Guided inquiry is a constructivist approach to learning which aims to equip students with the skills they need to function successfully in the 21st century. (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 18) It is based on the Information Search Process (ISP) developed by Kuhlthau, and aims to develop students competence in information literacy while increasing their understanding of the content areas of the curriculum. Guided inquiry provides a way of making information literacy an accepted essential element of the major assessment tasks students encounter in their school life. (Fitzgerald, 2011, p. 29)
Guided Inquiry is exactly as it says – a process to guide students through curriculum based inquiry units of work that aim to build a deep understanding of the topic, and help students to develop skills to become independent learners. Guided Inquiry must be carefully planned and monitored to be effective and requires a collaborative approach between the teacher librarian, teachers and any specialists who may be able to contribute. The teacher librarian has a crucial role wearing many hats – the resource specialist, information literacy teacher, and collaborator. (Scheffers, 2008, p. 34)
As opposed to traditional textbook learning, Guided Inquiry creates meaningful learning experiences where students become active participants in their own learning. The process challenges students to develop and improve their their organisational skills, information literacy, collaborative skills and self-awareness and reflection. It promotes the development of deep knowledge, as well as skills that are transferrable to real life situations. As stated by Kuhlthau, (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 19), the inquiry process has the advantage of helping students to accomplish integrated learning of: “…curriculum content, information literacy, learning how to learn, literacy competence, and social skills.”
Based on Kuhlthau’s ISP, Guided Inquiry provides a step-by-step framework for students to follow to successfully complete a research task, and importantly highlights the common feelings, thoughts and actions in each stage. This provides the teaching staff also with opportunities to be keenly aware and ready to intervene when uncertainty or a learning need arises. This results in targeted intervention when most required, deepening student’s learning experiences. These timely interventions in the learning process help students to understand their own learning and changes in their feeling and thoughts – they learn “how to learn” and eventually can transfer this into others areas of their learning and lives. (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 18)
Guided inquiry places importance on initially building background knowledge and linking already known information to a research task. Gathering this information from students, using the ISP process with keen observation of students and soliciting feedback from students provides, valuable insights into student learning experiences and understanding, and importantly can provide data for evidence based practice.
Evidence can be gathered by use of feedback reflections and questionaries and provides information for teaching staff for intervention, as well as data to be analysed using methods such as the the Student Learning Inquiry Measure (SLIM). (Fitzgerald, 2011, p. 28) Feedback can be used as formative assessment for teachers also and to promote metacognition about information processes for students. (Fitzgerald, 2011, p. 29)
Summary aspects of Guided Inquiry Approach
– Offers a vast amount of expertise from TLs and teachers combined; ensuring the curriculum, students’ interest and learning needs have been addressed.
– can utilise experts in given field promotes engaging, informational, informal presentations
– Participation and engagement by students
– Authentic, deep learning and skills development
– Creative learning approach for teachers and students, because questions driving inquiry may lead in unexpected directions
– Learning is student and interest driven
– GI facilitates lifelong learning with transferable (21st century) life skills
– Students become more independent learners and transfer skills across all subject areas.
– Ongoing assessment and evaluation occurs – ongoing observation of students allows some real insight into the depth of their skills and understanding, allowing targeted support and intervention
– Provides students with targeted intervention when a learning need arises; dealing with their emotions and cognitive processes, resulting in them understanding how to learn.
– TL’s and teachers have the chance to explicitly teach skills / strategies that are relevant and meaningful to the task e.g. planning strategies, evaluating resources, note-taking, referencing
– teachers and TL’s are modeling the collaborative behaviour they want to see from their students
– May not suit the individual learning needs of the student.
– The workload of the TL may intensify as they implement the GI approach and individually guide students and collaborate with staff
– In a content heavy curriculum guided inquiry may take a lot of time away to teach new processes, classroom teachers may feel restrained by time
– Students that are used to explicit instruction may become confused and frustrated with the TL or teacher
– Students that lack motivation can easily disengage during the ISP process if not intervened
– Timetabling to enable team teaching approach
– Timetabling to enable longer lesson time to enhance guided inquiry
– Resourcing with high-quality relevant resources, both inside and outside the school
– Providing ease of access to all resources
– Planning and preparation time for excursions, museums visits or field trips
– Encouraging teachers to move from teacher instruction to student centered learning
– Getting staff and administration on board
Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of guided inquiry: guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41.
Kuhlthau, C. C. & Maniotes, L, K. (2010). Building guided inquiry teams for 21st-century learners. School Library Monthly, 36(5), 18-21.
Scheffers, J. (2008). Guided Inquiry: A learning journey. Scan, 27(4), 34-42.