tobin, 2005). The ‘ a great deal’ group remained constant in all three surveys.
Question 3: Students’ Perceived Knowledge of Subject.
Interestingly, the ‘not much’ group were the same students who answered ‘not much’ to question 2. It could be inferred that perceived little prior knowledge also may have affected their interest in the topic, (Tobin, 2005). This group demonstrated an increase in knowledge as the ILA progressed as none of the students selected this response in survey 2. Survey 3 shows a positive increase in knowledge in the ‘a great deal’ category. It would be expected that more students would have selected this category as at this point in the inquiry the students had completed their presentation and assessment, (Branch & Odberg, 2004).
Question 4: What Students Perceived to be Easy when Researching.
This cohort of students work online every day for all their subjects. They are quite experienced in the use of computers and technology. It is likely that teachers do not have a great deal of influence on the development of students’ use of digital technology, Lee (2014). Figure 4 depicts the main themes students identified in survey 1.The same categories were used in surveys 2 and 3. The category, ‘watching videos’ is consistently shown as ‘easy’ by all students. They view videos on a daily basis as part of their lessons. The expanded meaning of this is that they know how to access videos independently online as well as follow links provided by the teacher. They have no blocks on their searching as they are working from home. This allows them to view a wider range of materials than if they were at school, (Lee, 2014).
As the ILA continued, the number of students who found these categories ‘easy’ grew as is demonstrated in Figure 4. Examples of students comments in survey 3:
T stated: “I am quite confident typing relevant words to find results. I usually find what I need without too much trouble now, especially images.”
M stated: “What a difference it makes in finding safe images now that N showed us what to do. I didn’t have a clue before but none of the teachers mentioned it so I thought I was ok.”
Question 5: What Students Perceived to be Difficult when Researching.
Figure 5 depicts the main themes students identified in survey 1.The same categories were used in surveys 2 and 3. The main areas identified as ‘difficult’ are clearly shown. The students were aware of copyright issues as this was part of their English course in Year 7. From discussions with the students, it would appear that they were unsure about how this applied to images but realised that there must be some issues. The category ‘plagiarising’ proved to be similar. They did not understand how to use other words or where to get them from to expand on information they researched.
As the ILA proceeded, the number of students who found these categories ‘Difficult’ dropped as is demonstrated in Figure 5. It could be inferred that this was in some part due the frequent interaction between the teacher, and student to student, (Branch & Odberg, 2004).
Additional questions in survey 3.
Question 6: How satisfied were you with your research for this topic?
Question 6 was added to survey 3 to gain a picture of how students felt about their research for this topic. Figure 6 shows that the students sit evenly across the ‘satisfied’ and ‘very satisfied’ categories. They did not have their results from their assessments at this stage which may have affected their satisfaction level higher or lower. However, it would appear that they are quite confident in what they have done for this unit and this is a recommended outcome for inquiry learning, (Branch & Odberg, 2004).
Question 7: What did you learn about conducting research in this unit of work?
Two main themes emerged from this question and they are evident in Figure 7. It indicates that less students learnt to apply the filters to locate copyright free images which could be manipulated. In fact one student already knew how to do this as she demonstrated this research technique for the class. In our web -conference she did not submit this as an answer. None of the students offered any comment on ‘creating’ as part of the research process. It was mentioned in our general discussions about the students’ reflections on what helped to improve their assessment pieces. Clearly this was not seen as a research process by the students. They reported that they preferred the use of discussion and slides for reflection 3 as it gave them the opportunity to expand on their experiences and discuss their thinking more fully. As Branch & Odberg (2004, p. 41) state, “Inquiry work with students is an active interchange between students and teachers of ideas, information, learnings, experiences, activities and feelings, through which meaning is constructed.”
R stated: “I love the online thesaurus. It has helped me write using more interesting words and I don’t feel like I am plagiarising other people’s words either.”
The students appeared to have a positive experience with this unit and the standard of their assessment tasks ranged from B’s to high A’s. Below is an extract, with permission, from a student’s completed illustrated short story.
As the rain started to pour down upon the innocent streets of this city, I climbed onto the ledge in front of me. Step-by-step, I got closer to the edge of the bridge, thinking to myself that this feels right and that this would be it. I looked down into the large mass of water which seemed like an infinite dark abyss that I would soon plummet into. My mind completely blocked out all of my surroundings. All I could hear and see was my life instantly flashing in front of me: my girlfriend, my house, my job and my existence. I leaned forward and let myself go. I felt nothing. Where was the adrenaline that should be surging throughout my body as I plunge 150 metres into a dark pool that would consume me?
Bloom’s Thinking Skills Framework. Retrieved on August 23, 2014 from https://anethicalisland.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/blooms-revised-taxonomy-with-verbs/
Branch, J. Oberg, D. (2004) Focus on Inquiry: a teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning. Retrieved on August 22, 2014, from https://education.alberta.ca/media/313361/focusoninquiry.pdf
Branch, J. L. Solowan, D. G. (2004) Inquiry-based learning activities: developing opportunities. [online]. Synergy; v.2 n.1 p.22-31. Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=136411;res=AEIPT
Figure 8 image used with the student’s permission.
Harada, V. Yoshina, J. (2004). Chapter 1: identifying the inquiry based school Inquiry learning through librarian-teacher partnerships (pp. 1-10). Worthington: Linworth.
Lee, M. (2014). The Educational Fallacy of an ICT Continum. Retrieved on September 7, 2014 from http://malleehome.com/?p=2745
Murdoch, K. (2006) The inquiry learning: journeys through the thinking process. Retrieved on August 23, 2014 from http://www.kathmurdoch.com.au/fileadmin/_migrated/content_uploads/inquirylearning.pdf
Safari Image. Retrieved on November 10, 2014 from http://twentytwowords.com/can-you-find-the-hidden-animals-in-these-20-wildlife-photos/
Tobin, R. (2005). Responding to diversity: Differentiating in the language arts classroom. Retrieved on August 23, 2014 from http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/langandlit/article/view/16317/13095
Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C. & Heinstorm, J. (2005). School library impact measure. Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, Rutgers University. Retrieved on August 25, 2014 from http://cissl.rutgers.edu/joomla-license/impact-studies?start=6
YouthLearn Initiative (US). (2009). A guide to inquiry-based learning. [online]. Agora; v.44 n.1 p.4-11. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=174497;res=AEIPT