There is an increasing pedagogical shift towards Guided Inquiry (GI) in schools (Collins et al., 2008, p. 1). In this type of learning, children are encouraged to work at tackling questions in depth through a cycle of hypothesis, exploration and reflection. When children work in this way they benefit from support and resources beyond the classroom (Stripling, 2008, p. 2). When inquiry is central to a school’s curriculum, librarians play a pivotal role in helping children extend and make connections with their learning by working in collaboration with teachers on research projects and investigations.
The role of the teacher librarian in implementing a GI approach very much depends, I think, on the culture of learning and the curriculum in a particular school. I have worked in a fully accredited International Baccalaureate school within the Primary Years Programme (PYP) where a culture of GI was an expectation and was fully embedded into the curriculum. High standards and expectations were set and an enabling framework existed in the school to ensure this happened. Year groups and specialist staff had planning time set aside at the beginning of every ‘unit of inquiry’, and planning templates included cross-curricular links and highlighted transdisciplinary skills. Staff also met at the end of a unit to reflect and, if necessary, to adapt planning documents. Teachers guided children through the inquiry process and worked in collaboration with other specialist staff including the teacher librarian. In this context, the teacher librarian’s input was planned for and they worked collaboratively with teachers and all year groups across the whole school. Challenges can exist in schools where this approach to learning is not embraced. Indeed, Gordon (2010) highlights that difficulties can arise because inquiry learning ‘contradicts a culture of teaching that can be isolationist and individualistic’ (p. 80). While challenges may exist, Stripling (2008) believes the teacher librarians, by working in collaboration with school staff, can play an important role in ‘restructuring the curriculum so that inquiry and problem solving are integrated into all subject areas’ (p. 2).
GI has been developed from Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) model and is based on a constructivist approach to learning (Kuhlthau, & Maniotes, 2010, p. 18) (Fitzgerald, 2011). In order to implement the GI approach effectively, Kuhlthau encourages the use of open-ended questions as the starting point for a research project (Thomas, Crow, & Franklin, 2011 p. 41). This means that teachers need to model and use a range of questioning strategies in order to encourage children to formulate and ask questions. This is just one of many specific teaching skills and strategies for inquiry which are grounded in extensive research. In order to effectively integrate inquiry in schools there needs to be a solid educational understanding of the theories and models surrounding GI and for educators to see for themselves the benefits to the GI learning approach. Indeed, the advantages of a GI approach are very evident when you walk into a school and see children who are enthusiastic, productive independent learners achieving success! I have seen children who have been in a school following this approach for many years to the point where they speak the language of inquiry themselves and take full ownership of their learning.
Collins, Trevor., Gaved, Mark., Mulholland, Paul., Kerawalla, Cindy., Twiner, Alison., Scanlon, Eileen., Jones, Ann., Littleton, Karen., Conole, Grainne and Blake, Canan (2008). Supporting location-based inquiry learning across school, field and home contexts. Proceedings of the MLearn 2008 Conference, 7 – 10 Oct 2008, Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire, UK. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/12393/1/mlearn-2008-0025-collins-crc.pdf
Gordon, C. A. (2010). The culture of inquiry in school libraries. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 73-88.
Kuhlthau, C. K., & Maniotes, L.K. (2010). Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners. School Library Monthly, 26(5), 18.
Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: Guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41
Stripling, B. (2008). Inquiry-based teaching and learning – the role of the library media specialist. Retrieved from http://lgdata.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/docs/4210/910814/Inquiry_Based_Teaching___Learning_Stripling.pdf
Thomas, N. P., Crow, S. R., & Franklin, L. L. (2011). Chapter 3: The Information Search Process: Kuhlthau’s legacy. In Information literacy and information skills instruction: Applying research to practice in the 21st century school library (3rd ed., pp. 33-58). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.