Our ultimate aim should be to have students independently carrying out their inquiry from start to finish. However young students and those new to inquiry simply do not have the information literacy or other skills necessary for completely independent inquiry. Scaffolding students and working within their "zone of proximal development" (Vygotsky 1978) are important if students are to successfully develop the skills they need for independent inquiry.
Resourcing can also be a problem with completely independent inquiry. Try telling your students they can’t start the inquiry for 2 weeks while you wait for the National Library books to arrive and you have had a chance to find some websites suitable for them to use. This is not to say that the web and National Library are the only sources of information but they are often important ones.
Herron developed a model of the levels of guided inquiry. I like the way this model talks about the levels of inquiry and have made a few modifications to this model to come up with my own version.
Shared Guided and Independent Inquiry
So what is the answer to this? Mark Treadwell spoke at a regional ICTPD cluster meeting of resourcing difficulties and the use of guided inquiry where students discuss a topic and are guided into an investigation. In his article Education in the 21st Century Part 1 www.teachers.work.co.nz/archive_Nov_2004.htm Mark talks about Teacher Initiated Learning Experiences, Shared Teacher-Student Initiated Learning Experiences and Student Initiated Learning Experiences. Barbara Reid clarified this further for me by referring to Shared, Guided and Independent Inquiry. We use this model when teaching reading and written language, why not inquiry? Herron's Four Levels of Inquiry provides an excellent model of how this can be carried out.
In a guided inquiry for instance the teacher may present an activity, display thought-provoking photos or provide some other motivation and then, when discussion ensues, guide the students to develop a rich question arising from that discussion. Because the teacher has provided the initial motivation they will have already been able to provide some suitable resources. Students will of course also be able to find some of their own resources in addition to those supplied by the teacher, but they will have a good resource base to start from. Eventually students would have sufficient skills to complete independent inquiries and this should be the aim.
One way I have approached this is by starting a discussion on a broad topic that my knowledge of my students tells me they have an interest in, and is one I know I can resource. This is the immersion or knowledge bomb stage of inquiry. I then encourage students to come up with their own question(s) for inquiry, with help from me to guide them in framing a rich question.
Students also often need some background in the topic before they can frame a rich question. I have often started with a teacher guided inquiry then branched off onto a more student-directed inquiry which arose from that topic. For example, we were talking about Antarctica and the discussion, guided by me, got round to what there is to do and see in Antarctica. The students investigated this and came up with their ideas on what a tourist visiting Antarctica should go and see. While doing this some students started to have doubts about whether tourists should be allowed to go to Antarctica at all and this led into a separate inquiry topic of which they had full ownership.
For more on student ownership of inquiry see the Ownership & Authenticity page.
Guided Web Searches
Setting students, especially younger children, loose to search in the books and on the internet before they have the necessary information literacy skills to do this effectively would result in a lot of surfing and not a lot of results. They are also going to waste a lot of time on sites that are not suitable for their age, reading skills and/or developmental level. Safe searching is another issue that needs to be addressed.
Many studies have highlighted the difficulties students have locating, sorting and sifting information from the internet and then applying it to the task (Fidel et al., 1999; Wallace, Kupperman, Krajcik, & Soloway, 2000; Watson, 1998). Salomon & Almog (1998) for example, talk about the ‘butterfly defect’ noting how internet users flit from one page to another. Hirsch (1999) believes that students have trouble finding information that is not an exact fit with the question because they are in Piaget's concrete operational stage.
All this means that as teachers we need to provide guidance for students to enable safe and successful searching. As one of the teachers I interviewed for my research put it:
“We as teachers, that’s one of our biggest responsibilities when the students have internet access, you’ve got to guide them, you’ve got to go in there and have a look at the sites that mainly you’re going to be using. I liken it to taking the kids down to Te Papa and saying “Okay guys go for it” They might know what they’re looking for, but do you want them to meander their whole day looking for the information, or do you want to point them in the right direction?” (Teacher)
I believe that for young students we need to provide a combination of filtered internet and teaching of internet safety skills. I also like to provide students with weblinks to suitable sites via our school LMS (KnowledgeNET) and use the data projector to model searching strategies. As students' skills develop I gradually withdraw the scaffolding to allow them to develop their independent search skills. For those without an LMS, sites such as Filamentality or a Wiki can be used to post weblinks or lists with hyperlinks can be created in Word or Powerpoint.
For more on the research regarding student internet searches see the Inquiry & ICT page.
Guided Inquiry: Carol Kuhlthau and Ross Todd outline six characteristics of guided inquiry.
Fidel, R., Davies, R. Douglass, M., Holder J., Hopkins, C. & Kushner E. et al (1999). A visit to the information mall: Web-searching behavior of high school students. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 50(1): p. 24-37.
Salomon, G. & Almog, T.(1998). Educational psychology and technology: A matter of reciprocal relations. Teachers College Record, 100(2), p. 222-242.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes.
Wallace, R., Kupperman, J. Krajcik, J. & Soloway, E. (2000). Science on the Web: Students Online in a Sixth-Grade Classroom. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(1), p. 75-104.
Watson (1998). 'If You Don't Have It, You Can't Find It.' A Close Look at Students' Perceptions of Using Technology. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 49(11), p. 1024-1036.
2006 Jan-Marie Kellow
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