Sometimes a teacher’s work can feel like the never-ending toils of King Sisyphus, who was punished by Zeus for his actions and forced to push an enchanted boulder up a hill for all eternity. Whenever he would near the top of the hill, the boulder would roll back down again. When contemplating preparing students for information research, it is possible to sometimes think, “Oh, it is like pushing a heavy rock up a hill!” Students today live in a world where information is often immediate, thanks to the Internet, however this does not mean that students no longer require guidance as they move through a process of inquiry. Here is where collaboration between classroom teachers and teacher librarians is vital.
When this ILA was developed, I was just at the beginning of my journey into understanding inquiry learning. My work with the students, therefore, used an extension of the KWL technique, developed for Guided Inquiry by Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2007). I had used the KWL technique many times as a classroom teacher, so thought it a solid base from which to begin. It is my goal to eventually be working through Kuhlthau’s 2012 inquiry model, Guided Inquiry Design Process and so have chosen strategies linked with this model as my tools to develop.
Targeted interventions that guided the students through the inquiry:
The opening inquiry question was ‘Why did people migrate from Vietnam to Australia?’.
A whole class brainstorm of What do I know? (K) revealed only a small amount of prior knowledge on this topic. It is important to develop background knowledge so I read Anh Do’s picture book ‘The Luckiest Refugee’. We summarised what we now knew about refugees from Vietnam. We also created and analysed a timeline of significant events in the twentieth century to determine other reasons for migration to Australia. This is in accordance with two of the elaborations from The Australian Curriculum: History ACHHK115
- comparing push and pull factors that have contributed to people migrating to Australia (for example economic migrants and political refugees)
- exploring individual narratives using primary sources (for example letters, documents and historical objects); interviewing and recording an oral history; dramatising the journey and circumstances of arrival based on the sources
Students listed in What do I want to know? (W): Where is Vietnam in relation to Australia? soon followed by Did they really mean to sail all the way to Australia in a small boat? So we investigated that as a whole class, looking at maps online and in an atlas, and using a key word search to find out the route refugees took to get from Vietnam to Australia. The students were fascinated to read of the hardships faced, and that refugees actually aimed for major shipping routes in the hope that they would get picked up. By now we have, together, collected some strategies (key word search, scanning for main idea, summarising ) for How do I find out? (H) and can list new information as What did I learn? (L). At this point we were working through the General Capabilities (Critical and Creative Thinking) aspect of the Australian Curriculum: History –
- Identify and clarify information and ideas
- Apply logic and reasoning
This brought us neatly to the clear focus for the students’ own research: Investigate reasons for the migration of a group of people, to Australia. Once the students had chosen their focus country of origin, I administered Questionnaire one of the SLIM Toolkit. (Todd, Kuhlthau and Heinstrom 2005)
Following Questionnaire one, I worked both with the year six students as a small group and with the whole class. I needed to clarify with the classroom teacher the sub-topics for their research on countries. Once this was done I was able to develop intervention episodes that assisted students to locate, select and utilise applicable sources of information:
Narrowing search terms and utilising Boolean operators to refine the search
Evaluate information located for its usefulness/scanning the text
Record the main points of information in note form
Transform those notes into sentences
Feedback from the classroom teacher and the students indicated that these skills were also rehearsed in the classroom setting. However, I felt that we had not made it explicit enough to the students How do I use what I have learned? (U) The students seemed happy enough to be doing the research, but I really wondered if they had a purpose for why they were doing it.
Following these focused teaching episodes, we lost a week due to my absence on sick leave. My next discussion with the classroom teacher revealed that she ‘needed something to report on’ so the students had written/published their reports and that the unit of work was complete. Two work samples provided to me are below:
As you can see, the students have not answered the question of ‘why people migrated to Australia.’ The report on Holland comes closer, yet it is confused and is missing some key information. The focus has been on fact collection and the inquiry was not given time to progress to making inferences, analysing for cause and effect, and so seeking deeper meanings in the information.
I administered Questionnaire two of the SLIM Toolkit and collected work samples. Analysis of their responses in Questionnaire two suggested students needed continued targeted intervention on interacting with information: utilising search terms, evaluating information on a website and engaging with that information beyond merely ‘fact collection’. I am working with the year six group again this term on a science based topic and will spend some time on these concepts.
Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari. A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: learning in the 21st century School. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari. A. (2012). Guided Inquiry Design: A framework for INquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.