Little Green Librarian

Blogging my way through a Masters in Teacher Librarianship at CSU!

Quality Teaching with Inquiry Learning and Project-Based Learning


Children investigating

There would be few teachers or teacher librarians who would be happy to say that their teaching was not of a high ‘quality’, but the term ‘Quality Teaching’ has come to mean more than the sum of its parts. In New South Wales, where I work, a Quality Teaching Framework (NSW Department of Education and Communities, 2006) has been implemented in an attempt to standardise the quality that a student can expect when they walk into a government school classroom. Of course, quality still varies, but that’s a discussion for another day!

In the last decade or so, two approaches to learning have come to the forefront: Inquiry Learning (IL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL). These two approaches can help teachers and teacher librarians achieve the status of a ‘Quality Teacher’, as their principles align beautifully with the Quality Teaching Framework.

IL begins with student curiosity and allows participants the opportunity to research and present their findings in meaningful contexts. In IL, “Students are involved simultaneously in learning about curriculum content, information literacy, the learning process, literacy ability, and social interaction (Kuhlthau, et. al., 2007, p112).”

PBL “integrates knowing and doing. Students learn knowledge and elements of the core curriculum, but also apply what they know to solve authentic problems and produce results that matter (Markham, 2011, p38).” The video below explains what PBL is all about.

The Quality Teaching Framework lists three overarching concepts that help define what quality teaching looks like: intellectual quality, quality learning environment and significance. Intellectual quality is about deep learning, higher-order thinking and substantive communication. Quality learning environment is about building relationships and setting high, explicit expectations for students. Significance is about connecting learning to the world outside the classroom, both to the student’s personal experience and culture, and to meaningful, relevant experiences. (NSW Department of Education and Communities, 2006). These ideas fit very well with the concepts of IL and PBL. The idea of significance is particularly relevant, as students are able to participate in meaningful, connected tasks and present their acquired knowledge and deep understanding to real audiences.

So, where does the teacher librarian fit in? One of the hats that a teacher librarian can wear is that of “instructional partner”. Purcell (2010, p31) defines this role, in part, as being able to, “participate in curriculum design and assessment, [and] help teachers develop instructional activities”. In the context of IL and PBL, teacher librarians can participate in planning rich, deep inquiry tasks and projects with the teacher.

The benefits to the school of the active involvement of the teacher librarian in this kind of curriculum development are many. For example, the teacher librarian brings a rich understanding of the inquiry process as well as research skills and information literacy. Teacher librarians, with their dual qualification of both teacher and librarian, bring a dimension to the curriculum development process that would otherwise be absent. The benefits of including teacher librarians in the development of units of work and lessons are also bountiful. While principals do not always expect teachers to include the teacher librarian in planning, this is certainly a culture that should be encouraged. Our collective knowledge and skill-base is surely broader together! Schools that choose not to foster this process disadvantage their students. While the teacher librarian can certainly teach research and information literacy skills within library lessons, students benefit far more from integration of these skills into tasks across the curriculum.

Inquiry Learning and Project-Based Learning don’t have to be scary. Teachers working with teacher librarians have built-in support throughout the process and a sounding board for ideas. Planning units of work together shares the teacher’s burden,  gives the teacher librarian an authentic context within which to teach lifelong skills and allows students the opportunity to participate in engaging, memorable learning experiences. Everyone wins!


Buck Institute for Education. (2010). Project based learning: explained. Accessed April 17, 2014 from “

Kuhlthau, C. C., Caspari, A. K. & Maniotes, L. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: learning in the 21st century. Libraries Unlimited. Westport, Conn.

Markham, T. (2011). Project Based Learning. Teacher Librarian, 39(2), 38-42.

NSW Department of Education and Communities. (2006). Professional Learning and Leadership Development: Quality Teaching [website]. Accessed April 17, 2014 from

Purcell, M. (2010). All librarians do is check out books right? A look at the roles of the school library media specialist. Library Media Connection 29(3), pp.30-33.


Image source: Children Investigate by patricialacolla. Public Domain.

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