Constructivist Learning, the Australian Curriculum and the Teacher Librarian



The constructivist learning approach was first theorised by Piaget who postulated that individuals construct their own meanings through interaction with their environment (Cornish & Garner 2008 ; Gordon 2010). Vygotsky, however, developed a social constructivist stance and placed the social context of any environment at centre stage. He suggests that individuals construct their own meanings through a combination of their own cognitive processes and their social environment. These learning approaches have had a profound influence on pedagogy and current educational practices (Cornish & Garner 2008 ; Edutechwiki 2012).


The social constructivist learning approach is student-centred where the teacher is no longer the ‘expert’ and transmitter of knowledge and the students passively receivers. In this approach, the students actively learn collaboratively through inquiry and the teacher’s role is that of facilitator and coach. Problem solving and metacognition or reflecting on learning processes form a large part of the inquiry process. The aim is for students to be actively involved in their own learning process and for deep and transferable learning to occur (Blurton 1999 ; Boss & Krauss 2007 ; Cornish & Garner 2008 ; Edutechwiki 2012 ; Gordon 2010 ; Herring 2007 ; O’Connell ; UNESCO 2005).


The Australian Curriculum reflects a social constructivist approach as it supports the goals of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians which includes collaboration and an active role in their own learning as key skills for 21 Century learners (ACARA 2013 ; MCEETYA 2008). In fact, the Australian Curriculum has been even come under criticism by some for relying too heavily on constructivist views despite being uniformly adopted by educational organisations worldwide (Sydney Morning Herald 2014 ; Cornish & Garner 2008 ; UNESCO nd). Constructivist concepts such as collaboration, teamwork, group work and inquiry abound throughout the Australian Curriculum. Indeed, collaboration and teamwork forms much of the Personal and social capability component of the Australian Curriculum’s General capabilities. Likewise, inquiry, problem-solving and reflection feature markedly in the Critical and creative thinking capability of the Australian Curriculum’s General capabilites. (ACARA 2013).


Guided Inquiry is student-centred constructivist approach used by teacher librarians that has a strong 20 year long empirical background (Gordon 2010 ; Thomas, Crow & Franklin 2011 ; Kuhlthau nd. ; Kuhlthau 2020). Guided Inquiry is an Inquiry Based Learning model that evolved from Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (Kuhlthau nd. ; Kuhlthau 2010). It aims to develop the same essential skills espoused by constructivist theory and endorsed by the Australian Curriculum namely problem solving, inquiry, collaboration and reflection (ACARA 2013, Carey 1998 ; Kuhlthau nd. ; Kuhlthau 2010). As uniquely qualified educators and information specialists, teacher librarians are best placed to play a leadership role in integrating Guided Inquiry into the curriculum in schools (ASLA 2004 ; ASLA 2012 ; Kuhlthau 2010).


When teacher librarians collaboratively design and team-teach with classroom teachers using Guided Inquiry they can support authentic and transferable learning across the school (Gordon 2010 ; Haycock 2007 ; Kuhlthau & Maniotes 2010). By guiding students through logical sequential steps using the Guided Inquiry process, students can develop metacognition by becoming aware of their own learning processes (Herring 2007 ; Kuhlthau 2010). The role of teachers and the teacher librarian is to provide guidance at critical intervention points referred to as the zone of intervention. This is achieved by closely observing and asking timely questions to help students develop key thinking and learning strategies (Kuhlthau 2010). The zone of intervention is a strategy that has been closely modelled on Vygotsky’s concept of a zone of proximal development (Cornish & Garner 2008 ; Kuhlthau nd.)



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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. Retrieved from

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