Synthesis of information search results


photo credit: SeRGioSVoX via photopin cc

photo credit: SeRGioSVoX via photopin cc

After contemplating the path I would take on my information search journey I knew that I was seeking expert authored, research based articles reflecting: the benefits of inquiry based learning strategies for students, the benefits achieved from a collaborative approach between classroom teachers and teacher librarians, and an argument for inquiry based learning strategies in the delivery of the Australian Curriculum: History.

The results of my search and how they relate to these goal destinations are synthesised below.

Inquiry Learning

In her summary of her international school’s journey to develop an Inquiry Cycle, Gourley (2008, p.20) states that ‘all teachers are teachers of information literacy’ and places the learning of these skills and strategies within an inquiry process model. The journey undertaken by the staff at this school is inspirational. Ideas gathered from previous authors of inquiry models and strategies are acknowledged, however, it is the way in which the whole school collaboratively develops and takes ownership of their own model that makes this journey so galvanizing.

In contrast, Paul Kiem;dn=068292395676179;res=IELHSS asks ‘Have we lost the plot?’ when placing inquiry based pedagogy as the be all and end all (as he sees it) of effective strategies for ensuring the best learning outcomes for our students. Spirited debate is worthwhile when contemplating important issues such effective pedagogy. Kiem is predominantly referring to inquiry learning in the realm of history teaching; however I am contrasting it here to highlight the points raised by Kiem. It is suggested that, as the interpretation of what inquiry based learning actually is differs across the country and from teacher to teacher, it is possible that experiences can range from ‘little more than answering uninspiring questions about snippets of sources’ (p29) to students working with a range of sources, posing and answering their own inquiry questions and demonstrating deep learning of the content and skills through their communication of the results. In addition, it is pointed out that this pedagogical approach actually requires a great deal of planning and preparation by the teacher. It is possible that this approach can be confronting for both teachers, who are used to following a generic procedural type of curriculum, and to students who are used to passively sitting in class and letting the knowledge ‘soak in’ somehow. The work that went towards collaboratively developing their own inquiry process model at Beth Gourley’s school is evidence that successful planning and implementation for this approach does require dedication to the cause – but isn’t it worthwhile when you see the deeper learning and connections made by the students?

Kiem offers some interesting points regarding the need for some knowledge and skills to be taught explicitly. In the Guided Inquiry model (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007) however; inquiry occurs within a context of ‘careful planning, close supervision, ongoing assessment, and targeted intervention by an instructional team of school librarians and teachers…’ (p3). Kiem has not realised this, perhaps, or has not researched inquiry process models. However, I do believe Kiem’s points need to be taken on board when considering an inquiry process model, so as to ensure that differing learning styles are accounted for and so that there is not a perfunctory approach to resourcing for inquiry learning. Further thoughts on inquiry as an approach to information learning can be found in my reflection on the application of information-learning theories.

Benefits to student learning, of a collaborative approach.

There is a wide range of evidence (anecdotal and research) to support the notion that when classroom teachers and teacher librarians work together in a planned approach to student learning, that there is a benefit to student achievement. Kuhlthau et al (2007) discuss the significance of a ‘learning team’ and Montiell-Overall has analysed the characteristics and attributes of successful collaborative partnerships. The very act of discussing and agreeing upon common goals and working as a team to ensure students reach these goals seems to be a method that will benefit students. Montiell-Overall provides a model for highly successful teaching and learning:

montiel-overell diagram

This model, based as it is on a qualitative study, allows us to see that there is more than just anecdotal evidence for the importance of collaboration between classroom teachers and teacher librarians. Montiell-Overall details the conditions required for collaborative best practice: such as the school culture (and the support of the Principal), the attributes of the collaborators, levels of communication, and the management – of time and of planning.

The research of Sam Chu et al (2008, 2011) adds to this,  focusing as it does specifically on the effects on student achievement of participating in collaborative inquiry project-based learning. &
These research projects occurred in Hong Kong schools, and are focused on inquiry project-based learning involving a team of teaching staff across the school. The role of the teacher librarian is highlighted as not only ensuring students have access to the required resources, but also equipping students with skills to search, locate, analyse and use information from a variety of sources. This is supported by Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2012) who propose a similar role for the teacher librarian, and additionally state that the classroom teacher works as the expert on curriculum content (p12). The team can be extended to involve experts as required. This collaborative approach to learning has achieved a worthwhile increase in student understanding and skills, through inquiry project-based research.

Historical literacy through inquiry.

The bulk of my research has been related to the core aspects of my independent Learning Activity. The Australian Curriculum: History is new to teachers across Australia this year, and it is interesting to review some of the discussion around its delivery. The authors of this discussion, whom I discovered in the course of my research, range from History teachers themselves to teacher educators. Terms that commonly appeared: ‘historical’ or ‘critical literacy’, ‘historical’ or ‘critical’ thinking’, ‘historical thinking and understanding’; all reflect that the discipline of History should provide opportunities for critical thinking presented in a way such that students are able to critically interact with sources, understand their historical significance, the significance of past events to them personally and communicate their findings successfully. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the knowledge and skills required of the History student.

As a high school classroom History teacher, Carl Savich is well placed to compare pedagogical approaches (standard lecture format versus inquiry format) and their impact on student achievement. He concludes that the lecture format is still necessary at times – which concurs with Kiem’s call for a sense of balance in pedagogy – however, found that the inquiry approach facilitated his students with a better understanding of historical events.

Elizabeth Were writes on how the National History Challenge provides opportunities for students to engage actively with aspects of History through a process of inquiry that bring, what is often perceived as uninspiring, Australian historical events to life. Kay Carroll adds an additional element as she identifies the ‘transformative potential for ICT rich pedagogy’ and concludes, following a range of case studies, that ‘inquiry based learning within History and ICT rich pedagogy are complementary and desirable in this present digital and global context’ (p48).

Deborah Henderson provides a very clear analysis of what teachers need to plan for with reference to the National Curriculum: ways to engage student’s prior historical knowledge and understandings, and strategies for engaging students in inquiry activities that enable them to investigate the past as historical thinkers. From the teacher educator’s point of view, there is recognition of the need for teachers of History to have a depth of content knowledge. At the primary level, this has never been required before – teachers delivering general studies of social sciences curriculum prior to the National Curriculum and the introduction of History as a key subject from Foundation level.

In conclusion…

With deep content knowledge and an ability to emphasize the active role of the learner, teachers will be able to foster an inquiry approach that will allow the natural curiosities of children, to engage in critical and historical thinking, and therefore deeper understandings of the significance of historical events.


Gourley, B. (2008). INQUIRY: The Road Less Traveled. Knowledge Quest, 37 (1), 18-23. Retrieved from

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari. A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: learning in the 21st century School. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C., Manioutes, L. & Caspari, A (2012). Guided Inquiry Design: The Process, The Learning and the Team. In Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (Eds) Guided Inquiry Design: a framework for inquiry in your school (p 1-15). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.


2 comments on “Synthesis of information search results

  1. Pingback: Australia risks losing specialist teachers in English, maths, history and other subjects | Craig Hill

  2. Tanya this is a great synthesis of the information in your annotated bibliography! I in fact should have read yours before I did mine as this is the area in Blog Stage One in which I completely stuffed up! I completely misread what was expected of me! Anyway onwards and upwards. I particularly like that in your introduction you outline the areas in which you are interested and will discuss in relation to IBL and your ILA. Have you considered hyperlinking the name of an author or the title of an article? You’ve added in entire URLs, which is fine, but I think for a blog, where we can use all the affordances of the web, it looks neater to hyperlink names and articles rather than having URLs in your writing. You have made great use of quotes from the articles you have read. So often quotes are thrown in for the sake of being able to add to a reference list, but you have carefully discussed each quote and critically analysed it – great work indeed. Like me, you’ve been interested in the learning teams which Kulthau talks of and I will be looking at that article by Montiell-Overall which you reference as this is an area of personal and professional interest to me. Whilst I think teacher librarians are used to planning and teaching collaboratively, IBL adds another dimension to the process altogether.

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