ILA: Reflections

Prior to the Learning Nexus unit, I have to confess to feeling as though I worked in vacuum of sorts with regards to my exposure to innovative learning strategies. I have been teaching in a small independent school with Indigenous students for fifteen years which, due to the determination of increasing Indigenous literacy rates across a P-12 facility, has at times blinkered me to learning models being touted beyond our school fence. Consequently I felt quite unsure about the nature of inquiry based learning, whether it would be something that I could implement or even have any lasting value to my students.  I have since learned in my roles as teacher and one day teacher librarian, that I must act now to prevent a second literacy divide, that of 21st century information literacy and skills. Looking back, my uncertainly was evident in the three questions that I asked in the first week.

Question 1:

At this early stage in my investigations, I have read or have heard of a number of Information seeking process models: ISP (Kuhlthau et al 2007),The  Guided Inquiry Design Process (Kuhlthau et al, 2010) (involving the stages of: Open, Immerse, Explore, Identify, Gather, Create, Share and Evaluate.), TELSTAR: (Tune in, Explore, Look, Sort, Test and Act),  “Big 6” and “Super 3” (a modified Big 6 for juniors) (Big6.com, 2013). Which model should be used in this unit? My intended ILA will be based in the visual arts at junior secondary level.

Similarly, with regards to questioning frameworks is the preferred model KWL or KWHLAQ (Barell, 2007).

The number and variety of inquiry models is far larger than I had originally anticipated at the beginning of this unit, many of which I now deem not applicable for the majority of my students needs in my subject or at the present stage in their literacy developments. As my understanding of the structure and processes required of each inquiry model grew, so did my resolve in finding a framework that would serve to introduce a constructivist approach to lower literacy learners, through a straight forward, well scaffolded and non-convoluted approach. This model had to be Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry process.  I felt comfortable in the guidance that was offered through her books Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (2007) and Guided Inquiry Design: A framework for inquiry in your school ( 2010), and therefore felt confident in making the process accessible to my students. This does not imply that I would exclude other models from being considered at a later stage in their art education, rather that the Guided inquiry process has provided a suitable launching pad for this learning approach and this particular project. In my role as TL, I acknowledge that a broader knowledge of inquiry models used across subject areas in the school will be of benefit collaborative approachs to research through the library.

My understanding of the Information Search Process (ISP)(Kuhlthau, 2007, p.19) has also changed from it’s being the framework through which inquiry is conducted, to its role as an indicator of the thoughts feelings and actions that learners go through when undertaking an inquiry based learning activity. The fact that Kuhlthau was involved in both the guided inquiry approach and the support of this model through the ISP, made it clearer to me the relationship between the two.

The questioning framework that I originally adopted was the KWL chart, which at first seemed to elicit some interesting and relevant questions from a group of students who just don’t normally ask questions. I had never used a KWL chart before, so was impressed with this early result. This 3 -column chart didn’t however, address the fact that my students did not have an understanding of the breadth of sources of information for their research. The “H” or “How might we find the information?” column provided the group with an opportunity to list sources other than the internet, such as talking with elders, going to the art gallery, or visiting an underutilized space in the school, the library.

Encouraging my students to think more critically about a topic is a crucial step in progressing from the lower order skills that they presently utilise. This progression requires me developing improved questioning techniques from my students, moving from simple closed questions to open ended questions that require a more considered response, a deeper understanding and building of a broader knowledge. My recent discovery of the Q-chart questioning framework (see post: ILA Recommendations) provides me with a means of progressing to the next level.

Question 2:

How long does an inquiry activity typically take? How long would be considered sufficient to gather suitable data from the ILA?

I underestimated the time required for this ILA, but this was more as a result of taking my students through the process slowly to ensure that they had a clear understanding of the activity and what required of them. At the close of school for the end of term holidays the students were half way through gathering information having identified their topics.  Despite not completing the ILA beyond this stage, I was satisfied with the direction that they were taking in their research and that given more time, their individual research would have reached a positive conclusion for most of the group. A factor that also contributed to a delay in some student’s progress was related to the attendance of students at different stages of the activity.

A suitable amount of data was gathered after the second SLIMS toolkit questionnaire. At this point the initial data gathered from Questionnaire 1 could then be compared to a second source of information and a comparison made as to its developments. The third questionnaire, whilst not completed, would have provided a more comprehensive analysis of the ILA process, the student’s knowledge growth and their reactions to the ILA over its course.

 Question 3:

In speaking to teachers from both my own school and another secondary school in Brisbane, about the guided inquiry process, there was a feeling that the process was too time consuming when considering the extent of the national curriculum based content that is required to be covered. Guided inquiry was limited to one ILA per semester in one school. What arguments can be provided by the TL in support of adopting a greater utilization of information literacy strategies such as the guide inquiry approach, whilst addressing the core requirements of the curriculum?

 To provide an answer to this question we must firstly acknowledge the paradigm shift in the traditional roles of librarians as historically shelving books, placing orders, managing the circulation desk, conducting inventory and maintaining a well ordered spaces, to that which has redefined their roles are educators, teachers, collaborators leaders and promoters of information and media literacies with the goal of preparing students to learn in the 21st century (Wallace & Husid, 2011). Teacher librarians in their role as curriculum leaders, best address this issue through effective collaboration with teaching staff. Collaboration provides an instructional team with valuable time for addressing curriculum standards, lesson planning and content. As such, the implementation of inquiry based learning is not the sole responsibility of one teacher, but an instructional team. Teacher librarians as curriculum leaders are well equipped to assist in the development of “student competence in learning in an information-laden environments and for finding meaning from a variety of information laden sources” (Kuhlthau 2007).

 Selling the notion of a model such as Guided Inquiry to teaching staff who may feel the process too daunting to begin or even consider, requires perhaps a better understanding of the process and the essential skills that are developed that support life-long learning. Inquiry learning develops students’ investigative and thinking skills and contributes to their ability to participate effectively in society. It can also contribute to enhancing self-esteem by encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning (Gordon, n.d) . This in itself is a reason, which has been cited by Kuhlthau, for many teachers now turning to inquiry learning. The development of inquiry based learning is acknowledged in the New Australian Curriculum which has an ’inquiry skills’ developmental sequence for science, history and geography, and through this art based ILA I have come to see how it can be applied to any curriculum area.

With regards to the number of inquiry projects that should incorporated across a semester, my understanding of inquiry learning is that it does not need to compartmentalised or defined as an occasional or one-off activity, but should be seen as a means instigating transformative changes to the manner in which we look at, and learn through the curriculum. Whilst the introduction to inquiry learning may begin as a subject based ILA project, the skills required to inquire effectively so as to affect our preconceived understandings thus promoting learning through a deeper knowledge are essential to learning in the 21st century.  

 

Cited:

Barell, J. (2007). Problem-based learning: An inquiry approach. (Second edition).Thousand Oaks. C.A Corwin Press.

Big6.com(2013) Information and Technology Skills for Students: Big 6 Skills Overview. Accessed at: http://big6.com/pages/about/big6-skills-overview.php

Gordon, K. (n.d). Inquiry Approaches in Primary Studies of Society and Environment Key Learning Area. Occasional paper prepared for the Queensland School Curriculum Council.

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

Kuhlthau, C.C., Manoiotes, L.K., & Caspari, A.K. (2010). Guided Inquiry Design: A framework for inquiry for your school. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Wallace, V. L. & Husid, W. N. (2011). Collaborating for inquiry-based learning: School Librarians and teachers partner for student achievement. Santa Barbara, C.A. Libraries Unlimited.

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