Implementing a Guided Inquiry Approach – The Role of the Teacher Librarian

The teacher librarian’s role is integral for implementation of the guided inquiry (GI) approach to learning, from initial planning, monitoring, to reflection at the end. Inquiry based learning is a constructivist, 21st Century approach to education. It enables students ‘to construct meaning, think creatively and solve problems’ (Australian Library and Information Association, 2011). Essentially the guided inquiry (GI) approach is one where students are guided by a team of teachers to research information in answer to a question(s) which demands deep understanding. In practice, the teacher librarian’s role in implementing a GI approach encompasses skills of leadership and collaboration with teachers, careful management of the Information Search Process (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 18), and provision of resources and information literacy skills.

In order to effectively implement the GI approach to learning the teacher librarian (TL) needs to be involved throughout the process as is demonstrated by Fitzgerald’s case study of a Year 11 Modern History historical investigation in which TLs were also involved in assessing the process of the GI at its completion (Fitzgerald, 2010, p. 26). Collaboration between the teachers and TL is pivotal in designing a research task that is ‘worthy of deep exploration’ (Stripling, 2008, p. 52). Research has indicated that collaboration between teachers and the TL results in students gaining deep understanding as opposed to merely finding out facts (Chu, Chow, Tse, Kuhlthau, 2008, p. 1682). The TL also needs to collaborate with teachers to meet the needs of the curriculum and to consider the possibilities of working across key learning areas.

An understanding of the Information Search Process (ISP) experienced by students will enable the TL to provide assistance and intervene in the process at critical points (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 18). TL’s need to make students aware of the range of emotions and cognitive processes they will experience as part of a GI, and students also need to be aware that the ISP is complex and iterative, and not necessarily linear (Rutherford, 2006, p. 432). TL’s can use feedback sheets and reflections to gather information about difficulties students are experiencing so that they can provide timely guidance (Fitzgerald, 2010, p. 28). Creating scaffolds for the ISP is a practical way that librarians can help students to learn (Chu, Chow, Tse, Kuhlthau, 2008, p. 1673).

The TL’s more traditional expertise in collecting and providing access to resources is also fundamental for the success of the GI approach to learning. TL’s can guide students as to the different types of information that can be used at different stages of the process, for example when to use an encyclopaedia and when to use an educational database (Fitzgerald, 2011 p. 40). Information literacy skills, such as finding reliable information and assessing its validity, form part of the traditional but important role of the TL in implementing the GI approach. Teaching students how to use Web 2.0 tools for collaboration and presentation also forms part of the practical and valuable role of the TL (Stripling, 2008, p. 2).

The role of the TL in implementing the GI approach to learning moves beyond the important role of providing resources and the teaching of information literacy to one where the TL is a teaching partner. The TL can also become a leader and an advocate for the GI approach by providing professional development opportunities for teachers (Stripling, 2008, p. 20).

Australian Library and Information Association. (2011). ALIA/ASLA policy on guided inquiry and the curriculum, from
Chu, S., Chow, K., Tse, S., & Kuhlthau, C.(2008). Grade 4 Students’ Development of Research Skills Through Inquiry-Based Learning Projects. School Libraries Worldwide.
Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The Twin Purposes of Guided Inquiry: guiding student inquiry and evidenced based practice. Scan.
Kuhlthau, C. C. M. L. K. (2010). Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners. School Library Monthly, 26(5), 18.
Rutherford, S., Alix Hayden, K., & Pival, P. R. (2006). WISPR (Workshop on the Information Search Process for Research) in the Library. Journal of Library Administration, 45(3/4), 427-443. doi: 10.1300/J111v45n03̱08
Stripling, B. (2008). Inquiry: Inquiring Minds Want to Know. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(1), 50-52.
Stripling, B. (2008). Inquiry-based Teaching and Learning–The Role of the Library Media Specialist. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(1), 2-2.


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