Inquiry learning is generally based on a constructivist approach in which the student is learning ‘how’ to learn rather than concentrating on the ‘what’, (YouthLearn Initiative, 2009). Parr, Bellis and Bolfin (2013, p. 19) describe an English inquiry-based classroom: ‘…contemporary English classrooms are not spaces where knowledge can be neatly defined before, during or after students ‘get to work’; rather they are spaces where shared knowledge is constantly evolving.’ Inquiry learning encourages increased intellectual capacity and goes beyond participation to build the growth of thinking skills and ideas, (teachthought, 2014). This enables students to have the skills necessary for survival in their world (Kuhlthau, 2010).
This Information Learning Activity (ILA) Creating Short Stories had several obstacles to surmount so it is not an ideal example of a learning inquiry. The key learning area of English is not usually viewed as a curriculum area that lends itself to inquiry learning. The general standards and continua for Year 8 English can be accessed using this link Standards and Continua. Though the ACARA documents list critical and creative thinking skills across F-10 ACARA Critical and Creative Thinking, as well as a wide range of thinking skills for Year 8 English ACARA Year 8 English, the Queensland Curriculum to the Classroom (C2C) materials adopted a lock step approach which inhibits inquiry learning especially in the distance mode. Information literacy is not addressed by either ACARA, (Lupton, 2010) or the C2C. I had not previously implemented an ILA either in a mainstream school or in the distance mode, so this was a somewhat daunting task.
The level of inquiry in the ILA Creating Short Stories is a Guided Inquiry as it is both student and teacher directed, (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). My students had not experienced this approach to learning before so I was aware that I would need to consistently reflect with them on their learning. I chose the structure of the Alberta Inquiry Model as the research process because it focuses on reflection at all stages of the learning process. It also has specific links to the teaching of English, (Branch & Odberg, 2004). On closer observation I also used aspects of the Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2012) Guided Inquiry approach.
The genre of the ILA was a set one but the students were free to choose a topic of their own, as well as how they would create, design or select the illustrations for their short stories. Wiggins & McTighe, (1998) cited by Branch & Odberg (2004) maintain that a successful inquiry is one that gives choice to the students where they may generate their own questions.
Kuhlthau (2010, p. 4) defines Guided Inquiry as “planned, targeted, and supervised intervention throughout the inquiry process.” I analyzed the common themes from The SLIM Toolkit surveys (See Findings) and provided interventions (See Action Taken) on a group basis.
Branch & Odberg (2004) emphasize that input from a teacher librarian is crucial to the inquiry process. In this ILA, I operated virtually in a vacuum and as a result was unable to effectively foreground the inquiry process for the students. An example of this is evidenced by their being unaware that ‘creating’ was part of their learning process (See Findings). In analyzing the ILA I did not make the process explicit enough for the students to ensure that we had a common language and common understanding that we were cycling through a learning process in phases. This was identified by Holland as a problem (1994) cited in Branch and Odberg (2004) which did not lead to best practice.
However the ILA did accomplish engaging the students in different types of competencies and curriculum knowledge, (Kuhlthau, C.; Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A, 2012). See Action taken.
The implementation of this guided inquiry was enhanced by the use of the SLIM Toolkit that enabled me to identify areas of difficulty quickly and provide appropriate interventions and feedback which are critical to the success of an ILA, (Branch & Odberg, 2004).
The ILA was designed as a unit on creating an illustrated short story. This involved the students in planning, drafting, editing and publishing. Within these activities they developed thinking skills, specific literacy skills, created and illustrated a short story and discussed their learning amongst other thing. As such, this ILA can be viewed through all of the GeST windows put forward by Lupton & Bruce (2010).
The Generic Window of the ILA includes the skills and processes for finding information on short story writing, illustrations and words. The Situated Window can be viewed in the students’ selection and evaluation of the images for their final pieces. In the example of the student’s writing pictured below the illustration depicts, for me as the reader, the despair of the character and communicates his loneliness. The information is ‘personal and, therefore, internal and subjective,” (Lupton & Bruce. 2010, p. 12).
The students’ presentations can be included in the Transformative Window. This came from the comments on social issues such as suicide, religion and food choices that were topics chosen by some of the students. Questions were generated about belief systems and what individual student’s opinions were on these subjects. This was not an intentional outcome that I planned for in the ILA but as the students gained more ownership of the process it seems a natural progression for their questioning to evolve.
The students in this ILA were not so much evaluating information or sources rather they were searching and using filters to restrict information they did not want. It is a weakness in this ILA that I did not provide them with any rubrics to follow when searching for information about things such as the online thesaurus. We did use discussion and compared different sites before deciding on the one most suitable but it would have been a more rigorous and meaningful task had guidelines been provided. I could have used the critical evaluation of information sources from the University of Oregon Evaluation of Sources.
The ILA used a KWL chart at the very beginning of the unit as a tool for the students to prepare to research their topic, and then keep track of the information gathered. It helped students to activate what they knew about the topic and encouraged them to think about what they needed to research. Working together online on KWL provided opportunities for the students to clarify their questions and re-phrase the into more focussed questions. Unfortunately I forgot to use the slide in every lesson so the questions were not recorded in one place but the students did create their own questions for each other in this ILA. McKenzie (2005, p. 9) points out that it is important for students to have strong questioning skills to strategically search for relevant information ” to cut past the info-glut, that all too often impedes the search for Insight.”
I based my questioning on Bloom’s Revised Thinking Skills Taxonomy. I also observed the student’s comments and questions and aligned them with the taxonomy. It would have been useful to share this with the students to assist them in their thinking and questioning and I would do so in the future.
From the discussions with the students which was part of the reflection process, I found that they were very interested in their chosen topic. They demonstrated a high level of higher order thinking and creativity as the unit progressed. Specifically, they moved from Remembering and Understanding to Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating. Examining was the thinking skill explicitly taught from the Analyzing level as this was designed to have them ‘examine’ short stories and the assessment task effectively. In the future I would discuss the thinking skills with them and give them a choice as to which ones would be valuable for their learning.
The intent of the ILA is based on sound inquiry learning precepts but it suffers from lack a of rigour. It is very much a novice unit which needed the assistance or collaboration of a teacher librarian. While a lot of the inquiry was guided and student generated it missed opportunities to go deeper and direct students to tools which would have been useful for their learning, for example sharing Blooms Revised Thinking Skills Taxonomy and providing rubrics for evaluating information sources. A strength was that it gave opportunities for students to discuss their feelings on the topic but not so much about their feelings at specific phases of the learning process. The students were engaged and participated actively but were not as aware of the process as they were of the topic and this is a major flaw. Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2012, p.1) state that: “The Guided Inquiry process is built around a team approach within a collaborative culture.” Next time I plan an ILA I hope that I will have the ‘team’.
ACARA Critical and Creative Thinking (2014) Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from Creative and Critical Thinking.
ACARA English (2014) Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from Standards and Continua.
ACARA English (2014) Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from Year 8 English
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
Evaluation of Sources, (2014) Retrieved on August 8, 2014 fromhttp://library.uoregon.edu/guides/findarticles/credibility.html
Figure 1. (2014). Time for some analysis on this safari.Retrieved on November 10, 2014 from analysing animals
Figure 2. (2014). Where to begin? Retrieved on November 10, 2014 from image of person alone with computer
Figures 4 & 5. (2014). Used with the students’ permission.
Harada, Violet and Yoshina, Joan, (2004). Chapter 1: Identifying the inquiry-based school. In Harada, Violet and Yoshina, Joan, Inquiry learning through librarian-teacher partnerships, (pp.1 – 10). Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Publishing.
Kuhlthau, Carol C. ; Maniotes, Leslie K. & Caspari, Ann K, (2007). Chapter 2: The Theory and Research Basis for Guided Inquiry. In Kuhlthau, Carol C. ; Maniotes, Leslie K. & Caspari, Ann K, Guided inquiry : learning in the 21st century, (pp.13 – 28). Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.
Kuhlthau, Carol. (2010). Guided inquiry : school libraries in the 21st century School Libraries Worldwide, 16 (1), 1-12.
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2012). Guided Inquiry Learning in the 21st Century. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from http://www.kzneducation.gov.za/portals/0/elits%20website%20homepage/iasl%202009/,n-kuhlthau.pdf
Kuhlthau, C.; Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A, (2012). Chapter 1 : Guided Inquiry Design: The Process, the Learning, and the Team. In Kuhlthau, C.; Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A, Guided inquiry design : a framework for inquiry in your school, (pp.1 – 15). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
Lee, Mal. (2014). Retrieved August 22, 2014 from The educational fallacy of an ICT Continuum
Lupton, Mandy. (2012). Inquiry skills in the Australian Curriculum. Access, 26 (2), 12-18. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCYQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fslansw.asn.au%2Fdownload%2F2013plluptonkeynoteinquirylearning.pdf&ei=O9gLVJG9B4qXuASe0oDwDQ&usg=AFQjCNGEZM2krrXUPICF-b1-Inw7lRus2A
Lupton, Mandy and Bruce, Christine. (2010). Chapter 1 : Windows on Information Literacy Worlds : Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives in Lloyd, Annemaree and Talja, Sanna, Practising information literacy : bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, pp.3-27.
McKenzie, Jamieson. (2005). Chapter 3 : Questions as Technology in McKenzie, Jamieson, Learning to question to wonder to learn, Washington: FNO Press, pp.15-26.
Parr, G. Bellis, N, Bulfin, S. Teaching English Volume 48 Number 1 2013 Teachers for the Futures: Speaking Back to TPACK English in Australia Retrieved August 19, 2014 from https://clarekosnik.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/parr-bellis-bulfin_2013_teaching-english-teachers-for- the-future.pdf
Teachthought. (2014). The Inside-Out School: A 21st Century Learning Model. [online]. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from teachthought
Wiggins & McTighe (1998). In 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
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.ezp0.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=174497;res=AEIPT