Key To Improvement : Created by Author

Key To Improvement : Created by Author

Feedback 1 :

Hi Margaret
It was interesting reading your findings. There were many similarities between the findings from your class and the class I researched in Modern History. I liked how you have looked at your students responses against your school’s draft inquiry model. It would perhaps be good to include a link somewhere to the model as it would make those links clearer. It was particularly interesting to see the individual responses synthesised clearly into distinct categories as that gave a very clear overall picture. I am glad however that you included a table of sample responses against each heading as it gave a clearer picture of what those categories mean. Did you find that you changed any of your teaching based on the feedback in the SLIM surveys?
I initially had a few problems with making my graphs easy to read on the blog, but eventually had some success in using the “snipping tool. The ones I snipped and saved were definitely clearer when viewed on my blog, which meant I didn’t have to click on the images to view them.

Feedback 2 :

Hi Janelle
This is a very thorough and extensive post. After reading it I feel I have a very good understanding of your ILA. and the different successes and challenges you experienced. Many of the conclusions you have drawn have also enhanced my understandings of my own research!!
Interestingly like Alyce above I was also struck by how many similarities I found between your Physics class and my Modern History class. I too had presumed a much more developed set of research skills in my students and was surprised at how difficult they found to construct their own meanings and arguments from their research.

It was also interesting to read your discussion of the Open phase of the inquiry, as my students had also skipped this phase and had not spent any time engaging in the “big”or essential questions. Whilst my students were highly engaged in the task, largely as they were able to choose their own topics, I found that by skipping this step the students missed an invaluable opportunity to engage with the bigger essential questions of the inquiry and made it difficult for them to engage in the critical questioning of information – so much so that many found it difficult to to move beyond delivering a historical narrative. I am interested to see if you think missing the open phase impacted how your students critically questioned and evaluated their information in the same way too.

The recommendations you have made I think are clear and pertinent and I am sure will enhance the outcomes for your physics students!

Final Reflections – The Journey Continues

In my first post for this unit I was afraid that I had too many questions and not enough answers.  I was keen to embark on the course so that I could fix this problem and find all the answers. However through my inquiry journey I have come to realise that I had missed the point –  inquiry learning it is not about finding the answers but rather continually looking for and posing questions.  When you are focused on finding an answer you can lose focus on the importance of the question. This is the real power of Inquiry Learning: it changes the balance of power toward the question and the questioner (Lupton 2012). Throughout this unit I have contemplated and asked many questions, and often discovered that finding  an answer is just a step to discovering more questions.

If the heart of an inquiry is questions, then it is no surprise that effective questioning frameworks are critical to the success of any inquiry. My own inquiry journey has demonstrated to me  that a key strategy for improving the use of Inquiry Learning in my own teaching is through better questioning. It was evident in my own research that posing questions for many students is hard, and it was their lack of skills in developing essential and critical questions that impacted on the success of their inquiry.  Whilst this lack of skill emphasised to me the importance of  providing generative questioning scaffolds such as the Question Formation Technique (Rothstein & Santana 2011), the competing demands placed upon students (and teachers!) in a school mean that there is often a rush to move through an inquiry quickly in order to find “the answers”. I must ensure that my students have the time and the opportunity to engage with the bigger essential questions of the inquiry, and do not miss what Murdoch (2014) argues, are the underlying threads and ideas that make the journey itself important.

So where to now?

Question Mark on CHalk Pavement by Virtual EyeSee used under Creative Commons

Question Mark on Chalk Pavement by Virtual EyeSee used under Creative Commons

I had thought that the end of this task would find me with a nicely packaged inquiry unit with a concrete set of scaffolds that I could take into my classroom.  In fact I thought that by the end of this unit that I would have all of the answers!  Instead I find myself with more questions than when I started and even more new questions to pose;

How I can devise a scaffold for my students that aligns the Aspects of Inquiry that underpin the Queensland Modern History Syllabus with the phases of Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry Design?

How do I  meaningfully frame assessment so that it meets the reportable requirements of the curriculum but also has an emphasis on the outcomes associated with a Transformative window for the individual and society, and acknowledges learning that reflects a capacity to be informed citizens with the  analytical and critical thinking skills to participate in contemporary debates?

So it is clear that this final post does not complete my inquiry journey, but is really only a beginning – however, now I am no longer afraid of not having the answers!


Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Chapter 1 : Windows on Information Literacy Worlds : Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives in Lloyd, Annemaree and Talja, Sanna, Practising information literacy : bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, pp.3-27.

Lupton, M. (2012, November 28). Collecting Questions. [Web log post]. Retrieved 20 October from

Murdoch, K. (2012). Walking the world with questions in our heads.[Web log post]. Retrieved 20 October from

Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. (2011) Teaching students to ask their own questions.Harvard Education Letter. 27:5


Analysis and Recommendations

The unit delivered, whilst not entirely an open inquiry was designed to give students a large amount of  autonomy and self direction in their choice of topic and the direction it would take, however the teacher would still provide guidance and scaffolding for the methodology of their inquiry.  This coupled inquiry approach allows the students to build and develop the skills required for true open inquiry.   Students were asked to identify a group or person in history and examine their acquisition and use of power and the role it has played in historical change. The theme –  Studies of Power, is part of the Queensland Modern History Curriculum  from the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) and the task was designed to meet all three of the syllabus criteria;  Planning and using an historical research process;  Forming historical knowledge through critical inquiry and; Communicating historical knowledge.  Furthermore, whilst the new Australian Modern History Curriculum has not yet been implemented in Queensland the task clearly also provided the opportunity to meet the overarching aims of the new curriculum;

  • understand key developments that have helped define the modern world, their causes, the different experiences of individuals and groups, and their short and long term consequences
  • understand the ideas that both inspired and emerged from these key developments and their significance for the contemporary world
  • apply key concepts as part of a historical inquiry, including evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, significance, empathy, perspectives and contestability
  • use historical skills to investigate particular developments of the modern era and the nature of sources; determine the reliability and usefulness of sources and evidence; explore different interpretations and representations; and use a range of evidence to support and communicate an historical argument. (ACARA 2012)

Students were also provided opportunities to add depth to their learning by engaging in several of the General Capabilities identified by ACARA as playing an integral role in equipping students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century. Table 1 below illustrates the General Capabilities addressed in the task and the ways in which students could engage in them.


Table 1: General Capabilities Demonstrated in Inquiry Unit. Adapted from ACARA (2012)

The task was also grounded in the pedagogy of Anderson and Krathwohl’s (2001) revised Bloom’s taxonomy. Figure 1 below illustrates how students begin their inquiry with basic background research before moving through evaluating and analysing the impact and significance of the power of their individual or groups to the modern world. The task culminated in students creating this into a historical argument to share with the class in a format of their own choosing.


Figure 1: Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy as Applied to the Inquiry Unit

As I had “inherited” the class and the Inquiry Learning Activity I was delighted to find that the construction of the task outlined above, provided ample opportunity for the students to function in  the Transformative Window, from the GeSTE framework suggested by Lupton  & Bruce (2010). Students were simply given a thematic focus of the role power has played in historical change, and had the freedom to choose their own topics and develop their own questions to analyse the acquisition and use of power  by their group or person and the consequences for history. As students could develop their own hypothesis in response to their research and present their evidence and argument in any multi modal genre there was plenty of opportunity for students to use their research and  information for personal empowerment, and to challenge and question the status quo.

It is this critical literacy that is an essential element of the Transformative Window, as it takes students learning above the social and contextual frame of information literacy characteristic of the Situated window, or the surface and more limited view of information of the Generic Window of Lupton’s GeSTE Framework (2010).  However, since guided inquiry requires “careful planning, close supervisions, ongoing assessment and targeted intervention to gradually lead the students to independent learning”(Kuhlthau, 2010). I knew I would need to be heavily involved in scaffolding the process and implementing a range of tools and frameworks to assist the students achieve this higher level. However, despite the design of the unit there were a number of barriers that prevented many students from achieving the transformative window, with only some achieving the situated window and many remaining stuck in the surface view of information characteristic of the Generic Window. I believe a key reason for this issue was the lack of an overall guiding information literacy and inquiry model to promote an Action Research cycle such as Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry Design or Brunner’s The Inquiry Process. Further to this  The SLIM toolkit findings indicated that despite the use of a range of scaffolds, students were struggling with researching, particularly in finding, assessing and using primary and scholarly sources to develop their understanding as well developing focus questions that would frame their inquiry in the context of the essential questions of power. As a result, outlined below are some changes that I would recommend be made to this and future units regarding the use of a guided inquiry design that promotes a greater emphasis on an action research cycle as well as changes to the inquiry questioning frameworks used that may help push students to a more transformative understanding.

The unit was designed to reflect the QCAA’s Aspect of Inquiry model that is the underlying principal guiding the senior study of Modern History in Queensland (Figure 2)

Figure 1: Aspect of Inquiry model adapted from QCAA

Figure 1: Aspect of Inquiry model adapted from QCAA Modern History Syllabus

Under this model any inquiry a student undertakes must include these five aspects. In order to investigate these aspects a Structure for Student Inquiry is provided (see Figure 2), that links the aspects of inquiry to a process that is designed to meet the three objectives outlined by the QCAA of an inquiry task of; Planning and using an historical research process; Forming historical knowledge through critical inquiry and; communicating historical knowledge.

Structuring Student Inquiry

Figure 2: Structure For Student Inquiry. Adapted by author from QCAA Modern History Curriculum (2004)

Whilst the Structure For Student Inquiry model includes opportunities for students to reflect on historical argument and make personal connections and responses, the structure of the design to centre around meeting the three Objectives and Criteria of the Queensland Modern History Syllabus, does not encourage the students to view their inquiry as part of a research cycle or assess and evaluate the process. The Process of Inquiry elements under each objective act more as a checklist of skills characteristic of the Generic Window and do not replicate the authentic processes of inquiry in which students engage in the outside world (Lupton, 2012). As a result the students’ approach to their research was very linear and struggled to move to the Situated or Transformative windows.

This linear approach was also encouraged by the use of an Investigation Strategy Scaffold (Figure 3) which was designed to translate the Structure For Student Inquiry model above into a systematic approach for the students to use to guide their inquiry. Whilst the Investigation Strategy guided students to reflect throughout their inquiry it did not encourage students to revisit their questions and conclusions or pose new questions and ideas.

INvestigation Strategy

Figure 1 Investigation Strategy. Used with School Permission

The findings from the SLIM Toolkit questionnaires revealed that many students rushed through the initial stages and moved straight to formulating their focus questions without having properly explored their topic. By implementing Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry Design Process which makes explicit the physical and intellectual steps that that students need to complete an inquiry, students would have the opportunity to learn strategies in locating, evaluating and using a wide range of media and a variety of texts and put these strategies and skills into action throughout the inquiry process. Furthermore as students move through the stages of an Information Search Process they learn “the process of inquiry as well as how they personally interact within that process” Kuhlthau (2010). Figure 2 below illustrates how Guided Inquiry Design could be used as a framework for the students to follow for their inquiry into power.

revised GI

Figure 2: Suggested Guided Inquiry Framework adapted from Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry Design to direct students in their inquiry.

The absence of a Guided Inquiry Design model, meant that the students missed the key early phases of their inquiry. Whilst the task was designed to enable students to ask essential questions, the regular teacher handed it out before the holidays prior to my taking the class. As a result most students skipped the Open and Immerse phases of inquiry and and moved straight to doing background research and creating generic focus questions for which they could find “an answer”.  This first step is a key part of Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry design where students experience an open invitation to inquiry at the beginning of the inquiry process.  Kuhlthau (2012), asserts that this is a vital phase in the process as it sets the tone and direction of the inquiry. The aim at the beginning of the task is to stimulate the students to think about the overall content of the inquiry and to connect with what they already know from their experience and personal knowledge. I would recommend that the next time the unit should begin with a greater emphasis on the Open phase of the Guided Inquiry Design and focus on discussing essential questions. The rush to get on with the task meant that the students missed an invaluable opportunity to engage with the bigger essential questions of the inquiry and made it difficult for some to move beyond delivering a historical narrative. Murdoch (2012) argues that interrogating the essential questions that drive an inquiry is a critical component of the planning process, and that in doing so, teachers inquire themselves – identifying the underlying threads and ideas that make the journey important. Wiggins (2007) also argues that these big-idea or essential questions lead to relevant and genuine inquiry, provoke deep thought and new understandings as well as stimulating  a rethinking of ideas and assumptions. As a result, these questions signal to students that education is not just about learning “the answer”, but about learning how to learn. As the students had previously completed a unit on Hitler, starting with a discussion of power and the essential questions that were raised regarding this study may have helped reframe their inquiry so that the focus was more conceptual and investigative.

The students were given a copy of the  Aspects of Inquiry framework (See Figure 2 Below) adapted from the Queensland Modern History Syllabus which is used to assist them to pose their own focus inquiry questions. This framework was designed to move the students through the immersion phase of their inquiry into the exploratory stage as well as provide guidance for addressing each of the 5 key aspects of their inquiry under the QCAA model. The tool includes some excellent prompts for students, and provides a locus for the aspects of their inquiry and their associated focus questions.

ASpects of INquiry

Figure 2 Aspect of Inquiry. Used with School’s Permission

Questions or prompts such as

note your personal biases and responses and unpack why you feel the way you do


make connections to what you have studied in other Depth Studies or in other subjects as well as to the world around you.

encourage students to respond to their inquiry in a deeply personal way as well as critically question and challenge the information to push them to the transformative window.

However despite the potential this tool offers initially the students were not confident in its use, and needed assistance and greater modelling to construct their own questions. Whilst this framework provides provides prompts for students to interrogate the inquiry process and to ask data and information seeking questions that are what Lupton (2012b) argues are productive and evaluative, students also needed the assistance of a generative scaffold to provide the means to ask essential questions. Furthermore, whilst the sample focus questions suggested in the tool do not specify the order in which these aspects may be undertaken in the inquiry, the linear design of the scaffold meant that the students saw it as a checklist of questions to work through.  This does not reflect the circular nature of inquiry or action research, where inquirers may return and revisit their questions or develop new questions as they progress through their inquiry. For example throughout the course of an inquiry, issues of definition, or reflections and responses may reappear several times.  In future iterations of this task it is clear that at this point greater intervention from the teacher is required. I would like to redesign the Aspects of Inquiry tool so that a more explicit questioning framework be included under each aspect of the inquiry and attempt to align the different Inquiry Aspects against the phases of Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry Design. However the use of an explicit questioning  framework must also be tempered with a need to teach students how to formulate their own questions. Utilising a generative scaffold such as the Question Formulation Technique (Rothstein & Santana 2011),could help students to learn how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategise on how best to use them.

In order to move beyond the Generic Window, students needed to be able to question and interrogate their information on a more epistemological level. Students were encouraged to use an Annotated Literature Review using a CUP technique (Figure 3) as an evaluation framework to assist them to analyse their sources and research.


Figure 3 CUP TOOL. Used with school permission

Whilst the students have previously used this tool many times, in our feedback sessions it was apparent that most students focused on the Credibility and Utility of the source with little attention paid to perspectives. Further to this, whilst there are some questions under the Perspective heading that point towards Situated and Transformative windows such as

How would the time of production affect selection or evaluation of information?

What gaps and silences in information are evident?

the students had not properly engaged with these and were functioning predominantly at the surface level of evaluating information. The inclusion of questions that aim to reveal the epistemology of the information would increase the students’ ability to move to the situated and transformative windows.  I would suggest incorporating use of the SCIM-C strategy as an evaluation framework to help students not only interpret historical primary sources and reconcile various historical accounts, but go further and use them  to investigate meaningful historical questions.  When students use SCIM-C to examine a source they move through the first four phases of  Summarising, Contextualising, Inferring, Monitoring. Then after using these phases to examine a number of sources they compare these sources collectively in the fifth phase. Each phase includes a spiral of 4 questions that encourages a rigorous level of engagement with each source.  In particular questions in the monitoring and inferring stages such as:

What inferences may be drawn from absences or omissions in the source? 

would better assist students to question sources beyond the surface level and encourage them to take the time to “linger and learn from the source in order to develop and write an historical interpretation” (Doolitlle, Hicks and Ewing, 2004)

A significant barrier to the students achieving the transformative window was the construction of the marking criteria and standards. The task directly adopted the Criteria and Standards from the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) for multi modal research tasks in the Modern History Syllabus from 2004. The standards and criteria appear to assess the students’ learning on a surface level which creates a real tension between the aims of the inquiry activity and the assessment of the students’ work.  Close inspection of the criteria reveals little opportunity to demonstrate achievement in the transformative window as the marking criteria mainly presents a checklist of information literacy skills from the generic window.   For example –  A  level descriptors included:

Creates and maintains detailed, systematic, coherent records of research that demonstrate the interrelationships of the aspects of inquiry

Demonstrates initiative by locating and organising primary sources that offer a range of perspectives on chosen topic and issues of power.

Evaluates the relevance, likely accuracy and likely reliability of sources.

As a result it was difficult to move the students from the generic window, and they became increasingly confused as to the direction they should be taking with their assessment piece.  It became quite clear that the feedback and intervention I was giving them to develop learning and understanding in the situated or transformative window, was not reflected in the marking criteria for their piece.

As students demonstrate their knowledge of content and skills through the process of inquiry, the assessment of Inquiry Learning should be both formative and summative. Whilst given the small numbers of students, I was able to provide a great deal of feedback throughout the unit as formative assessment, the construction of the marking criteria for the summative assessment did not match the aims and design of the Inquiry Learning Activity. Instead the assessment task was focused on the achievement of skills and processes as well as content and context.  It was this tension that caused the students the greatest confusion.  According to Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, (2007) the major challenge of inquiry is to design an instrument to provide assessment information to the teacher as well as promote self – awareness among students. If Inquiry learning requires that students demonstrate their understanding through explanation, interpretation and application (Harada, 2004), then the final presentation should only make up part of the assessment and have equal footing with the process the student has followed. Kuhlthau (2007) argues that the ideal instrument could be used as an intervention for reflection while serving as an assessment of learning progress. In an ideal world I would revise the marking criteria to establish a greater emphasis on their research logs where I am better able to assess their construction of knowledge and reflections on the process. To help students achieve the transformative window, the marking criteria should have an emphasis on outcomes for the individual and society, and acknowledge learning that reflects a capacity to be informed citizens with the skills, including analytical and critical thinking, to participate in contemporary debates. This is supported by Wyatt-Smith, Klenowski, and Colbert (2014), who argue that we should engage in assessment practices that have as their focus improved outcomes for students. These outcomes may be personal, academic or social, depending what is valued by the communities in which the students live.  The use of the SLIM toolkit should also be continued as formative assessment and feedback for the teacher as it provides an easy-to-use and reliable measurement of the growth of student learning through Guided Inquiry. In addition the SLIM toolkit provides evidence of student learning in multidimensional ways including growth of knowledge of their curriculum topic, interest, feelings, and experiences during the inquiry process, and their reflections on their learning.

Unfortunately however, we cannot ignore the context in which we work and that as a senior subject the unit needs to be assessed in line with the current Queensland Syllabus so that the students’ work will meet the requirements of the QCAA.   In addition, the desire to set demanding standards of achievement for students and to know whether these are being achieved has led to a considerable increase in attention to assessment as well as current moves towards standardised assessment tools in Queensland. This  means that we are more likely to see the scenario in Figure 4 below, than we are to see real changes to the design of assessment criteria in the subject


Figure 4: Current Assessment, created by author. Based on an original idea by whatedsaid

By implementing the above recommendations to the Inquiry Unit the learning experiences of future students of Senior Modern History at the school would be enhanced.  The frustration of some students discussed previously in my Findings post of how different the expectation and aims were for this unit means it is essential to acknowledge that similar adjustments must be made to the units and tasks across all years of history study (and indeed all curriculum areas) in order to provide a consistent continua of skill development.


Anderson, L.W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.), Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.

Doolittle, P., Hicks, D., & Ewing, T. (2004). SCIM-C Explanation: a strategy for interpreting history. Retrieved October 20, 2015, from Historical Inquiry:

Harada, Violet. H. and Joan M. Yoshina. (2004). Inquiry Learning through Librarian Teacher Partnerships. Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Kuhlthau, C. C. Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari. A. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C. (2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 1-12.

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari, A. (2012). Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in your School, Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Lupton, M & Bruce, C (2010) Windows on information literacy worlds : generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In Practising Information Literacy : Bringing Theories of Learning, Practice and Information Literacy Together. Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, N.S.W., pp. 4-27.

Lupton, M. (2012a). What is Inquiry Learning. [Web log]. Retrieved 23 October 2015 from

Lupton, M. (2012b). Collecting Questions. [Web log post]. Retrieved 20 August 2015 from

Murdoch, K (2012). Walking the world with questions in our head [Web log]. Retrieved 20 October 2015 from

Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. (2011) Teaching students to ask their own questions.Harvard Education Letter. 27:5

Wiggins, G. (2007) What is an essential question? Big ideas. Authentic Education.

Wyatt-Smith, Claire; Klenowski, Valentina; Colbert, Peta (2014). Designing Assessment for Quality Learning. 

Action Research Project – An inquiry into power.

Image created by Author

Image created by Author

This investigation into an Inquiry Learning Activity focuses on a research unit with a small group of year 11 Modern History students. The group of 13 students were from an all girls private high school in Brisbane and were in term 2 of their first year studying the subject.  I undertook this project as a relief classroom teacher on a long service leave contract. I had no prior knowledge of the students and little understanding of their levels of understanding and proficiency at research and history writing. Additionally I was not involved in the construction and design of the inquiry project.

The aim of the inquiry was for the students to select a person  or movement of their choosing from history and investigate the issue of power within that context  The task sheet they were given stated:

“Through historical studies in this theme students will understand that power has played an important part in historical change, that the loci of power may change over time, and that over time individuals, groups and societies have attempted to control and legitimise the use of power by some individuals, groups or institutions over others.”

The design of the project was to progress the students to an open inquiry, yet still have some guidance and scaffolding of the research process from their teacher. As each student could choose their own person from history there were no teacher directed lessons involving content, as students were studying topics as diverse as Stalin, and Martin Luther King. Each week students had 2 x 90 minute lessons and 1 x 45 minute lesson. The students were given the 2 x 90 minutes for self guided inquiry and/or individual consultation and feedback with the teacher.  In the single 45 minute lesson each week the students came together for a more formal lesson where as a class we covered  some of the issues that most of them were facing in their inquiry. The subjects for these lessons included, researching skills, searching databases and finding scholarly sources, assessing sources and referencing.

The assessment for the task was also open . Students could deliver the results of their inquiry in any multi modal format of their choice. Suggestions included a tutorial or seminar presentation, a documentary video or a more traditional lecture and powerpoint presentation.


In order to better understand the students’ experience of the ILA a SLIM  (School Library Impact Measure) toolkit was used monitor their understanding of their topic. The SLIM toolkit devised by Todd, Kuhlthau and Heinstrom (2005) enables teachers and teacher-librarians to assess student learning through guided inquiry, and elicit students’ reflections on their learning at three points in their inquiry process. The questionnaires were distributed at the start of the project, at the middle and then after submission of their assessment piece.

The initial question on the SLIM tool kit was designed to establish the knowledge of the topic chosen by the students. Students were asked to write full sentences to demonstrate their current knowledge and responses to this question were recorded at all three stages of the inquiry. The sentences were coded according to factual statements, explanatory statements and conclusion statements and are outlined below in Figure 1.

Graph one

Figure 1

As anticipated at the beginning of the task the majority of responses were factual statements. I was however surprised to see that even at this early stage there were already some clear conclusions being drawn by the students. By the end of the unit most students included at least one conclusion statement in their response.  The increase in conclusion statements demonstrates an enhanced understanding of students’ chosen topic as they progressed throughout their research. It also suggests a development of higher-order thinking skills as students responses went beyond factual recall providing an analysis and synthesis of their research. These findings are supported by Kuhlthau, Heinstrom and Todd (2008) who assert that as students enter the gathering phase of their inquiry they begin to look for explanations to support the facts that they encountered during the ‘immerse’ and ‘exploration’ phases. A possible explanation for the dip in conclusion statements at the mid way point is that at this stage students were sifting and filtering their information and were preoccupied with the volume of information they had. The large number of factual statements throughout the project is also indicative of the ease of reporting and writing factual statements as opposed to conclusion statements.

This growth in understanding is also reflected in Figure 2 below which illustrates the students perception of their knowledge of the topic. At the outset all students responded that their level of knowledge was “not much”. By the end of the unit all students felt that their knowledge of their topic had grown which is also demonstrated in the increase of conclusion statements they made indicated in Figure 1 above.

Graph three

Figure 2

The next question from the SLIM toolkit was designed to gauge student interest and engagement in the subject. Figure 3 below shows clearly that at the outset of the project all students were interested in their topic. This reflects the fact that students were able to choose a person or group of their own choice to investigate. It was however disappointing to see that by the end of the project that over a third of the group was no longer interested in their topic. It is possible that this was due to subject fatigue as they had been working on the ILA for an entire term. For some of these students the subject matter they had been investigating was quite harrowing and they were in part relieved to have finished working with it. Despite this disappointing drop in interest by some participants it was reassuring to see that for the some students that their interest had in fact increased throughout the project.

Graph two

Figure 3

When students were asked to describe what aspects of research they found before starting their task, it was interesting to note how many responses related to finding and locating information. Figure 4 below illustrates that well over  50% of responses mentioned researching in some form. This was divided into background research, finding secondary sources and general research.

Easy Q1

Figure 4

What this data does not show however is the depth and integrity of research students demonstrated. Closer interrogation of the students’ work indicated that their perception of research as easy merely indicated that they were comfortable in using Google to search. I was surprised to find in my feedback sessions with the students during the research phase that the sources they were using and the information they had found was predominantly from secondary sources easily found using a simple Google search. No scholarly sources had been consulted and a large number of students were referencing sites such as and ABC Splash. According to Holliday and Li (2004) this is because students’ perceptions of the research process have been changed by the plethora of information readily and easily available on the internet with very little time or effort needed.

However despite their perception of the ease of finding information, when students were asked to indicate what aspects of research they found difficult some students’ answers demonstrated an awareness of the complexity of locating useful and reliable information.  Figure 5 below shows an awareness of the difficulties in selecting and filtering information as well as interpreting and assessing sources. This indicates that while students feel confident in finding information they are less certain of how to evaluate and use that information.

Hard Q1

Figure 5

Based on these findings, as well as information gained from one on one feedback sessions I had with the students, a series of lessons on using databases was used. At this stage of their schooling I was surprised to see how few of them knew how to access databases and many expressed a reluctance to use them as they felt they could find what they needed through Google.   Nevertheless, as a result of these targeted lessons which included some specific tasks that involved using databases most students were able to improve their research skills and demonstrate and increase in information literacy throughout the task.

This increasing awareness of the complexity of  researching is indicated in Figure 6 below which demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of the different depths of research when student were asked the same question at the midway point of their task.

Easy Midway

Figure 6

Figure 6 clearly shows that students now are more specific in their responses and have articulated that it is background research and finding secondary sources that is easy.

By the middle of the unit,  Figure 7 below shows that most students were expressing a difficulty in determining and writing a hypothesis for their inquiry as well as problems in finding and selecting relevant information.

Hard Midway

Figure 7

These difficulties were also expressed in the students’ emotions at this stage of their project which are outlined in figure 8 below which indicate that many students were overwhelmed and confused.

Feelings midway

Figure 8

This is reflective of Kuhlthau’s assertion that students experience a growing confusion at the end of their collection phase as they struggle to deal with the volume of information. “As they find information about their topic, they frequently become confused by the inconsistencies and incompatibilities they encounter. Sources are often inconsistent and are incompatible with a student’s preconceived notions about the topic. The feeling of confusion can become quite threatening, and some students want to drop their topics at this point”
Kuhlthau, C. C., Caspari, A. K., & Maniotes, L. K. (2007).

Whilst I was surprised by the results in Figure 8  where none of the students expressed frustration, and that a considerable number felt confident, it became clear through our one on one discussions that most students were confident with what they needed to do, however it was the volume  and variety of information that they were struggling to make sense of. At this point students were encouraged to step back from their research and use the Hypothesis and Concept Organisation tool to organise their thoughts and findings. After using this tool the students were able to clarify their thoughts and progress more easily in their inquiry.

At the completion of the inquiry project the students were asked to reflect and identify what they found most difficult in the unit. Figures 9a and b below illustrate the elements that students found easy compared to those they found hard in their research. Whilst it is clear that that most issues of difficulty revolved around information and research, it is clear that by the end of the project that students were able to distinguish that more sophisticated research is required beyond that which can be easily found on Google. This is best illustrated in comparing the 48% of responses in figure 9a that indicated that general research and information seeking was easy against the almost 45% of responses in figure 9b that indicating that  finding relevant, scholarly, authoritative information or primary sources was hard. You can also see that by the end of the task only  small proportion of responses indicated that developing the hypothesis was difficult which demonstrates the effectiveness of the Hypothesis and Concept Organisation tool mentioned above in guiding their inquiry.

Easy Reflection

Figure 9a

Hard reflection

Figure 9b

It was disappointing to see that when students were asked to evaluate  their satisfaction at the end of the project that not one respondent indicated they were happy, with a substantial 34% of the girls declaring they were unhappy with their research (Figure 10).  I believe that this level of dissatisfaction with the research was however more concerned with a tension that existed between the aims of the inquiry activity and the marking criteria used to assess it. The lack of  congruence between the two impacted on the success of the inquiry for many students and will be discussed in greater  detail in my next post. In addition I had stretched the girls to develop a more sophisticated understanding and assessment of historical argument than they were used to in order to achieve a critical literacy not only within the social context of their study but also at an epistemological level. For many of the students by the time  they began to understand the importance of critically evaluating historical argument and perspectives and the need to create  and understand their own meanings from the information they had researched it was too late to make the substantial changes required of their research to demonstrate this level of understanding.

Final Feeling

Figure 10

This cognitive move from researching in order to simply select and present information, to demonstrating an evaluation and application of that knowledge and the development of a critical literacy, was difficult and frustrating for many of the students.  The quote below taken from one of the SLIM responses perhaps best articulates the frustration that many of them felt.

In this research project we learned that how we did this for four years was for nothing because what was required changed

Despite this frustration it was encouraging to see the the areas in which the girls felt that they had developed knowledge through this activity. After discounting the responses that interpreted the question as an assessment of content, Figure 11 illustrates the areas of development.

Overall learning

Figure 11

I was impressed to see some students make statements about the abuse of power:

“I learnt that when power is abused it causes violence and terror “

I was particularly pleased to see these statements as many of them had not made these conclusions in their actual assignment piece. This further highlights the difficult tension that existed between the activity and the assessment. It was also reassuring to see that through the task the students felt that they had gained some understanding of how to construct their own historical argument.  Responses from students in this area included :

“I learnt that the speech was an argument not just a story of their life”


“I learnt how to write an argument not a narrative, however I could still improve on this skill”

Whilst some of them gained this understanding and confidence quite late in the project,  I would hope to see them able to apply this knowledge to their ongoing studies.

Holliday, W., & Li, O. (2004). “Understanding the Millennials: Updating our knowledge about students.” Reference Services Review, 32(4), 356-365.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Caspari, A. K., & Maniotes, L. K. (2007).Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. West Port: Greenwood Publishing Group

Kuhlthau, C.C., Heinstrom, J. & Todd, R.J. (2008). “The ‘information search process’ revisited: is the model still useful?” Information Research, 13(4) [Retrieved from.]

Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C, & Heinstrom, J. (2005). SLIM: a toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of Guided Inquiry through the school library. Retrieved from

Reflecting on the Journey – Where to Next?

I seem to have traveled such a long way since I first began this journey and it is only now as I stand here at the end that I realise that I have been on two different journeys. The first is my investigation into the impact of inquiry learning on student achievement, and the second, and possibly more important has been my own “meta – journey” into the inquiry process itself.  It has been a useful exercise to complete an inquiry journey of my own and has helped me identify the difficulties some of my students experience with the process, and developed an understanding of how to better use the approach in my class.

Upon reflection I am surprised at just how closely my search ( in particular my emotions) have followed those referred to in  Kuhlthau’s ISP (Information Search Process).


My Inquiry Search Process Emotions image created by author using Based on the Kuhlthau’s (2004) Inquiry Search Process

Right from the initiation stage it was immediately clear that there was so much about inquiry learning that I didn’t know. This was a little scary at first but I felt confident that even though I didn’t know the answers – at least I knew the questions – and I had plenty of them! As I started to explore the myriad of ideas that I had posed, it was starting to become clear that  a conversation regarding the effect of  inquiry learning on student achievement was something that I genuinely was interested in and something I hoped would add to the professional discussion of teachers and teacher librarians, and so I seemed to slip effortlessly into the selection stage. As I moved through the phases of my search I seemed to get deeper into the “soup”of the inquiry process.  As the soup thickened, so too did my emotions, and it was clear by the time I reached my ProQuest search that I had reached the peak of the confusion, frustration and doubt of the exploration stage. After discussion with some peers, and being encouraged to focus back on to what I was trying to accomplish, I was finally able to formulate a clear direction.

This has really emphasized to me how important it is to continue to provide guidance and advice to my students  and encourage them to keep returning to the four questions of  Kuhlthau’s ISP to help them find their way back onto  a clear path. The clarity I gained from discussing my work with a few peers was incredibly useful in clarifying my thoughts and direction. This is something that I know in the past I have glossed over with my students. Sometimes due to the the constraints of a curriculum focused on finishing in time to be assessed, I have pushed students in a particular direction simply for expediency, or have even taken over and formulated their questions for them! It was also interesting to see how curating my resources into a collection, further consolidated my ideas and honed my focus, and this is another step I will take more care to scaffold with my students. The use of annotations certainly helped me refine my resource  and better justify my selection decisions.

With this my final post in this journey I feel a mix of satisfaction and disappointment in my presentation. I am satisfied that I have produced a range of information and resources that contribute to the professional conversation regarding the impact of inquiry learning on student achievement, and in particular evidence and arguments that can be used to defend the use of inquiry in light of the research by John Hattie. I am however, also disappointed as I feel that I was unable to comprehensively survey the literature on the impact of Inquiry Learning on achievement, and feel that there is still further re-search that I would like to do in this area. Despite this, as I asses my overall journey, I am more confident  and knowledgeable about the inquiry process, and am now equipped to better identify the “zone of intervention” in my own students’ journey in order to provide the support and guidance they need at those critical points. Furthermore I feel that I have a range of good resources and evidence to use to advocate for and defend if need be an inquiry learning approach in my school.

Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Seeking meaning. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.

Furthering the Conversation – Feedback

Got Feedback? by cogdogblog, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  cogdogblog 

There is a large amount of discussion about inquiry learning in the blogosphere. I have found it particularly useful to follow some of these discussions on my inquiry journey. Some of the best information and insights I have discovered have come from some of these professional conversations. I urge you to explore some of the interesting blogs on the topic – and have shared some of my contributions to the discussion below.

Feedback for Peer 1:

I really enjoyed reading your post.  I think all of us can be a little lazy at times when it comes to searching Google. I have been known to simply type in a question – much like your Primary students –  but I think the stakes are a little less high when asking Google “What time is it in London?”,  as opposed to embarking on a research task investigating the environmental and economic  impact of mining in your local region. For this reason I particularly liked your table that displayed the variances both in number and relevance of your results  in  your Google search. I think this would speak strongly to students and present a good visual of how effective good search skills are at locating  information quickly and how only small changes can significantly impact the number and relevance of results. I think building these advanced search skills in our students – even those at primary school helps them understand how search engines work and if they can understand how they work they may become more informed and critical users!

Feedback for Peer 2  :

Hi Naomi

What a thorough post! I really enjoyed reading about your inquiry journey., and especially appreciate the time and detail you have put in to your account. Like you, I enjoy re-searching in social media and completely understand how easy it is to get sidetracked down interesting detours!! Sometimes it is worth wandering down some of those detours as it is often in unexpected places that you find the best information. Even though the articles we often find on social media aren’t always scholarly I find reading critique and discussion ( and let’s face it – sometimes heated argument) really helpful in guiding or alerting me to a range of different opinions and views that often warrant further examination. Sometimes it is these views or opinion that can spark a whole new idea to explore.

I found your Twitter search interesting – I don’t use Twitter as much as I should, so it was good to see how someone who is confident with Twitter searches. I initially found it difficult to search in Twitter until I realised that I needed to mainly look at posts that had links in them. The small “comment only” Tweets were clogging up my search and a little frustrating. I also like the advanced search function, but agree with you – it works best if you know exactly which Tweeters will be useful to your search.

As I read your new questions I was particularly taken with the following:

“Rather than “binge-searching” on social media is it more effective to invest time weekly in following a social media newsfeed? What platform/app can help curate a mixed-source newsfeed into one digest?”

I think this is an important question to consider – particularly for our students. From our own experiences we know how easy it is to get caught up in a search – so how do we help our students avoid these traps. I like being able to “pin”things away to consider later – but can also end up with a collection more like a bad episode of “Hoarders”. The information overload that we so often talk about is something we need to teach our students to be able to manage. I would be interested to see what information there is on teaching students to filter and store information so they can access it when they need it As we move down a path where information increasingly finds its own way to us rather than needing us to go and find it, teaching skills to read, filter, assess and store this information are going to become exponentially important.