On all great odysseys, the participants have lost their way at one time or another. The true lifelong learner will use this as an opportunity for self-examination and therefore growth.
How did this ILA measure up with my research in the literature?
There are a number of directions in which comparisons can be made when analysing this ILA:
In her blog post ‘What is Inquiry Learning?’ Lupton (2012, para. 1) states that inquiry as ‘a pedagogy and curriculum design involves:
1. questioning frameworks
2. information literacy/information seeking processes
3. an action research cycle’
Using this as a framework for comparison, I can report that this ILA did indeed feature:
A questioning framework: KWFLUN (an extension of KWL for Guided Inquiry) was utilised as a framework for guiding questions (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari p4, 2007). Students did spend time accessing their prior knowledge (K) What do I know? and posing questions What do I want to know? in response to orienting activities. From the teacher librarian, students experienced guidance and intervention in (F) How do I find out?. This is where the influence of the teacher librarian ended. As evidenced by the examples of student information reports, if students were to really ask (L) What did I learn? the answer would be: a list of facts about a country that people have migrated to Australia from.
Savich (2009) in his article Improving Critical Thinking skills in History states that the goal of education is to achieve meaningful understandings of history not just to memorise and regurgitate facts. (Savich, 2009 p. 4) Savich also states the types of activities that would challenge students and therefore achieve those enduring understandings that he argues for. Planned activities that provide opportunities to evaluate different viewpoints and perspectives, examine multiple texts and learn to rely on factual evidence found in primary sources, to analyse for deceptive and misleading arguments, critically view information and assess it (Savich, 2009 p. 3). These opportunities were not planned for in this instance, beyond the original focus question.
In the beginning, the classroom teacher and teacher librarian had collaboratively generated the original focus question: Why did people migrate from Vietnam to Australia? then the classroom teacher asked the students to ‘research a country that people had migrated to Australia from.’ Students were not explicitly guided through posing questions that would narrow their focus. The result was written information reports that were more focused on delivering facts about a country than having evaluated viewpoints and perspectives on the experiences of migrants to Australia. Indeed the literacy work that was done with the students by the TL, in response to their needs and to the classroom teacher’s requests, was more of a generic nature – ‘a discrete set of skills and processes used for finding and managing information.’ (Lupton & Bruce, 2010 p.11). If students had been able to move on to the next questions: (U) How do I use what I have learned? and (N) What will I do next time? they may have had the opportunity to move to a situated window of information literacy – creating new knowledge and solving problems, expressing opinions and examining multiple sources of information. Their experiences would have been authentic to a real world context (Lupton & Bruce, 2010 p.13).
Information literacy/Information seeking processes. With close analysis and reflection, it is clear that there was no formal information seeking process followed in this ILA. The use of the questioning framework was the only ‘process’ that was applied. This is due to a number of reasons – my inexperience at the planning stage with processes of inquiry, my focus on Guided Inquiry yet knowing I wasn’t ready to tackle that therefore not wishing to delve too deeply into that just yet, and the final factor being: as teacher librarian, unless a collaborative partnership has been worked towards and achieved – there is only one person who has the final say on the teaching intent and that is the classroom teacher. During this ILA I felt my role was to a) respond to the needs of the curriculum in the direction the classroom teacher had requested and b) to assist the students to locate, analyse and evaluate information. There are a number of lessons learned from this experience, which are detailed in After the ILA: Recommendations.
An Action Research Cycle did exist in this ILA – only it was my own, as the teacher librarian involved. The students and the classroom teacher responded to the curriculum as a discrete unit of work and once the information reports were written considered the unit ‘done’. There was no evidence at all of the students reflecting on their work process and result, on what they had learned from the experience and on what actions (if any) they would take in the future. Students did not seem to have made any connections between the concepts covered and their own lives. I would hope that the research that the students have done will at least prompt them to listen somewhat more analytically to articles in the media regarding refugees. There has been a recent increase in refugee children enrolling in schools across Australia (including our own) and it is vital that students are cognizant of the viewpoints and perspectives of all, on this topic. Regarding my own action research, this ILA has raised many questions – some of which I have tentatively attempted to answer with my future practice…which will in turn generate further questions.
Other directions to consider:
During the development of the Australian Curriculum: History, Green, Reitano & Dixon (2010) argued that the effectiveness of History teachers was dependent on those teachers having deep content knowledge, which would in turn allow teachers to ‘foster the natural curiosities’ of children and so engage them in rational, logical and sustainable thinking (Green, Reitano & Dixon, 2010 p. 310). This ILA presented a golden opportunity for students to look at multiple texts from a variety of viewpoints, and so critically analyse the information presented. Many people remember that one teacher they had (or more, if you were lucky) that instilled passion for a subject in their students. This is easy to do when you have read widely yourself before embarking on an inquiry with children. Guiding students’ thinking is natural when you have an idea of the bigger picture and have deep knowledge. To be ‘making it up as you go along’ handicaps this natural process and stifles it, I believe, and is not good teaching practice.
Finally, below is the aspect of the Australian Curriculum: History that was the focus of this ILA:
Henderson (2012) argues that ‘teachers should be bold in exploring the ways in which we can provide students with opportunities to understand the processes of change and continuity that have shaped contemporary events as well as everyday lives of people in the past’ (Henderson, 2012 p. 2). This ILA could have been so much more than researching facts about ‘a country that people have migrated to Australia from’. A close look at the elaborations for this aspect of the curriculum, provides a range of activities that would move beyond fact gathering to the transformative window of information literacy; a place where students are asking: Who wrote this information? Why did they have that viewpoint? Who are we not hearing from? How does this information relate to my own family history? How has migration contributed to the establishment of the town that I live in? Why did people come here? How can this knowledge affect how I view refugees in my town?
Furthermore, The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Children (MCEETYA 2008) recognises that opportunities for critical and creative thinking are integral if students are to become successful lifelong learners and active citizens. To that end, the Critical and Creative Thinking aspect of the Australian Curriculum identifies four elements: inquiring – identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas; generating ideas, possibilities and actions; reflecting on thinking and processes; and analysing, synthesising and evaluating reasoning and procedures. These elements were only touched on in this ILA – students identified, explored and organised information at only the most basic level.
The Australian Curriculum: History is very new to primary teachers and they have never had to consider History with such scope before. Teachers need to empower themselves with professional development in order that they may successfully fulfill their obligations to their students.
Analysing the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy it can be observed that the tasks performed by the students in this ILA were examples of lower order thinking: remembering & understanding, creating.
I have included this particular diagram, as you can see how easy it would have been to have moved beyond simply locating and reading information then summarising it in an information report. For example, students could have interviewed a local who has recently or in the past migrated to Australia as a refugee (applying), they could have compared and contrasted experiences of different cultural groups (analysing), they could have participated in a debate regarding the current ‘boat people’ issue (evaluating). Many of these experiences would have moved the students into Maniotes’ Third Space – an interaction of personal experience and curriculum content.
At times I feel frustrated in my position, and long for the days when I was a classroom teacher and in control of my own destiny. However, the rewards and benefits gained from active participation as a teacher librarian in a school outweigh the frustrations. My role is to guide through collaboration and teamwork, slowly moving towards a school which has together decided that giving our students the gift of lifelong learning, is a priority.
Green, N., Reitano, P., Dixon, M. (2010). Teaching and Learning History in Primary Schools: Pedagogical Shifts, Complexities and Opportunities. The International Journal of Learning, 17 (8), 307-320.
Henderson, D. J. (2012). Engaging students in historical thinking: implementing the Australian curriculum: History. Primary and Middle Years Educator, 10(1), 3-11.
Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari. A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: learning in the 21st century School. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Windows on information literacy worlds: Generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In Loyd, a. & Talja, S. (Eds.) Practising information literacy: bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together (pp. 3-27) Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies.
Lupton, M. (2012, August 22). What is inquiry learning? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/what-is-inquiry-learning/
Savich, C. (2008). Improving critical thinking skills in history. Networks, 11(2).
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