Wow! My first blog entry on Guided Inquiry (GI) was so, so wrong! After reading through the references and some additional literature on Guided Inquiry it is now quite clear that there are specific contextual elements within the school that are essential for GI to be successful. Kuhlthau recommends a team of at least three teachers to run GI and more as the process requires or becomes more complex. For me, this is a definite disadvantage. Within the context of my current primary school, with Library taught as Relief from Face to Face it would be very difficult to implement GI. Not impossible though. To be able to implement GI it would need whole of school support, from the Principal down. Assuming that is in place, flexible programming would then need to be incorporated to ensure administrative responsibilities are still met. Pair this with a supportive, open classroom teacher who is also committed to GI, or at least passionate about what it can achieve with their students, I can only imagine what we could achieve.
An advantage for me would certainly be the extra level of collaboration. As a very social person who has team-taught on different grades and collaboratively programmed at the Stage level and whole of school level, I would welcome this aspect of the GI process.
A key advantage to GI is also the evidence of student impact that can be attributable to inquiry learning. I have only just started collecting evidence throughout our resource-based, inquiry units and this is opening up conversations with other teachers who are seeing the skills transfer into other areas of student learning.
Metacognition, thinking about thinking and reflecting on our learning styles and processes, is very powerful for students. This approach to learning, by becoming more self-aware of the process and understanding how knowledge is gained and assimilated best into our existing knowledge, produces deep understandings and knowledge. GI clearly complements Quality Teaching and the Australian Curriculum.
Overall, GI is an effective process for students to become engaged in research by formulating their own theses and constructing new knowledge. There are disadvantages to the process though. Besides the contextual barriers to the implementation of GI that I have already mentioned, the teachers involved in the GI need to be able to accurately identify students’ zone of proximal development to ensure that their is enough intellectual reach and manage the variation of this within the class. This is not really that different to instruction differentiation in the usual classroom but the lack of familiarity with the GI process for students and teachers alike requires a steep learning curve and is likely to take a few projects to be able to demonstrate major gains.
I also question how to apply this with students with specific behaviour or learning needs. I am thinking specifically about a small group of Year 2 students who I worked with just two days ago. We were working through a step by step inquiry project requiring them to formulate their own questions to interview a worker in the school community. They were using bubbl.us to mind map all of the possible areas that their questions could cover. Despite also having a Student Learning and Support Officer (SLSO) working specifically with this group, the social/collaborative aspect of this task requiring them to discuss options, decide on which ones to include and then add them to their map, proved too frustrating for them. These students had moved beyond the level of “uncertainty”. I provided additional scaffolding to the group, as well as individual counselling on coping strategies to enable this group to gain success in this step of the process. In this situation I was fortunate to have a SLSO but this is the only class that I have an SLSO with me. Having the class teacher in the GI team would reduce this disadvantage but when considering that there would be between 10-15 groups of students to facilitate, lack of additional, specific support may be problematic.
Much of the research and case studies in the field of GI also relate to the high school environment. I believe that many of my students would find the GI process very difficult, especially the formulation of a research focus. In the primary setting, I believe that this should probably have more instruction until students are familiar with developing their own ideas.
GI is clearly an ideal situation for the teacher librarian to lead a school’s information literacy strategy but there are considerations and modifications that need to be made for it to work within your own school.