So, what actually ended up happening?

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!

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.

Twitter as a search tool

Figure 1 Search results for
Figure 1 Search results for “inquiry school library” in Twitter.

I have referred to social media a few times to search for information. Notably, I have used Pinterest consistently throughout my (short) teaching career with various levels of success. However, I have never tried Twitter as a search repository, and was curious to see how useful it could be.

Research question: How can the library support inquiry learning?

My first attempt at Twitter was to search the hashtag, #inquiryinenglish but that came up with nothing. My next search was “Inquiry school library” without a hashtag hoping to widen the results. The results were broad and unspecific, and largely about student-driven questions (Fig. 1). I was unable to find anything specific enough for my needs, and it was too difficult to narrow down the search.

Figure 2 Richard Kassissieh @kassissieh's Twitter Post that surfaced through the search
Figure 2 Richard Kassissieh (@kassissieh)’s Twitter Post that surfaced through the search “inquiry school library”.

Research question: How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?

My next search “Inquiry in English“, again without the hashtag, still generated largely irrelevant results, but it wasn’t being updated as quickly as “inquiry school library”. I was able to scroll down to find some relevant tweets. @kassissieh Tweeted an image from his class with the title, “Thematic inquiry in English classes builds student dialogue around contemporary topics” (Fig. 2); however, the limited explanation made the concept unclear to me. I also found a conversation initiated by Lissa Layman (@MmsLayman): “What does #inquiry look like in High School English classes?” Bingo.

This conversation provided a selection of blogs, strategies and ideas of what other English teachers have found successful (Fig. 3):

  • Dianne McKenzie (February, 2015). Scaffolded Thinking. – a question based activity to determine prior knowledge on the context of the text (in this case, Shakespeare), and to generate questions that students want to explore further about what they still want to know. This also led me to the Visual Thinking Strategy Think, Puzzle, Explore via McKenzie’s reflection on a blog post by Buffy Hamilton (The Unquiet Librarian) on Igniting Inquiry.
  • Visual Thinking Layers routine, which organises students questions about a text into genuine and generative inquiry questions that can be explored in order to deepen understanding and appreciation with the text.
  • Dianne McKenzie (August, 2015). One size for all limits of learning – The teacher provides a concept, theme, or idea that they want students to explore, for instance, racism, and students then locate a text that they want to read that explores the concept.
  • Dianne McKenzie (September 2014). Visualising Orwell – a visual literacy strategy that uses images and quotes to initiate questions and discussion about the context of the novel before studying it.
  • Dianne McKenzie (November, 2014) Maze Running – a visual thinking activity where students worked in groups to negotiate an agreed upon layout for the setting, personalities of the characters, and their relationships. However, while this was included in the Twitter search results, I would not classify it as strictly ‘inquiry’ based learning.
Figure 3 A map of the Twitter conversation generated by Lissa Layman (@MmeLayman) about what inquiry can look like in an English classroom.

This search also provided me with the hashtag #sharedinquiry which sent me to another conversation on Twitter. However, this hashtag did not give me any information on what Shared Inquiry actually was, so I went back to Google and typed it in. I discovered that an organisation called The Great Books Foundation who produce educational resources have developed their own method of inquiry in English called Shared Inquiry. On their website, the aims of the Shared Inquiry method, “..centers on interpretive questions—questions about a text that have more than one plausible answer. Discussion leaders employ the Shared Inquiry method to get participants thinking, listening, and responding to questions and answers from others in their discussion groups.” (The Great Books Foundation, 2015). The website also includes a free-to-download PDF that examines the Shared Inquiry process using texts, which will prove to be a highly valuable resource in helping me to generate ideas about how inquiry can be used in the English classroom.

I became incredibly carried away following the ideas that the short discussion that @MmeLayman generated on Twitter. It was overwhelming trying to curate their ideas in a way that I could use. Eventually I found some order to my Twitter searching, and found enough to keep me occupied in generating my own response to the English-based inquiry question. I did not need to try any more search terms, nor did I try other social media sites – I was quite satisfied with what I found. A combination of finding more than enough ideas to keep me occupied, plus how time-consuming it was to curate the resources I was finding into a logical order were my reasons to not continue my social media search at this time. While Twitter is a pain to navigate as you cannot sort results in any meaningful way, and you also have to sift through many irrelevant sources (I had many Tweets from companies asking for the “inquiry to be in English please”), the conversational nature of Twitter makes it a goldmine for information, once you actually find what you’re looking for.

Another database: ProQuest Education

Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.
Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.

Research question: How can the library facilitate inquiry learning?

By the time I arrived at ProQuest, I was already feeling quite confident about the resources I had already found, particularly what A+ Education gave me as it was specific to the Australian education system. As a result, my searching in ProQuest was quite short. I put in my standard search first, (“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND (librarian OR library) AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”), which generated 1,470 results. While it said it was sorted by relevance, the first page did not strike me as relevant. The results were about inquiry learning in general, rather than in the library (Fig. 1). In fact, only one article piqued my interest – ‘DEWEY do Dewey don’t: a sign of the times’ (Gordon, 2013) – because it was the only one that focused on the role of the librarian.

Figure 1 First search using my default search string yielded a largely irrelevant list of results.
Figure 1 First search using my default search string yielded a largely irrelevant list of results.

Research question: How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?

My next search was about English – (“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND (librarian OR library) AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”) AND (english OR language) NOT (science OR biology). I automatically made the search string not include science and biology as they were already coming up in my previous search. This generated a list of results about using ICT in the classroom, or inquiry projects involving subjects that were not listed, so relevance was limited. I was able to find one article that followed an American English teacher’s journey into making research projects more interesting for her students using inquiry learning, ‘Motivating Students’ Research Skills and Interests through a Multimodal, Multigenre Research Project’ (Bailey, N. & Carroll, K. 2010). This will be helpful as until now I have found no academic literature that is about inquiry learning in English.

Aside from the Bailey and Carroll (2010) article about including inquiry learning in English, overall, ProQuest was largely a disappointment. It returned a large list of results that I would expect from Google or Google Scholar, but they did not have the same relevance as Google or A+ Education did.

A+ Education – an Aussie database. Mate.

Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.
Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.

Research question: How can the library facilitate inquiry learning?

I started this search with what I have decided will be my default search string [(“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND (librarian OR library) AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”)]. My searching is becoming quite refined and more efficient. I am not wasting time trying various search strings anymore; I have narrowed down my search terms. I have also discarded the term ‘supporting’ in my searches. As far as I’m concerned, the librarian runs inquiry learning! They don’t just support it.

This search proved to be successful. This returned six highly-relevant investigations into inquiry-learning practice in Australian libraries. Unfortunately, two results were unavailable online, but I still have four to work with which is excellent. The results I found were:

  • Heinstrom, J. and Todd, R. J. Uncertainty and guidance : school students’ feelings, study approaches, and need for help in inquiry projects. Scan; v.25 n.3 p.29-35; August 2006.
  • James, R. Feasting’s a boar : the guided inquiry research approach in practice. Synergy; v.6 n.1 p.47-48; 2008.
  • Sheerman, Alinda. Accepting the challenge : evidence based practice at Broughton Anglican College. Scan; v.30 n.2 p.24-33; May 2011.
  • Fitzgerald, L. Investigating guided inquiry : a beginning. [online]. Scan; v.26 n.2 p.30-37; May 2007.
  • Wilma, K. & Turnbaull, M. (2009). ‘Learning communities at Year 7, 8 and 9 : using UbD and guided inquiry towards shared understandings and authentic learning.’ [Unavailable online]
  • Pick, A. & Schutz, H. (2007). ‘Raising profiles : an investigation into teacher awareness of information literacy and strategies for increasing understanding of the concept and the role of the teacher librarian.’ [Unavailable Online]

Research question: What is the role of the teacher in inquiry learning?
Research question: How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?

My next search was an attempt to find the ‘role’ of the teacher in inquiry learning, particularly in English [(“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND teacher AND English AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”) NOT Science]. This is a topic I had been largely unsuccessful in finding any information on using Google and Google Scholar. A+ Education was able to find two resources: “Raising profiles : an investigation into teacher awareness of information literacy and strategies for increasing understanding of the concept and the role of the teacher librarian” (Pick, A. 2007) and “Boys learning through ICT” (Ruffles, D. 2005). These two appear to be general across all learning areas, and so I assume the strategies would be transferable to English. However, neither was available online. Furthermore, both articles were written about 8-10 years ago, and due to the ever-evolving nature of ICT, I would regard them to be largely out of date anyway.

So far in my searching I have failed to find any academic results specific to inquiry methodology in English. I have also been quite unsuccessful in being able to identify the ‘role’ of the teacher in supporting inquiry learning activities, while the research is very strong in the role of the librarian. From this I am starting to gather that effective inquiry learning really needs to include a teacher-librarian. Without the information literacy expertise, the activity is just an outcome that tests content-knowledge, with little consideration of the process.