A Guide to Inquiry Learning

in a 21st century classroom.


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Final reflection

When this blog started, I posted three questions on inquiry learning:

  • What do you do when a child doesn’t recognise that they are having difficulty?
  • If students create their own questions for an ILA, how important are class rubrics?
  • How does reflection look on an assessment criteria sheet?

Having read various articles relating to my question on ‘rubrics’, from authors such as Kuhlthau, Callison and Lee, I now know that rubrics are very much a part of the inquiry process. Rubrics give both the student and teacher a clear understanding of the performance expectations of the activity. For years I have written rubrics on students’ performance that state little, other than a student ‘is able to’ or ‘requires assistance to’ without fleshing out what a basic, proficient or exemplary performance looks like. Words such as: ‘lists, explains and formulates’ as suggested by Kuhlthau (2007, p.124) are far more powerful and gives the student a clear idea of how they can strive to improve. Continue reading


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Recommendations for future practice

If I compare the journey of this ILA to the GeST model of inquiry, it is evident that my students operate primarily in the Generic window. In other words, information literacy has been taught to a level where the students are able to retrieve information from books and websites to answer questions and present that information through a variety of media. I feel that each of my students, by the end of the ILA, were able to locate and manage information relating to their topic and could draw on their new knowledge to answer questions relating to the Gold Rush era.

When looking at the Situated window of the GeST model, our excursion to Eureka Excursions in the 6th week of Term consolidated their learning as they were able to ask questions and act out many situations similar to those on the goldfields. For example, they erected tents using branches and calico, they made and ate damper, and were held up by a bushranger. Students used their prior research to ask sensible and informed questions of the excursion team. As this experience didn’t happen until the end of the ILA, it is difficult to judge whether the students gained any new knowledge from the excursion. Nonetheless, I can’t discount the impression the day left on each of the students. Continue reading


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Analysis of Question 4 and 5

The following table was created after analysing information collected from questions 4 and 5 in the three questionnaires. After collating the students’ responses, the information fell into five main themes relating to those of Kuhlthau’s ‘Five Kinds of Learning’ (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007, p. 112). I broke this information down further to highlight stages of inquiry associated with these themes. The frequency of the response to finding information in books indicates to me that my students weren’t equipped at the beginning of the ILA to locate information online successfully. This notion is supported by the students’ responses to question 5 in the Evaluating stage. Initially, almost half the class found it difficult to find the ‘exact information’ when searching the Internet however, this number was significantly reduced after we had practised Boolean searches (Refer to Locating Q4). Continue reading


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Action Taken

In my post dated 6th September 2013, I quoted Green (2012, p.19) in order to clarify the importance that inquiry plays in gaining a deeper understanding of a topic. Prior to reading the answers of the first questionnaire, I was aware that many students in my class had no prior experience of inquiry learning and that much of the inquiry would be Guided (Kuhlthau, 2007, p.24). An overwhelming majority of students found that searching for information relevant to their topic was the most difficult aspect of any project and transferring the information into their own words closely followed. For this reason, I created a folder of practical websites in our class LMS to support the students with their inquiry research.

The Important Tools for Inquiry

Using Databases – As many students expressed their difficulty with searching the Internet for information particular to their chosen topic, in the second week of the ILA, I taught the class some simple Boolean Operators (+, – and “) in order to refine their searches. To begin with, we searched topics related to the students’ questions as a class however, it didn’t take long for the children to see the benefit of using these operators. They could see the results change as we refined our search, and although some still encountered problems locating some information, most commented on how much easier it was to find the right information when using these operators. In this same lesson, I introduced the children to other databases such as Boolify, Wordsift and Twurdy, which many adopted as their preferred search engine. I continued to recap on these sessions over weeks three and four of the ILA, in order to familiarise the students with searching on the Internet. Continue reading


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Analysis of Questions 1, 2 and 3

The following graphs were generated after the students had completed the six week ILA as discussed in my previous post. Table 1 illustrates the students’ knowledge and their ability to recall, explain and make conclusions from their knowledge of the Australian Gold Rush era from the first questionnaire through to questionnaire 3.

Table 1Table 1

As you can see from Table 1, the orange bar demonstrates the students’ factual statements, the green bar represents explanatory statements, and the red indicates concluding statements, collated over the three questionnaires. I was not surprised to see the constant increase in factual understanding across the ILA, as the students had posed some insightful questions at the start of the activity. I was however, somewhat disillusioned with the results for the other two levels of knowledge – explanation and conclusion. Looking at the number of explanatory responses across the three questionnaires, I sense that much of the students’ research still centred on fact finding rather than making meaning from these facts. The final result is a little disappointing, considering I had consciously asked more open ended questions after the first questionnaire, in order to encourage the students to make connections with their learning. This indicates that the students were still “addressing questions rather than answering them” ( (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007, p. 134) across the ILA and highlights the need to address this issue across the school. Continue reading