I began my search feeling unsure of where I was heading, and doubtful I would be able to answer my questions as initially, they seemed difficult to answer. This is likely because going into the search, I had little-to-no knowledge on the topics I was exploring. The thought that at the end of the process I would have answers seemed overwhelming and unattainable. This is consistent with the emotions felt at the beginning of any ISP, as outlined by Carol Kulthau, as the researcher is likely to feel uncertain as at this point of the process, they are focussing on how much they do not know.
I decided upon several questions which I felt applied to me in my context:
- What level of support and scaffolding should students be provided with at the beginning of the project?
- How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?
- What role does the library and librarians play in facilitating inquiry-based tasks across the entire curriculum?
After a shaky start where all of the Boolean operators and search strings and open tabs made me feel a bit ill – or, as Kuhlthau states as the normal feelings during the Explore stage of the process, confusion, frustration, and doubt – I managed to get a hold of the search process and was able to effectively and confidently throw myself into the research that was out there. During this process, I refined my questions. I dumped the first original question, as I thought that the third question, if answered properly, will also answer the first. My questions morphed into the following:
- How can the library support inquiry learning?
- How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?
After searching Google and Google Scholar, and perusing the articles that I found on inquiry learning and school libraries, my first research questions changed again to become How can the library facilitate inquiry learning? This change was the result of the information I was finding about how central the role of the teacher-librarian is in inquiry learning. My search strings did not change, but rather, my perspective was slightly altered. This was due to the fact I could not find any research that explicitly outlined the role of the teacher as I could the teacher-librarian. Articles about teachers were more general about the concept of inquiry learning and assisting students to ask and answer their own questions, rather than the explicit guides I found about the role of the librarian (see Kuhlthau 2010; Kuhlthau and Maniotes, 2010; Sheerman, 2011; Moreillon, 2014; and Fitzgerald, 2007). I also experienced sheer delight when I found several useful resources about including inquiry learning in the English classroom through searching Twitter. Up until that point, I had essentially given up on being able to answer the second question, as I’d only found one useful article via ProQuest Education.
By the end of the search process, I feel confident in my knowledge and the formulation of my ideas. I could now clearly articulate a verbal or written response if somebody asked me to tell them what the role of the teacher-librarian is in facilitating inquiry learning.
What did I learn?
My response to my first question can be found here. I have not refined an answer to my other question, but I did find a range of resources that provide some ideas which I have curated here. I will, however, try to articulate a response now.
There are two different ways to incorporate inquiry in the English classroom. The first is through small inquiry-based activities that provide deeper understanding about the topic. These are based around asking questions, group work, and using evidence to defend ideas. Visible Thinking Strategies are an excellent springboard into these sorts of activities, but they do not have that extended commitment to the topic that true, high-quality inquiry does. The second approach is through exploring a topic using an inquiry method. Dianne McKenzie’s blog post ‘Scaffolded Thinking’ provides a strategy to enter into a text study through an inquiry method. She has another approach, outlined in her blog post ‘One size for all limits learning’ which starts with the topic or concept to be explored, and students pick their own books that they want to read that examines the idea. Likewise, Brown (2004) had her students research the theme of identity by focusing on an element of identity that was important to them, and Bailey & Carroll (2010) used an inquiry approach for students to delve into the deep study of the concept adversity by researching different celebrities who have faced adversity in their lives. In this way, an inquiry approach could have made the outgoing context studies (Encountering Conflict, Exploring Issues of Identity and Belonging, The Imaginative Landscape, or Whose reality?) in the Year 12 VCE English curriculum more engaging.
What did I learn about the inquiry process in general?
Ultimately, I learned that you need to trust yourself and the process. Your brain is working overtime processing and making sense of everything you are throwing at it. In the end, as long as you don’t give up, it should all come together to become a nice and neat, personal response to the – or a new – inquiry question. I have to remind my own students that it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated with how much we don’t know or have yet to learn when we are trying to learn a new concept. But it’s much more difficult to acknowledge how far we’ve come and how much we’ve actually learnt since beginning the task. I could have done with this advice when I was struggling with the Boolean operators in the beginning when nothing valuable was surfacing, and I still had four other search repositories to struggle through. What was actually happening was I was discarding useless search strings and other terms that were wasting my time to carefully construct some reliable search strings that I could trust. By the time I arrived at A+ Education and ProQuest Education, I was not wasting my time trying all sorts of different search terms looking for information. I approached the later databases quickly and efficiently: in-and-out; no dilly-dallying. What my search process taught me is that sometimes, a change in perspective is all you need to regain the confidence in yourself.
What new questions do I have?
During my research, I came across the concept of ‘inquiry circles’ (Kuhlthau, 2007), which really excited me, but which I did not look at deeply as it was slightly off topic. However, I flagged it as an element of facilitating inquiry learning that interests me and something that I wish to explore more deeply. My new initial question is about incorporating inquiry circles:
- What are effective strategies to incorporate inquiry circles into the task that ensures it is an authentic and useful process for the students?
This question will need refining in order to effectively search for answers. It was born from my wonderings about the highly-structured nature of the inquiry circle roles. Inquiry circles appear to be a great way to teach non-fiction reading and literacy in the classroom, but do not appear to directly lend itself to the inquiry process itself. It seems like an unnecessary addition to the already intensive research project; something a teacher would set students just to give them even more work to do!