From the onset, the idea of conducting an inquiry based learning study using my Year 8 Art students as a focus group, was met with personal trepidation. My concerns were threefold: that the participants would require more time to complete the process than was available to them; that they would not possess the literacy skills necessary; or maintain the self-motivation required to bring their research projects to a conclusion. Whilst some of these fears were realised, the data collected during the course of their research, provided me with a greater understanding of the manner in which my students locate and use information, their emotional positions as they progressed through their inquiries and the difficulties that they faced which were compounded by the limited literacy abilities of most.
The focus group for my Information Learning Activity (ILA) originates from an Independent, self-determined Indigenous education facility with a population of 130 p-12 students. The secondary department of the school comprises 70 students of which 90% are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent. Eleven Indigenous Australian and two Polynesian Year 8 students commenced the ILA which became part of their assessment in Visual Art. A description of the ILA can be found in the post ILA Context and Description. The data gathered from two surveys conducted during the ILA, will be analysed within the context of the student’s unique schooling environment and their capacity to successfully complete the research project that they had initiated.
The students’ progress through the ILA was ascertained through a number of instruments including questionnaires, student interviews, observations and anecdotal records. This information helped facilitated the direction and pace of the research process.
An important instrument used for the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data was the School Library Impact Measure (SLIM) toolkit. The kit which comprises three questionnaires contains both multiple choice and open ended questions and is designed to gather student’s reflections upon the ILA at the beginning, middle and end of the inquiry process (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heistrὃm, 2005, p.5). My students had completed two of the questionnaires at the time of this blog. This was a result of my spending more time than anticipated, instructing and reconsolidating at each of the initial stages of the ILA.
The questionnaires were administered at two significant stages of Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry process (2007) which formed the underlying structure of the information Search process (ISP) used in this ILA. The data gathered from these questionnaires combined with the work completed beyond the second and final reflections, provided me with possible trends in the student’s learning development, and implied directions for their learning leading up to the end of the project.
The first questionnaire was completed at the end of the first session of the “Initiation” stage, after students had been briefed on the research topic and completed a KWL chart (Ogle, 1986). I was interested to discover how much they knew about the topic; Aboriginal art and what perceptions they had of the research process before we began a structured inquiry approach. The second questionnaire was completed at the end of the “Gathering” stage. At this point of the Inquiry process, students had collected information pertaining to their individual topic investigations which were sub categorised from the initial topic. This was chosen as the most likely time to assess what new knowledge the students had acquired, whether they were motivated by their projects and which aspects of their research they found both easy and difficult. Of the original thirteen Year 8 students to complete the first questionnaire, nine of these also completed the second. Only these students’ questionnaires were used in the final analysis and discussion of results.
Observations and Anecdotal Records
Continual observations of the group provided information concerning the strengths and weakness of the group’s Information literacy skills; both in individual participants and of the class as a whole. The students’ attitudes and behaviours during the ILA similarly reflected their progress at specific stages. These behaviours, which were comparable to the feelings, thoughts and actions expressed through Kuhltau’s ISP model (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p. 19) provided me with points of reference and an indication as to the need for intervention and assistance.
My anecdotal records described the delivery of the ILA at the end of sessions. In contrast to my observations, I felt it important that these records reflect upon the stages of the inquiry process as they actually occurred, rather than my feelings about the students’ progress through each stage. This enabled me to focus on the effectiveness of the Inquiry strategies that we used.
Informal and unstructured conversations with the students occurred throughout the duration of the ILA. Conversations focused upon their learning, research activities and their feelings as they moved through the research. Midway through the Gathering stage students were asked to present their work in a one on one interview; so that a more fulsome critique of their progress could be made. Students used this opportunity to further discuss their feelings, seek reassurance or ask for further clarification of the ILA process.
Kuhlthau, C.C., Manoiotes, L.K., & Caspari, A.K. (2007) Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Ogle, D.M. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570
Todd, R. J., Kuhlthau, C.C., & Heistrὃm, J.E. (2005). School Library Impact Measure (SLIM): A Toolkit and Handbook for Tracking and Assessing Student Learning Outcomes of Guided Inquiry through the School Library. Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, Rutgers University.