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Guided Inquiry

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 1 month ago

Guided Inquiry as a method of action research:


One high interest method of action research available to us is Guided Inquiry. This is both a means of working with teachers and students through the whole process of a guided assessment task, as well as a means of gathering data about student increase in understanding and awareness of process, using the SLIM toolkit.


The best starting point for anyone interested in Guided Inquiry is Ross Todd and Carol C. Kuhlthau's website - Guided Inquiry at www.cissl.scils.rutgers.edu/guided_inquiry/introduction.html


This website grounds Guided Inquiry in Constructivism - students must be given as close to open enquiry as is possible in our structured syllabuses, at the very least they must have a problem to solve. The task will be framed in the Information Search Process of Carol Kuhlthau, which identifies the best points for intervention in student inquiry, as well as taking into account the very significant affective element in any assessment task.


I've used the Information Search Process at Loreto, and found that students very much appreciate the opportunity to speak about the affective struggles they have, particularly in an open-ended inquiry. Using the Information Search Process is a recommended part of Guided Inquiry - but I'm sure many of us have our own theories about information processes' strengths and shortcomings. There is scope here for debate on what our processes do to help identify the moments of intervention - that critical point in a student inquiry when they can't proceed without help, or can only do so with great difficulty. I do think it's of the essence of the success or otherwise of Guided Inquiry.


Guided Inquiry can be used for evidence-based practice, using the SLIM toolkit to gather data from students doing an assignment (thereby identifying the timing and nature of the interventions they need, as well as creating a set of data from which you can form conclusions about the nature of student learning in that inquiry.)


The website holds a case study of Guided Inquiry at Gill St. Bernard's school in New Jersey. 


I visited Gill St. Bernard's in January this year, and talked to Randell Schmidt, the teacher librarian who runs her library there using Guided Inquiry principles.  


In a nutshell, what she does there is give students free rein on their inquiries, and has them do the whole of the task under her eagle eyes! She uses the SLIM progress reports to decide on the most appropriate interventions as students go through the Information Search Process, as well as for evidence-based practice.


For me, at Loreto Kirribilli, this is what Guided Inquiry has meant so far:


  • A steep learning curve as I experimented with an open-ended inquiry in Year 7 English last year, and used the SLIM toolkit and analysed the data collected. This action research appeared in Scan in March this year.  Biggest learning from this one was that Year 7 students are too young for an open-ended inquiry.


  • This year, I've worked on two long term Guided Inquiries, as well as incorporating Guided Inquiry scaffolds into many short term, question provided, assignments. The contexts for the open-ended inquiries were the Senior Geography Project and the Year 11 Modern History Independent Research task. I worked with teachers to include the SLIM feedback reports at what I can loosely call the beginning, the middle and the end (as I'm still learning the fine  points of the Information Search Process!). As I wasn't using these two projects for evidence-based practice, I simplified the SLIM feedbacks to this:




  • What do you know about your topic?
  • What difficulties are you having with your topic?


  • What more do you know about your topic?
  • What difficulties are you having with your topic?


  • What do you now understand about your topic?
  • Reflect on your process of learning.


These progress reports were gathered, and individual and class feedback was provided to students. It was very labour intensive. Students were very pleased to be so supported, and now probably think I'll do it all the time!


My findings were in many ways what you'd expect: Overall, they grew gradually in understanding of their topics. At the beginning (Exploration) they had difficulties with finding the right sort of information, with being overloaded with information, with needing to understand the basics before they began. So, we had individual and group feedback on using overview sources first, then moving to high quality online databases. In the middle part (Collection), they showed a distinct pessimism (fitting in nicely with the affective elements of the Information Search Process). They had difficulty sorting their information (so I provided them with a notetaking/transforming scaffold); at the end, (just before Presentation) they had difficulty organising their information (so I provided them with an essay/report planner); and they had massive difficulty with bibliographies and citation - (so we're using Turnitin software to teach them how to cite).


I also found that if the progress reports are not part of the marking scheme, then they don't all take them seriously. From this, we've concluded that next year, they will count in the marking scheme.


Another thing was  the "girrlllzzz will be girrllzzz" factor - they leave it all till the end, then panic, and chase you around the library for THE ANSWER! The solution to this again is make process part of the marking.


Guided Inquiry methods can be used in small scale assignments as well - using scaffolds to support their inquiries. I've found the best ones have been pathfinders for information, notetaking/transforming grids, bibliography storers, and plans relating to the specific inquiry for creating the final product.


I think Guided Inquiry's strength is its dual purpose, as both an approach for teachers and teacher librarians to take while students undertake Constructivist inquiries, whether open-ended or not and as a tool for evidence-based practice, using the SLIM toolkit.



Lee FitzGerald






Comments (3)

Anonymous said

at 1:22 pm on Jul 29, 2007

Great stuff Lee. For anybody who is struggling to find a research topic,researching a GI unit is defintitely worth considering for a couple of reasons. Number one, they have your experience to tap into and number 2, it would be interesting to compare findings across schools as well as within schools.

You say that 'Year 7 students are far too young for an open-ended inquiry'. Do you see this as a result of being Year 7, i.e. an age thing, or rather that the Year 7 students in your particular study were not used to this form of inquiry? My gut feeling tells me the latter... obviously some potential here for research to turn what I think into what I know!

Anonymous said

at 1:27 pm on Jul 29, 2007

Holy smoke! Where are you both? Sudden and miraculous happenings happened with getting the Guided Inquirty page up! Linda's lurking too, I feel it in my bones.

I think it was a mixture of being too young and not being used to the freedom of an open enquiry. When I spoke to Randi Schmidt, she confirmed this, and her Guided Inquiry program is much more structured in Years 7 and 8.

Cheers, time to get out of here!


Anonymous said

at 7:06 pm on Aug 5, 2007

Hi Lee, this is great. I have just written up a CPT unit for Chinese at year 9 level. It is my first time of really being involved with a teacher and class in a meaningful way. I have asked that I be allowed to use the SLIM toolkit to assess how it goes. Your simplified questions look great and your reference to beginning middle and end is the only way I could see of deciding when to use them!

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