Final Reflections

Despite the fact that I undertook this unit in a school I had not previously worked in and therefore did not have an established working relationship with the classroom teacher, I felt responsible that I could not engage in the planning and direction of the unit in a more useful way. I did not have the team relationship that allowed me to use the information I was gathering in any but a very minor way and I felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more. As I begin work as the Teacher-Librarian at this same school next year, I feel a real challenge to create strong working relationships with classroom teachers so that as a team we can build a clearer, much more successful Information Learning Activity.

Getting back to my initial question at the beginning of this ILA, “How do I take others on the journey with me?”

The answer is: I do it better than I did last time. I work on my relationship with the classroom teacher, I demonstrate my growing expertise in information gathering and sythesising and I offer more to the teacher and to the class.

Oaks, Linda. harbor-maine.jpg. 2006. Pics4Learning. 30 Oct 2014

Oaks, L. harbor-maine.jpg. (2006).

Here is where I finally pull my ship safely into harbour and home. It feels like I have not seen the shore in a very long while. It’s so good to be home. A sense of achievement accompanies my return. I have discovered so many new and interesting things about the world, about learning and about myself as a learner. Most significantly I have come to understand the process of inquiry more deeply. I have come to recognise that using an inquiry pedagogy doesn’t mean giving students a task, setting them in the right direction and marking the outcome. I have understood the value of skilled, timely intervention. I have understood that Inquiry Learning calls for far more skills in teaching than I had previously recognised. But it also has more potential than I realised; potential to enable students to experience learning in a far deeper, broader and more transferable way.  For now I am home safe and sound but not for long…

What will the next adventure bring? What new and exciting developments in digital information are just around the corner? How will my current navigational skills have to adapt in the future to meet the ever-changing world of information? Who will I take on the journey next time and will it be any more successful? I hope so, but in Rudyard Kipling’s words, “that’s another story.”


Analysis and Recommendations

Imagine you have just been instructed to go on a treasure hunt in the Pacific Ocean. You have been given a ship and a list of tasks to be completed on some unknown islands. You have then been instructed to set sail and be quick about it…

This is the type of task that the students in this Stage 3 class were faced with as they began their Information Learning Activity (ILA) on Governments.

The unit started like any ordinary lesson…

“Everyone get out your books, have your pencils ready and make sure you have your iPad on your desk.”

Task one was to brainstorm what the students already knew about Governments. Next the students were directed to complete Survey One. The classroom teacher then handed out the assessment task. The directions on the bottom of the sheet were read and explained and students were allowed to begin. Just like that. “Hop on your boats and set sail now please. Oh and don’t muck about!”

I wish I could properly describe the scene in the classroom in the next couple of minutes. It began with a moment of stunned silence as students registered that the teacher had just directed them to start completing a task they knew nothing about. This moment was followed by complete pandemonium. Quite a number of students started firing questions at the teacher wanting to get started but having absolutely no idea where they were heading. Others quickly began and just as quickly lost their way. These students chose a task from their list, opened their iPads, went to Google and started typing the task directly into the search box. You can imagine the effectiveness of typing, “Determine the issues that you think are important for your party” into a search box. The other dominant response was to give up before you have even started. Why bother starting when you have no idea what you are doing anyway. Far better to stay on shore and play games on your iPad.

As I consider the disastrous beginning to what was initially a unit plan with great potential, four questions shape my reflections. Firstly what were the great ideas that shaped the planning stage? Secondly, how did the plan get shipwrecked so quickly? Thirdly, how did the shipwreck manifest itself in student learning? And finally, how can these reflections be used to create much more successful learning and teaching in the future?

1. The Planning

The planning for the Governments unit was initially based around some great educational principles including the original Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (Figure 1). The teacher recognised that students needed a range of lower and higher order tasks in order to engage with the topic in a deeper and more meaningful way. This was demonstrated by setting tasks around Bloom’s Taxonomy and requiring students to attempt a task from each level of the hierarchy. Students were also given the freedom to choose from a range of tasks based around the concept of Multiple Intelligences. This allowed for a more individualised approach to the topic and gave students the opportunity to learn about the topic in different ways (Strauss, 2013). Though it would have been better to use the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy, these two theories are both well-respected in the field of education and using them to shape a unit of work should have led to both breadth and depth of learning. So what went wrong?

Figure 1

Figure 1

2. The Shipwreck

A significant cause of the shipwreck was the planner’s lack of understanding of the way Bloom’s Taxonomy was meant to be used. According to Huitt (2011), Bloom’s Taxonomy is meant to be a hierarchical system where the learning tasks need to move through the lower levels before the higher, more complex levels can be attempted. This means that students need to be able to remember and understand the subject matter before progressing to applying, evaluating and creating using their existing knowledge. However in the assessment task given to students, there was no indication of a progression of skills. Rather, students were encouraged to pick and choose as they wanted. Even if students did decide to choose simpler tasks before moving to the more complex ones, there was still no progression of ideas and no sense of building on skills to gain a deeper level of understanding. To use the analogy previously; the tasks were islands set in a vast ocean which students accidentally bumped into, did the part of the treasure hunt that related to that island and moved off in a random search of another island. With no map, no navigational skills and no real purpose or development in the journey, it is no wonder that the survey results found a very limited progression of learning taking place.

A better way to plan the unit would have been to design tasks which deliberately moved students purposefully through from the simpler levels to a deeper, more complex level of understanding. This would have meant reshaping the assessment tasks and encouraging students to move through them in a specific order. Even just taking the original ideas and reshaping them to look more like the revised assessment task (Figure 2) would have helped students to progress in a more purposeful way.

Revised Assessment Task

Figure 2 Reshaping assessment tasks based on an updated version of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

3. The Effect of the Shipwreck on Student Learning

During the course of the inquiry unit, as I collected data using the School Library Impact Measure (Todd, Kuhlthau and Heinstrom, 2005), it became apparent that the problems in the planning stage were limiting the students’ learning in many areas. According to Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2012), a Guided Inquiry pedagogy should foster learning in five different, yet integrated areas. As indicated in figure 3, many of the five kinds of learning are assessed when using the SLIM Toolkit.

Figure 5 Kuhlthau's Five Kinds of Learning (2012) compared to  SLIM Toolkit. Created by author.

Figure 3 Kuhlthau’s Five Kinds of Learning (2012) compared to SLIM Toolkit. Created by author.

The findings from the surveys pointed to limited growth in curriculum content, both in factual knowledge and in depth of understanding. There are a couple of possible reasons for this lack of student progression in learning. Firstly, there were students in the class who struggle to read and write and this limited the accuracy of a written survey. It became particularly evident that at least some students knew more than they were willing to write down when one student wrote for survey three, “I know more than I did last time.” In a quantitative data gathering survey this response did not produce an accurate reflection of the student’s knowledge and further anecdotal evidence would be needed in order to determine the student’s real growth in knowledge.

A second likely cause of the limited growth in student understanding of the content is that students needed much more scaffolding to equip them with the necessary information literacy skills. This second but connected area of learning was not addressed in any deliberate way throughout the unit. It became evident in the findings from question 4 and 5 of the survey that students were not progressing in information literacy skills. The anecdotal evidence supported the data, with many students struggling to complete the required tasks. Some students gave up and did not complete any tasks, while other students did not evaluate the information they found and based their complex, higher order thinking tasks on a very limited understanding of their topic. For example:

sea shepherd conversation

This and other conversations like it, along with the data from the survey, led me to believe that the students did not have the skills they needed to be able to progress through the unit and therefore the learning in the areas of curriculum content and information literacy suffered.

In reflecting on how this unit could have been better structured to allow students the opportunity to gain the necessary information literacy skills, it is helpful to reflect on the skills that the Australian Curriculum expects students to be able to draw on (Figure 4).

Figure 6: Overview of relevant skills  in the Australian Curriculum which could apply to this ILA.

Figure 4: Overview of relevant skills in the Australian Curriculum which could apply to this ILA.

The Australian Curriculum expects that typically students by the end of year six will demonstrate some significant information literacy skills. In the content area of Civics and Citizenship and in the general capabilities of ICT Capability and Critical and Creative Thinking, students are required to pose or develop their own questions and evaluate information. Students are also variously required to locate, use and analyse information. It would have been possible to include many of these skills in the learning taking place in this unit.

In order to include these skills as part of the learning in this ILA students needed to start with a map, plot a course, and set sail using a planned set of navigational skills. Practically this would have looked like guiding students through the unit using an information literacy model to explicitly teach information searching and processing skills. Since using an information search model is not familiar to this group

Figure 4 Adapted from: NSW Department of Education and Training, 2007

Figure 5
Adapted from: NSW Department of Education and Training, 2007

of students, I think it would be helpful to use The Information Process for this unit. This model is a simple, clearly defined, age-appropriate model with some great visual cues and a set of valuable questions that match each stage. For this particular unit I think it would be useful to teach the students to work through this process for each of the six tasks they will complete (Figure 5 & 6). Approaching the unit this way would have the added advantage of repetition, allowing the students to become more comfortable using an information model. Having taught a specific set of information seeking and processing skills, students would have had the ability to set a more purposeful course.

Figure 5

Figure 6 Using The Information Process by NSW Department of Education and Training (2007) to inform student questions during assessment tasks.

A simple restructuring of the unit to include a better development of ideas using Bloom’s Taxonomy and a more deliberate approach to learning information literacy skills would have enabled students to demonstrate a much greater progression in their learning both in the curriculum content and in the area of information literacy.

However, the topic could have inspired students to a much greater depth of learning if rather than simply listing a series of tasks to complete, students had been allowed to wonder. Murdoch (2014) describes the opportunity to wonder as an essential element in inspiring inquiry in students. In the findings, it became evident that there was a limited increase in students’ engagement with the topic. Students, in this ILA were not encouraged to wonder, to question or to investigate. They were not inspired to take on the journey because they wanted to discover new lands or because they had questions they needed answered. They went on the journey because that is what their teacher told them to do. They must fulfil the requirements of the treasure hunt and return home with the correct amount of missing pieces; mission completed. While the Information Process (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2007) provides an excellent framework to help students develop their own questions, it is important that questioning develops further than a rigid formula. Teachers need to model their own sense of inquiry by voicing their own questions, while inspiring students to wonder about anything and everything. It is only by encouraging a culture of wonder that students will develop their own skills in questioning (Murdoch, 2013). This type of genuine questioning could have led to a much broader, much more inspiring journey for students. As they questioned they would perhaps have found other ideas about governments they wanted to follow and other avenues for understanding democracy. They may have been inspired to delve into the depths of the topic rather then skim the surface.

Meshing a better use of a structured information literacy process with a desire to inspire, question and wonder is no simple task but this may have been achieved in the ILA if the underlying philosophy of information literacy had been viewed from a more transformative approach. Lupton and Bruce (2010) have encapsulated the various

Lupton & Bruce (2012)

Figure 7 GeST Windows, Lupton & Bruce (2010). GeST Windows

understandings of information literacy into three broad windows: Generic, Situated and Transformative (Figure 7). It is evident from figure 8 that the ILA was quite firmly based in a situated understanding of information literacy.

Figure 7

Figure 8

An ILA on governments lends itself nicely to a transformative approach as there are so many levels on which students are able to consider the workings of governments and take action. Students could consider the decision making of local or state governments around environmental issues, as in the case of Saving Black Mountain (Powell, Cantrell & Adams, 2001). Students could debate federal laws, consider the justice of those laws and come up with policies for change. Class groups could take a Storypath approach and place themselves in a fictional story that challenges them to face real issues surrounding governments in the safety of the classroom. Back in the real-world, students could write to Members of Parliament, attend government debates, run for school parliament and participate in a whole host of other engaging, real-world life experiences, designed to inspire them to actively participate in the world around them.

Future Journeys

Currently the school participating in this research project is heading down the path of Direct Instruction. In many respects this has proven a useful path to tread. NAPLAN scores reveal that students are in desperate need of basic reading, writing and numeracy skills and Direction Instruction seems to be able to give measurable results on the kinds of skills that are valued in the NAPLAN testing.

Standards for 21st Century Learners (ALA, 2007)

Figure 9 Standards for 21st Century Learners (ALA,2007)

But these skills, while essential, are not enough for the 21st Century Learner to be properly equipped for success in today’s world. As information skills become more diverse and as accessing, processing and using the right information becomes increasingly valuable, students need much more than “back to basics skills”. A helpful overview of further skills students need is found in the Standards for 21st Century Learner (Figure 9).

Despite the obvious debate raging in the world of education and politics (Review of the Australian Curriculum review), developing basic literacy skills and engaging in inquiry are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As outlined by Hmelo-Silver, Duncan & Chinn (2007), students who are appropriately scaffolded through the inquiry learning process have the opportunity to develop basic literacy skills, while also demonstrating a depth of learning and understanding that is not as readily developed through basic skills instruction.

However, it became clear during this research project that teachers need to be skilled in order to successfully scaffold students through an inquiry process. It is not enough to set a task and let the students find their way. Teachers need to have the navigational skills themselves, they need to inspire their students to question and investigate and they need to be skilled in understanding how learners learn, when they might need intervention and how to intervene at the right moment. With the right direction, instead of becoming lost at sea and constantly frustrated by their poor navigational skills, students will have the freedom to think critically, draw conclusions, share knowledge and pursue their own growth as a learner (ALA, 2007)


American Library Association (2007) Standards for 21st Century Learners. Retrieved from

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (n.d.) Australian Curriculum. Retrieved from

Hmelo-Silver, C.E., Duncan, R. G. & Chinn, C.A. (2007). Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42 (2), 99-107 Retrieved from

Huitt, W. (2011). Bloom et al.’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2012). Guided inquiry design: a framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Chapter 1 : Windows on Information Literacy Worlds : Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives in Lloyd, Annemaree and Talja, Sanna, Practising information literacy : bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, pp.3-27.

Murdoch, K. (2014, March 26). What makes us wonder? [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Murdoch, K. (2013, June 8.) Moving on from the KWL chart: student questions and inquiry [web log post]. Retrieved from

NSW Department of Education and Training. (2007). Information process. Retrieved from

Powell, R; Cantrell, S and Adams, S. (2001). Saving Black Mountain : the promise of critical literacy in a multicultural democracy The Reading Teacher, 54 (8), 772-781.

Strauss, V. (2013, October 16). Howard Gardner: Multiple intelligences are not learning styles. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Todd, R., Kuhlthau,C. & Heinstrom, J. (2005). School Library Impact Measure. Rutgers Univeristy: Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from


The Students’ Journey

As referred to in the Methodology, the main way of tracking the students’ journey was through three written surveys adapted from the School Library Impact Measure (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005), also known as the SLIM toolkit. The written surveys produced a set of results which formed an overall picture of the success of the unit as an Information Learning Activity (ILA).

Survey Question One: What do you know about Governments?

Students were asked to explain what they knew about governments at the beginning, middle and end of their journey. This helped me to plot their course in order to discover how far the students had traveled and how deeply they understood their topic. The students’ responses were categorised into factual statements, explanation statements and conclusion statements, with conclusion statements requiring students to have a greater depth of understanding than factual statements. Only students who completed all three surveys are included in the results table.

Question 1 graph

Figure 1

In Survey One students were able to give a number of fact based statements, demonstrating a general background knowledge of the topic. The general nature of students’ knowledge was demonstrated with statements such as:

“The government makes the laws”

“You have to pay tax.”

“There is voting.”

As students progressed through the unit, there was only a slight increase in the number of student responses but an evident increase in the quality of the factual statements being made (Figure 1).  Students responded with 55 factual statements in week one and then only managed 64 factual statements at the end of the ILA. However, the factual statements did become more specific. For example in surveys two and three student responses included:

“There are three levels of government: Federal, State and Local.”

“The parliament house is in Canberra.”

“You have to be 18 or over to vote.”

The data demonstrates some factual knowledge being learned but not as much as could be expected over the course of a nine week unit.

The other disappointing result demonstrated in figure 1 is the lack of growth in explanation and conclusion statements. This indicates that despite the nature of many tasks requiring higher order thinking, students did not complete the tasks at a higher level of cognitive process.

Question Two: How interested are you in learning about Governments?

Students were asked to indicate their interest in the topic by ticking one of four boxes:

Survey boxes

Acccording to the SLIM Toolkit (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005), it is expected that as students participate in the inquiry unit and engage in the learning tasks, their interest in the topic will grow.

Figure 1

Figure 3

Figure 2

Question 2 Survey 3

According to figure 2, while there was some increase in student interest in the topic, not much change can be seen. This indicates a level of disengagement in the topic, with only one student demonstrating a great deal of interest in the topic at the completion of the unit. This was also evident in students’ attitudes within the classroom, with many students disengaged and off task during independent work time.

Question 3: How much do you know about Governments?

In this question students were again asked to tick one of the following boxes to indicate their confidence in understanding the topic.

Survey boxes 2

The data from this question should indicate the emotional journey students have progressed through as they reflect on their own confidence with the topic. Kuhlthau’s model of the Information Search Process (2004) predicts that as students progress through the unit there will be a range of emotional responses. As outlined in figure 3, student confidence is likely to fluctuate through uncertainty and then optimism, back to confusion and eventually to confidence and a sense of satisfaction at the completion of the task.

Visual representation by author of Kuhlthau's Information Search Model (2004), Affective component

Figure 3: Visual representation by author of Kuhlthau’s Information Search Model (2004), Affective component

In light of this research, the expected results for this survey question would be seen as also fluctuating, with students initially expressing a degree of confidence. Students are then likely to lose confidence as the unit progresses through the confusion stage. It is hoped that the unit culminates with the majority of students indicating their confidence in their learning by choosing the “A great deal” box at the end of the unit.

Figure 3

Figure 4

In order to gain an accurate picture of student confidence across the unit, each student was tracked for their response to this question (Figure 4). As each student was tracked it became evident that there were a number of students whose confidence in their knowledge of the subject did not change at all. This became clearer in figure 5, where half the students did not change throughout the entire unit and no students indicated the type of fluctuation in confidence predicted in Kuhlthau’s model. It was also concerning that only three students indicated that they thought they had “a great deal” of knowledge by the end of the unit.

Figure 4

Figure 5

When this data is considered alongside the data gathered in question one and two of the survey, it indicates a general lack of progress through the unit. Survey one demonstrated a lack of expected progression in breadth and depth of knowledge. Survey two found limited progression in engagement and enthusiasm with the topic. And survey three found limited progression in the expected range of student emotions. Together these results indicate that the structure of the Information Learning Activity was significantly flawed and did not a foster a high degree of progression in student learning.

Question 4: What research skills did you find easy to do?

Student responses to this question were grouped into categories that aligned with the stages in The Information Process (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2007). Figure 6 shows both the number and type of responses students gave and the stage of the process where these skills are required.

Figure 5 Student responses as they relate to the stages of the Information Process (NSW Department of Education, 2007)

Figure 6 Student responses as they relate to the stages of the Information Process (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2007)

Question 5: What research skills did you find hard to do?

Student responses were again grouped according to the Information Process. Figure 7 shows both the number and type of responses given and the stage of the process where these skills are required.

Figure 6 Student responses as as they relate to the Information Process (NSW Department of Education, 2007)

Figure 7 Student responses as as they relate to the stages of The Information Process (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2007)

In reviewing the data from figure 6 and figure 7, two significant issues stand out. Firstly, student responses in both tables remain similar across the three surveys. For example, in figure 6 students indicate that going on Google is easy in both survey one and survey three. In figure 7, students struggled to find a good website in survey one and in survey three they were still struggling to find the right website. Secondly student responses stayed in the same categories across all three surveys. The things students found easy were all in the locating and selecting categories, while difficult skills were in locating, selecting and organising skills. These two issues together are another example of the lack of progression in student learning. Students failed to move through the information process and therefore did not progress in learning new information skills. How these issues may be overcome in the future will be the subject of the discussion in the Analysis and Recommendations post.

Question 6: What did you learn in doing this research project? Please list as many things as you like.

Student responses to this question were very limited and there was very little new information to be gleaned from their answers. After completing the rest of the survey, students were not keen to write more to complete this question. Most students put very little effort into this question and in hindsight asking this question on its own on another day would have produced a more accurate picture of what students had learned. A couple of very brief responses suffice to add weight to the findings from the rest of the survey:

Student a: “I learnt how to speel governments” (sic)

Student c: “I like using the website

Student h: “Learning different websites and finding out facts that have helped me learn more.”

Student j: “three levels of parliament, the senate, elections, how voting works.”

Student k: “I know that governments do lots of papper work like toones!” (sic)

Student m: “You have to be 18 or over to vote”

Student r: “a lot of things like the government is a person and that the government gives money to you.”

An overall picture emerges of students who have set sail on a journey with no particular goal in mind, no specific skills in navigation and no map to guide them on their way. Progress was hampered by a lack of structure, skills and direction. At the end of the journey very few goals seem to have been obtained and perhaps most sad of all, students were not inspired to seek out new adventures.


Kuhlthau (2004) Model of the Information Search Process. Retrieved from

NSW Department of Education and Training. (2007). Information Process. Retrieved from

Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C. & Heinstrom, J. (2005). School Library Impact Measure. Rutgers University: Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from

Action Taken

As I was a guest, invited in to observe the unit, I had very little opportunity to take any initiative during the course of the Information Learning Activity. I communicated with the classroom teacher on a regular basis but was not invited to share the data I was collecting. Consequently most action taken on my part was limited to redirecting individuals and small groups who had temporarily lost their way.

However I did have two opportunities to take action for the whole class. Both of these actions came as a result of the findings in survey one. During survey one it became evident that students were struggling to find useful information. Repeated phrases such as I find it hard to,”find what I am looking for,” written in response to the survey questions were further reinforced by observations of students trying to type the task into Google and being frustrated when the magic answer did not pop out at them.

My first opportunity for intervention was to ask the classroom teacher if I could take a lesson on how to find information using a search engine. The classroom teacher was happy enough for me to do this but instead of having the opportunity to plan, I was called on in the middle of a lesson to teach the students what to do. This left me unprepared, with about ten minutes to teach students how to search for information. This was somewhat helpful as some students recognised that they needed to search using key words rather than typing the task into the search box but obviously a ten minute segment on information searching was not nearly enough.

The second intervention came from the same data. I was concerned that students were not able to draw on sufficient skills in order to navigate their way around digital information and I thought that having some books to supplement their background knowledge would be helpful. Since there were limited books available in the school library, I went down to the local library and borrowed out a set of books that should have helped students get a better grasp of the curriculum content. Unfortunately the books were not well utilized. When I was in the classroom I directed students to them at appropriate moments but as a general rule they were left untouched for most of the unit.



Charting the Students’ Course

Students were asked to complete three surveys during their journey. The surveys were adapted from the School Library Impact Measure (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005), also known as the SLIM Toolkit. The surveys were handed to the students in class time and they were asked to write down their answers individually. Data was collected in order to keep track of how students were coping as they engaged in their own learning adventure.

Survey One

As the opening activity on the governments unit, the whole class participated in a brainstorming activity to find out what they already knew. Survey one was completed individually, immediately following the brainstorming activity. I chose to do this as I wanted students thinking through ideas as a group before they came to write answers down for themselves.

Survey Two

Survey two was completed mid-way through the term.

Survey Three

Survey three was completed in the last week of term, just as students were nearing the completion of their tasks.

As I was able to participate in the journey once a week, anecdotal evidence was collected through observation and conversations with individuals and small groups. Discussions were recorded in my notes at the completion of the lesson.


Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C. & Heinstrom, J. (2005). School Library Impact Measure. Rutgers University: Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from

Description of Inquiry Learning Activity

taking others

The Purpose of the Journey: To discover more about the way governments work.

The Conditions of the Journey:  This was a nine week unit covering both English and Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) lessons for the whole of term 2.

The Crew: A class group of 23, year 5 and 6 students (stage 3).

The Ship’s Captain: The journey was planned and directed by the classroom teacher.

The First Mate: I was privileged to be invited to participate in the class once a week. My role was to collect data as the unit progressed and help out individuals and small groups in independent work times.

The Ship: In order to help us navigate the waters of information gathering and processing, each of the students had access to an iPad.

The Map: Students had very little map to go on. There was little structure to the information gathering and synthesising process.  The teacher taught a couple of direct instruction lessons which gave students a small amount of background knowledge. The rest of the journey was generally up to individuals to map out for themselves.

The Destination: Intended Learning Outcomes were taken from the New South Wales, HSIE syllabus. The specific focus points were Social Systems and Structures (SS) and Change and Continuity (CC).

SS Stage 3.8 Explains the structures, roles, responsibilities and decision-making processes of State and federal governments and explains why Australians value fairness and socially just principles.

CC Stage 3.2 Explains the development of the principles of Australian democracy

In order to achieve these outcomes, students were given an assessment task at the beginning of the unit. Students were asked to complete six of the tasks listed. Students were given opportunity to choose their tasks but were required to complete one task from each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Assessment Task Sheet

Unit Assessment Task

Final Post

Land is Sighted

At the beginning of my journey I felt totally uncertain about the task before me; just like Kuhlthau said I would (2013). I had to research Inquiry Learning but just what did that mean? What aspect? Even narrowing down my search to primary school and HSIE was totally overwhelming. I was supposed to choose a path and follow it but I really, really didn’t have any path to follow.

“Write an essay” they said.

“What about?” was my alarmed reply!

I felt so completely overwhelmed by the task at hand that I put off starting it until I got to the point that I felt like if I didn’t start I would not have anything to hand in come the due date.

So reluctantly I began…

Initially what I found was what I expected. An overwhelming number of entries on Google about Inquiry Learning. Gradually, as I employed some of the search techniques I was learning, I was able to narrow down the search and make the results more relevant to my area of interest. But what was I meant to do with this information? How was I meant to progress in my learning? What would I write my essay about?

Towards the end of my Google search, I thought that I had a direction to sail; an interest area I thought I would like to pursue. But in the end, this path lead into some particularly murky waters. In part my navigating skills were not as good as I had hoped and in part the direction I was taking was sending me into a vast ocean, much too far to travel before my supplies ran out. I needed to reconsider my direction before I became hopelessly lost, sailing in a circle of information. As I look back on this point now I can see the confusion that Kuhlthau (2013) talks about as being part of the exploration stage of the Information Search Process.

I once again set my sails to head into the prevailing wind with a vague destination of Inquiry Learning, social studies and primary school in mind. On the way I honed my navigating skills and managed to stay pretty much on course but the fabled “Great Southern Land” eluded me.

The last search entry, in the last database produced an unexpected result. This search provided me with a new keyword which intrigued me; “Storypath.” What was a Storypath; why was it coming up in searches about Inquiry Learning? The article grabbed my attention because the abstract mentioned something about making learning about governments interesting to students from a low socio-economic background (McGuire & Cole, 2008). This was my new map. I had just worked with a classroom teacher on what was meant to be an inquiry-based project on this exact topic. I was intrigued by the idea and wanted to follow it up further.

As I look back on where my journey began, I am somewhat surprised to find that I have found substantial answers to my initial questions. I believe I now have a deeper understanding of what Inquiry Learning looks like; I have certainly become more skilled in navigation and I have found an approach to Inquiry Learning that I think would be engaging and motivating for my students.

And yet having sighted my “Great Southern Land”, there is still so much exploring to do, so many navigational skills still to be developed and so much to learn about engaging students. As I travel onward I have one big question that stands out from all the rest: When do I get to take others on the journey with me? I have not arrived safely home yet. Let the journey continue…


Kuhlthau, C. (2013.) Information Search Process. Retrieved from

McGuire, M. E., & Cole, B. (2008). Using the storypath approach to make local government understandable. The Social Studies,99(2), 85-90.



Storypath: A Model of Inquiry Learning


As I travelled into the uncharted waters of Inquiry Learning research I discovered a tiny island of information which rather intrigued me. The name of this island was called Storypath. I became interested in whether this Storypath concept could be genuinely called an Inquiry Learning pedagogy. But to answer this question I first had to ask a number of sub-questions: What are the key characteristics of Inquiry Learning? What is Storypath and what elements define this approach? Can the characteristics of Inquiry-based learning be found in the Storypath model?

In order to answer the question, does Storypath use an Inquiry Learning pedagogy, it is necessary to identify the key characteristics of an Inquiry Learning pedagogy. Inquiry Learning is a complex, multi-faceted approach to teaching and learning, with a variety of closely related terms, including Inquiry-based learning, guided inquiry, problem-based learning and collaborative or cooperative learning. In an effort to synthesise the extensive number of characteristics which may define an inquiry learning approach, Lupton (2012) has defined the Inquiry learning process as having three key elements.

  1. Questioning frameworks
  2. Information seeking process
  3. Action research cycle.

It is these three elements which will be compared to the Storypath approach to determine the extent to which Storypath connects to an Inquiry Learning pedagogy.

The elements contained in the Storypath approach are not new. This method has its roots in the late 1960s approach to teaching, developed in Scotland, called the Storyline method. It was designed in response to a change in the Scottish curriculum which required an integrated, student-centred curriculum (Mitchell-Barrett, 2010). The essential design of the Storyline and later the Storypath method is to create a story around a key idea or context, draw students in by allowing them to become characters in the story and then set up critical incidents which form the problem-solving, conflict resolution aspect of the story.

Each Storypath is characterised by five key elements: creating the scene, creating  the characters, building the context, critical incidents and a concluding event (McGuire, 2005, p.3) Creating the scene involves drawing students in to engage with a particular time or place. This process includes class discussions, teacher-directed questions to draw out what students already know and a visual creation of the setting using a model or mural. Creating the characters involves discussing with students what characters would be a part of that particular setting. Students then take part by becoming a character in the story. Students need to consider various aspects of their character including what they look like, what special skills they have, what needs they have, what job they might do, who might be part of their family and how they might interact with others (McGuire, 1997). Students then build the context by adding to what they already know through research and investigation. Students are challenged to think more deeply in order to broaden their understanding of the context.  When the time is right, a critical incident is introduced. In terms of the story idea, this could be called the complication in the plot. Students, already personally involved in the story, now engage with the critical incident and must use problem solving, critical thinking and social skills in order to bring about a resolution (McGuire & Cole, 2008). The concluding event is a completing of the story. Students plan and participate in an event that brings a conclusion to the story they have been involved in (Cole, Apostolovski, & Foord, 2006).

To discover the connection between Inquiry Learning and Storypath, it is necessary to compare the characteristics of Inquiry Learning with the elements of the Storypath model.

1. Questioning Frameworks

Questioning frameworks, a key component of Inquiry Learning, is to some extent present in the Storypath model. According to McGuire (2005, p.2), the teacher’s questions should lead students to:

1. Ask their own questions and think critically about what they know;

2. Use their prior knowledge to make sense of new information;

3. Connect personally to important social studies concepts.

While questioning is a key component of Storypath method it is evident that the questioning is significantly teacher-directed. According to Lupton’s continuum of Inquiry (2013), Storypath could then be located as a form of guided inquiry.

2. Information Seeking Process

While information seeking skills are a significant part of the Storypath method, the information seeking process is varied according to the context and can not be structured into an overarching model. However, information seeking models could easily be adapted to suit the Storypath approach. For example, when compared with The Big6 the various Storypath elements can be connected:

Big6 - 1

The Big 6: 1. Task Definition


Task definition occurs as students immerse themselves in the story by discussing and creating the scene.




Big6 - 2

The Big 6: 2. Information Seeking Strategies

Big6: 3. Location and Access

Big 6: 3. Location and Access

Seeking, locating and accessing information happens as students build on what they know and then what they need to find out in order to create the characters and build the context.




Big6: 4 Use of Information

Big 6: 4. Use of Information

Big6: 5 Synthesize

Big 6: 5. Synthesize

New information is then used and synthesised as students engage with critical incidents and record their learning and present it in an appropriate way .



Big6: 6. Evaluation

Big 6: 6. Evaluation

Evaluation, though taking place throughout the story, formally occurs as students plan and participate in a concluding activity.




3. Action Research Cycle

Though the Storypath approach tends to create a discrete unit of inquiry, a number of elements of the action research cycle are present. The Storypath approach, by its very nature, is collaborative and participatory. It emphasises problem-solving and critical thinking as part of the core structure (Harkness, n.d.). Also, while it is not creating real-world links between students and active citizenship in the same way that the Saving Black Mountain project did (Powell, Cantrell & Adams, 2001), the purpose is to create meaningful connections for students. “If children cannot imagine themselves in such roles, then it is likely they will never aspire to such roles.” (McGuire & Cole, 2008)

In comparing the key elements of Inquiry Learning to the Storypath method, I believe there is sufficient evidence to recognise Storypath as a model of Inquiry Learning. However given the structured nature of this method and the level of teacher guidance, I believe the Storypath approach fits in best with the developmental level outlined by Branch and Oberg (2004, p.31) as being for those who are new to or have limited experience with Inquiry Learning.


Branch, J., & Oberg, D. (2004). Focus on inquiry: A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning. Alberta, Canada: Alberta learning. Retrieved from,

Cole, B., Apostolovski, S., & Foord, K. (2006). Storypath and engagement, School is for me: Pathways to student engagement (pp. 39-46). NSW Department of Education and Training. Retrieved from

Eisenberg, M. & Berkowitz, R. (n.d.) The Big6: A good way to get started. Retrieved from

Harkness, S. (n.d.). How storyline method came to be. Creative Dialogues. Retrieved from

Lupton, M. (2012, August 22). What is Inquiry Learning. Blog

Lupton, Mandy (2013) Inquiry pedagogy and the Australian Curriculum. Primary and Middle Years Educator, 11(2), pp. 23-29.

McGuire, M. (1997) Taking a storypath into history, Educational Leadership, 54(6), 70-72.

McGuire, M. (2005) Democracy in Action: Communities make decisions, Storypath, California, Retrieved from:

McGuire, M. E., & Cole, B. (2008). Using the storypath approach to make local government understandable. The Social Studies,99(2), 85-90.

Mitchell-Barrett, R. (2010) An analysis of the Storyline method in primary school; its theoretical underpinnings and its impact on pupils’ intrinsic motivation. Durham University. Retrieved from

Powell, R., Cantrell, S. & Adams, S. (2001) Saving black mountain: The promise of critical literacy in a multicultural democracy. Reading Teacher, 54(8), 772.

Annotated Bibliography

Inquiry Learning: Frameworks and Practice

If I lived in Captain Cook’s day, I would have been the one to give him a good send off from the shoreline and wait until a nice clear map had been written before I ventured forth. I love the sense of adventure but I would much prefer to travel in direct lines to my destination.

Given the practical nature of education and my desire to have a specific framework to work with, I have chosen to focus this bibliography on inquiry learning research that reflects frameworks and practical working definitions of what Inquiry Learning looks like in the context of a real classroom. I am looking for some practical, real-world aids that would both help me get a firm grasp on what Inquiry Learning is and enable me to educate classroom teachers in this area.

1. Focus on Inquiry: A Teacher’s Guide to Implementing Inquiry-Based Learning (Teacher’s Manual)

Branch, J., & Oberg, D. (2004). Focus on inquiry: A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning. Alberta, Canada: Alberta learning. Retrieved from,

A practical guide to implementing inquiry in the classroom. The document explains clearly a useful model of Inquiry and a questioning framework connected to each phase. It dedicates seven chapters to explaining clearly how to teach each step of the Inquiry model. It also includes tips for teachers scattered throughout, helpful charts, models and other guidelines. If you are new to inquiry learning and not sure where to start, this document will guide you through it.

I chose this document for its practical application to Inquiry. It represents the experience of those who are already practicing well-thought-through inquiry learning in their schools. I especially appreciate the planning cycle for teachers (reproduced below) and the very practical teacher’s tips scattered throughout the document. A really helpful, practical guide.

Planning model Published in Alberta Education: Focus on Inquiry, 2004, p.24

Planning model Published in Alberta Education: Focus on Inquiry, 2004, p.24

2. What Makes a Good Inquiry Unit? (Journal Article)

Murdoch, K. (2004). What makes a good inquiry unit. Education Quarterly Australia: Talking English. Retrieved from

Grounded in experience and practical examples, this short article develops a questioning framework to reflect on as an inquiry topic is being developed. Those who plan an inquiry unit are encouraged to think through the purpose of the unit, how to encourage students to connect to the topic, how learning can be connected across the curriculum, how challenging the learning is and how students will reflect on their learning.

One of the questions lurking in the back of my mind has been, how much planning should you do for a successful inquiry. This article outlines the questions that need to be reflected on as you go through the planning process. In the conclusion this quote grabs my attention:

A great unit has a deft mix of the planned and spontaneous, of deliberate, guided tasks and more organic, responsive teaching arising out of the interactions we have with students. (Murdoch, 2004)

3. Tools for Lifelong Learning: Using Information Literacy (Conference Presentation)

Scutelncu, E. (2011). Tools for lifelong learning: using information literacy. Presented at International Conference on Information Literacy. Retrieved from

This conference paper represents a bird’s eye view of a number of models of information literacy. It compares and contrasts various models and includes a number of alternatives in searching, accessing, and using information. The presentation includes a useful breakdown of the different types of literacies contained within the concept of information literacy: including tool literacy, research literacy, publishing literacy and critical literacy (Scutelncu, 2011, p.10)

I find this paper useful as it compares a number of alternative models. I like the fact that I can take and adapt as the context warrants. While I love the idea of having a framework to follow (both for myself as the planner and for my students to follow), I also want the flexibility of choosing from a variety of models in order to adapt to the various classroom contexts I work in.

 4. Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century (Journal Article)

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century.School Libraries Worldwide16(1), 17-28. Retrieved from

This paper has a specific focus on school libraries and how they connect with the concept of inquiry. Guided Inquiry, as developed by Kuhthau, connects well with my search for practical, real-world ways of making inquiry achievable within the classroom context. This particular paper clearly explains both the why and how of Guided Inquiry, including the kinds of learning that takes place when using this approach (see below).

Amongst the plethora of information about Guided Inquiry, I chose this paper because it is authored by Kuhlthau, it explains both why a teacher would undertake a Guided Inquiry approach and what it looks like in the classroom. It also explains how the teacher-librarian is involved and how to get started along the inquiry path.

Visual representation of ideas in Guided Inquiry paper, created by author, 2014

Visual representation of ideas in Guided Inquiry paper, created by author, 2014

5. Inquiry into Guided Inquiry (Journal Article)

Mitchell, P., & Spence, S. (2009). Inquiry into Guided Inquiry. Access23(4), 5-8

This article contains a brief glimpse of the recent changes in education, how this has brought about change in the role of the library and how guided inquiry may fit into this changing context. It also contains a question and answer session conducted at a conference in South Australia in 2009. These questions reflect the concerns of a number of teachers in my own school context.

I chose this article because it examines what is the current thinking in education and particularly in school libraries. I decided that if I wanted to be able to get practical, I would also need practical answers as to why guided inquiry is useful and what the advocates for school libraries were currently promoting as best practice. The series of questions and subsequent answers also give some great, practical advice that I could use in addressing my own and other teacher’s concerns.

The Knowledge Compass (Website)

McIlvenny, L. (n.d.) The knowledge compass. Retrieved from

This website is all about helping teachers and students to ask good questions. It contains a set of questions that will help you get started in each stage of the information process, a few different questioning frameworks and some print and online resources to help set up good questioning techniques in the classroom.

I chose this resource as I have come to realise that good questioning technique is vital to quality inquiry learning. So much of the inquiry process involves being able to ask good questions and it is therefore of significant, practical importance to have the knowledge and skills to guide students through the process of becoming skilled questioners. I particularly like the slide share presentation located in the Teacher Zone section (and shared below). This is a really helpful practical guide to work through as I consider how to set up good questions and how to encourage students to develop their thinking skills.

Effective Questioning from Susie Vesper,2008. Retrieved from The Knowledge Compass

7. Inquiry Pedagogy and the Australian Curriculum (Journal Article)

Lupton, Mandy (2013) Inquiry pedagogy and the Australian Curriculum. Primary and Middle Years Educator, 11(2), pp. 23-29.

This paper summarises a whole lot of Inquiry Learning theory from quite a variety of sources and succinctly connects the dots to form a coherent whole. It then makes some links between the philosophy of Inquiry Learning to the various ways it is represented in the Australian Curriculum.

I chose to include this paper in this bibliography because it clearly sets out some helpful principals which indicate inquiry learning has taken place (see below). I also find it is very practical to connect the dots between the theory of Inquiry Learning and where it fits in to the Australian Curriculum. If teachers can’t see where this philosophy fits in to their current curriculum, they will not make the effort to make it work in their classroom.

Visual representation of key elements in Inquiry Learning as outlined by Lupton, 2013. Created by author, 2014

Visual representation of key elements in Inquiry Learning as outlined by Lupton, 2013. Created by author, 2014

8. Said No True Inquiry Teacher Ever (Blog Entry)

Murdoch, K. (2012, September 24). Said no true inquiry teacher ever [Web log post]. Retrieved from

This is a post by Kath Murdoch in her blog “Just Wondering”. It contains a list of quotes that you will never hear teachers, who value Inquiry Learning, using. This list serves to highlight what Inquiry Learning looks like practically. “In order to understand what something IS – it can help us to think about what it ISN’T” (Murdoch, 2012, para. 6.).

This is a light-hearted, blog entry to round off the collection of practical, down-to-earth, Inquiry Learning resources. I chose this resource because it is a great illustration of what an Inquiry Learning classroom will NOT look like.

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

What good inquiry teacher(s) DON’T say…

We do inquiry on Thursday afternoons and Tuesday mornings.

I really love inquiry but sometimes I think we just have to teach.

That unit of inquiry was perfect.

Every question got answered! Every wondering got addressed!

Here are some more Inquiry Learning resources I have found to be helpful in guiding my journey.

Expert Searches – ProQuest

I decide I am a bit of a expert at all this searching now so I have a go at a complex search string straight up!

proquest search string a

proquest search string b

I like using ProQuest. It is clear and easy to use. I especially like the option to narrow the field by selecting or eliminating certain subject headings. The only downside is that you do need to know American terminology.  However, American terms sometimes seem to work better than Australian phrases, for example: “social studies” links closely to the subject area, where as “history” can be used in a range of contexts. Similarly, “elementary” nearly always refers to school, whereas “primary” often refers to sources.

As I close my search I discover a really interesting article which seems to jump out at me. It is entitled Using the Storypath Approach to Make Local Government Understandable (McGuire & Cole, 2008). I am intrigued because I have just spent time in a classroom engaged in this topic. This one article leads to a whole new series of questions:

What is the Storypath approach?

What does it look like in practice?

Who is using it in their classrooms?

Was it being successful?

Below is a screencast of part of this new search.


McGuire, M. E., & Cole, B. (2008). Using the storypath approach to make local government understandable. The Social Studies,99(2), 85-90.