Curation response: How can the library and teacher-librarian support inquiry learning?

I am currently working as a teacher-librarian in a high-performing Melbourne secondary school. As this library is not at the forefront of inquiry learning in the school, I came up with this question because I want to be able to position myself to facilitate and run high-quality inquiry learning tasks in the space.

Question: How can the library and teacher-librarian support inquiry learning?

Teams of teachers are important to ensure the learning outcomes of a guided inquiry task are best met by the students. These teams begin with the teacher-librarian (expert in the research process) and the classroom teacher (content expert). However, “…three member teams provide a synergy of ideas for developing inquiry learning” (Kuhlthau, 2010). This third teacher can be a second classroom teacher to provide different perspectives and ideas, or another subject area teacher or specialist in one of the desired learning outcomes, for example, reading, technology, music, art, ICT (Kuhlthau, 2010). Specialist teams, curated by the assessment requirements, ensures that every students’ learning needs are met so that they can best concentrate on their inquiry process.

When creating an inquiry-based assessment task, the rubric/criteria needs to continually assess the research process as well as the quality of the final outcome. Not only does this remind students that the process is just as important as the outcome, but it also provides teachers with crucial information on each student’s understanding of the task at different stages, which allows for targeted intervention to keep students who are struggling to stay on the right track (Sheerman, 2011). Teacher Alinda Sheerman outlines the process her school used in designing an Inquiry based task by collaborating with other teachers to determine what needed to be assessed, and incorporating the School Library Impact Measure (SLIM) Toolkit into the assessment. Not only does the SLIM Toolkit allow students to reflect on their research at each stage of the Information Search Process (ISP), but the responses can be then collated and analysed by the teaching team to find common problems and hindrances in the students’ search process.

Students need more support rather than less during the ISP. As Kuhlthau argues, guidance ensures that they “…are able to concentrate on constructing new knowledge in the stages of the inquiry process to gain personal understanding and transferable skills” (2010, p. 20). Without this guidance, the result is often a copy-pasted assignment with little-to-no critical insight of learning (Kuhlthau, 2010). Without support, students are unlikely to understand the intended outcomes and benefits of the ISP, and are instead solely focused on the outcome.

The teacher-librarian, as the expert of the space in which inquiry-based learning occurs, is central in facilitating the inquiry. However, it is imperative that they do not take on the role on their own. They need the expertise of at least one other teacher to ensure that high quality learning can occur. Teachers are collaborating throughout every element of the task, from its design, to facilitating the lessons and assessing the learning outcomes. More information that explores this idea (and others) can be found here.