If I had told my students, prior to the investiture of an inquiry based approach to an art research assignment, that Llu (2013) was referring to art inquiry through a research based project she would have heard a collective groan all the way to New York. My Murri students love their art…but not necessarily writing about it. The challenge for me was to see if I could develop a self-motivated inquiry culture that would support and enhance their practical art efforts, and ignite an interest in learning more about their own cultural and historical connections to the art world.
To begin the inquiry process, my students were informed that an Information Learning Activity (ILA) would provide an approach to learning in which they would find and use a variety of sources of information to increase their understanding of a topic (Kuhlthau et al 2007, p. 2). The inquiry framework through which the ILA was delivered was Kuhlthau’s Guided Design Inquiry process (2010) (Figure 1), because the methodology being presented in a simple, well scaffolded manner, is a learning strategy to which my students respond well. During the Open and Immerse stages of this inquiry model, I had premature expectations that students would have enough prior knowledge of the topic ‘Aboriginal art’ to initiate a lively conversation which would lead to an optimistic view of the task ahead. Contrary to this assumption, my post ILA Results revealed that the data gathered from question 1 and 3 of the first questionnaire of the SLIM toolkit (Todd et al, 2005), implied an apparent lack of prior knowledge at the end of the first session. In hindsight, I determined this to be reflective of the generally low level of literacy of the group, the broad nature of the topic and uncertainty of what was expected of them, all of which could have contributed to many of their limited written responses.
Figure 1: Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry Process Design.
Much of the learning that is achieved with my students is as a result of clearly and deliberately scaffolding lesson content. Instructional Scaffolding is a learning procedure designed to promote a deeper level of learning. Sawyer(2006)describes scaffolding as the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals. Similarly Wood et al. (1976, p. 90) offers the following definition which best suits my own learners:
‘Those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence’.
As the ILA progressed it was my intention to gradually reduce the constancy of support to encourage an open level of inquiry which would ultimately be student-directed and motivated. For the most part this did not happen, but I knew that this didn’t mean that independence wouldn’t occur at a later stage in their learning development. From my own observations, this is a slow process that can take several teacher-directed attempts with low literacy students, who can feel anxious at the prospect of learning independently. The zone of intervention as described by Kuhlthau, provided me with a guide to understanding the types of support that I had provided to the students during the ISP. Figure 2 depicts which of the five types of learning and the interventions that were occurring even at a rudimentary level during the ILA. To aid the process and reduce the need for unnecessary involvement on my behalf , Sawyer would concur with my use of tools for introducing ILA concepts which were: interesting visual and digital resources, a compelling and relevant task, templates and guides such as: mind maps, KWL charts, and explicitly scaffolded and modeled tasks.
An important aspect of inquiry is of course the asking of questions. The KWL chart (Ogle, 1986), which promoted students to ask questions about their topics, in turn lead to inquiry through an ongoing development of information literacy skills. The ‘W’ column, or what students ‘Want to know’ , was considered an easier aspect of the ILA as the students had a genuine basis for wanting to find out more about a topic that they had an affiliation to. To facilitate the questioning process I was also prepared with my own questions to add to the group’s collaborative feedback. This guided students subtly in the directions that I also wanted them to cover through their research. Gallas’s (1995) use of an “I wonder” context encourages the movement of students into a “Let’s find out” mode. The questions I was posing purposely modeled an expectation that I had of their own questioning techniques; they were framed to encourage a similar “I wonder” stance in my learners.
I also altered the KWL chart to become a KWH chart (Figure 3), as ‘How’ and where students might find their information seemed the next logical step and supported both the Exploring and Gathering stages of the guided inquiry model. In essence, this encouraged the students’ understanding that the breadth of information sources included far reaching places than merely a Google search bar. The ‘L’ component, or ‘what was Learned?’ column of the chart was not completed by the time of the SLIM data gathering, although it was clear to me that much learning had transpired.
My ILA had been presented to a group, whose exposure to 21st century information skills has been impeded in part due to a lack of adequate access to technology. The development of information literacy skills; as in the ability to be able to retrieve, analyse and use information (ALA.org, 2013) was an important component of the ILA. The 1989 American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy Report states that “Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.” (ALA.org, 2013). By ‘information’, it would correct to assume that the American Library Association implies digital and internet technologies as well. My students are at the disadvantaged end of the Digital Divide. The Digital Divide, or the digital split, was a term coined in the late 1990’s to define a social issue referring to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the Internet (specially broadband access) and those who do not have access (internetworldstats.com, n.d). The number of students without readily available access to the internet on a computer, IPad or mobile device beyond the school is considerably high. Therefore, whilst it has been part of the ILA experience to teach 21st century information literacy skills, the ability for my students to use them fluently is reduced, and the process of acquiring and using new proficiencies made longer.
The student’s development of collaborative knowledge was comparable to those acquired through Lupton and Bruce’s (2010) Situational perspective from their GeST windows for information literacy. They evidenced literacy as a social act; that was contextual, authentic, collaborative and participatory (Lupton and Bruce 2010, p.5). This was displayed often through the ILA as a preferential mode of learning for many. The Generic window of the GeST Information literacy model, which is also nested within the frame of the Situated window, (Figure 4) integrated the student’s ability to locate and use information; and as such, enabled many aspects of the Situational window to occur and lead to a purposeful outcome. The ability to locate and extract information without alteration was the extent of some student’s cognitive and processing skills to this point. The learning of search strategies, also inherent to the Generic window, was evidenced through Boolean search skills and use of text and multi-media resources in the school library.
Figure: 4 Lupton and Bruce’s nested GeST windows.
The school’s library is a space that is underutilized by students of the secondary school and hence the focus group also. This is due to the resources being aimed at a predominantly primary level. This has had a stigmatic connotations with reluctant secondary learners who have low literacy abilities. As such they were quite unfamiliar with the organization of the space and methods of locating relevant and level appropriate information in an array of formats. Rather than teach these IL skills in isolation, the ILA provided an opportunity to teach them as a means to this end. This approach to information literacy is mentioned in a study by Lorenzen (2004) who asserted that library skills of accessing, locating and using sources should not be taught in isolation because skills taught in isolation are not likely to be transferred to other applications like those skills taught in contact with direct application. Librarians should therefore be conversant with different teaching methods and use the most appropriate method for the topic at hand.
The scope of the Information Learning Activity (ILA) as described in the post ILA Context and Description, incorporates the many of the aims stipulated in the Australian Curriculum’s draft proposal for The Arts (ACARA, 2013) ( Figure : 4) The proposal states that through inquiry learning, students firstly develop inquiry processes as well as critical and creative thinking capabilities, and secondly, that they develop respect for and knowledge of the diverse roles, traditions, histories and cultures of visual arts and artists ( ACARA 2013, p.126). The curriculum’s aims also specify other characteristics of visual art learning such as the development of: curiosity, confidence, imagination, enjoyment and a progression towards formulating opinions through a personal voice. Whilst some of these were evidenced to differing degrees along the student’s pathways through the ILA, so too were some of the more confronting and emotional aspects of locating organising and using information.
Figure 4: Australian Curriculum’s draft proposal for The Arts (ACARA, 2013)
Acknowledging the emotional peaks and troughs of the students during an inquiry based activity, helps the instructional team to assist at crucial points of the Information Search Process (ISP) (Kuhlthau, 2007). One of many examples from the ILA involved teaching the students to search for internet information more objectively. The use of the internet to locate relevant sources was attempted following a session on using Boolean operators. Whilst students were able to map out simple search strings under teacher direction, their own attempts lead them to feel frustrated and overwhelmed by factors ranging from an inability determine suitable keywords and phrases, to the level of language, or number of results. Such feelings are expressed in Kuhlthau’s ISP (2007, p.19). The ISP model (Figure 5.) indicates feelings of frustration, confusion and doubt as students enter the Exploration phase. At this point in the ILA my students began to focus their research topics to inquire into an aspect of Aboriginal art: rock painting, rock engraving, and ceramics, bark painting etc. Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry process at this critical stage where students found the ILA to be the most challenging, continued to mirror the on-going support and scaffolding that has been occurring throughout. This was the time when students needed the most support and guidance, as the information they were being presented with did not match their preconceived beliefs about the topic. This was the point of the ILA where students experience the most knowledge growth; in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
The zone of proximal development (ZPD)has been defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.86). Vygotsky views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers (McLeod, 2010). From observation, the collaboration between students of differing competencies has been a natural learning style of my Indigenous students; whereby an innate sense of community encourages the sharing of ideas and resources to enable the learning of the group as a whole. This is most often achieved through discussion and working in group settings. I have determined through my classroom observations, that learning new ideas independently can be more challenging for low literacy learners than when the capacity to share, compare and reflect between students of differing intelligences exists. This collaboration also supports the learning that transpires in Maniote’s (as cited in Kuhlthau, 2007, p.31)’Third Space’ where student’s limited knowledge from beyond the school is buffered by learning of other student’s knowledge from beyond school (First Space). This evidences a communal or ‘Situational’ learning as suggested by Lupton and Bruce’s GeST window, which may then be challenged by what is learned through the curriculum (Second Space). The ZPD was clearly a place where new knowledge was developed by my students, even at the lowest of literacy ability levels.
The philosopher, psychologist and education reformer John Dewey referred to knowledge as being both “a working capital and the indispensable resources of further inquiry of finding out or learning more things”. (as cited in Kuhlthau et al, 2007, p.14). Prior to my engaging a class in an Inquiry based ILA , I had considered the idea of developing a working capital with students of non Euro-centric and disadvantaged backgrounds through inquiry based learning, as being another learning trend that may work if only my students had the motivation to want to learn more things. I discovered however that this perception of Inquiry based learning was to become increasingly oxymoronic. By providing students with a platform for seeking answers to their own questions about a topic, their resulting self-motivation inevitably created opportunities for meaningful learning to occur.
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Figure 1: Day, K. (2013). Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry Process Design.[image]. Accessed at: http://libedge.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/carol-kuhlthau-meets-tim-brown-guided.html
Figure 2: Kuhlthau et al (2007). [image]. Figure 9.3 Interventions for learning in the inquiry process. P. 141. Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Figure 3: Student group (2013). Aboriginal art project. [image]. KWL chart. Undisclosed school.
Figure 4: (2012). [image]. Lupton and Bruce’s nested GeST windows: Accessed at: http://informationisnotknowledge.wordpress.com
Figure 5: Kuhlthau et al (2007). [image] Kuhlthau’s Model of the Information Search Process. P.19 Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.