Little Green Librarian

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

Implementing a Guided Inquiry Approach


Cartoon image of a person coming up with an idea.

Throughout my life, I have had a number of moments of clarity in which I have heard or read something that has helped me understand myself better. The most recent moment of clarity came a few weeks ago when I began reading and learning about Carol Kuhlthau’s body of work on Information Search Process (ISP) and the subsequent development of the Guided Inquiry (GI) approach to learning (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2013). Although there are many models of inquiry and scaffolds to help people research, process and present information, Kuhlthau’s ISP and GI approach are unique. In ISP, she outlines not only the actions that the researcher takes, but also how they feel at each stage of the process. Like knowing the roller coaster’s track before riding, understanding how the emotional roller coaster would play out as I researched was a significant discovery for me!

 Image of a roller coaster.

As learners, so often we approach preparation for an assignment assuming that the more information we learn about the subject, the more confident we will feel and the better our assignment will be. Kuhlthau’s extensive research paints a very different picture. Consistently, learners experience a significant dip in their confidence not too far into the research process. This dip is associated with information overload at the general level – in seeking to ‘get a grip’ on the topic at hand, we tend to read so much general information that we can’t work out what’s important and what’s not. This is why the ‘guided’ part of Guided Inquiry is so important. To the learner, the intervention of a wise guide at this moment of doubt and confusion can make the way forward much clearer. In fact, targeted support at each stage of the inquiry process can help students develop lifelong learning skills that have broad application throughout their lives. Read more about GI here and watch the video below for an overview of why this approach turns learners into lifelong learners.

So what is the best way for a Teacher Librarian to implement the Guided Inquiry approach? Ideally, a whole-school approach is called for. Consistency in the model and language used across the school will provide the best possible basis for a successful Guided Inquiry program, with the teacher librarian providing support to teachers and students alike. Teacher librarians can design GI units with teachers, as well as teaching students the different stages of ISP and providing targeted intervention and support throughout the process.

If a whole-school approach is not possible at this point in time, GI can still be implemented in individual classrooms or in smaller-scale projects. Often such projects can be a great time to collect local evidence of the success of GI, which can then be used to promote wider uptake in the future. The key is to give it a go and to build on your success over time.

Implementing Guided Inquiry may initially be a challenge, but it is certainly worth the effort. Syllabus content becomes more meaningful to students and they are more engaged in their own learning – and that’s what school should be all about!


Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K. & Caspari, A.K. (2013) Guided Inquiry Design.

Maniotes, L.K. (2013). Guided Inquiry Design Intro pt 2 Learning how to learn. Accessed May 12th, 2014 from



Idea by OpenClips. Public Domain.

Roller Coaster by OpenClips. Public Domain.

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