Inquiry Learning Today

Former ALA and AASL President and retired library educator Barbara Stripling conducted and recorded an interview with Darryl Toerien, Head of Library and Archives at Oakham School in the United Kingdom. Both Barb and Darryl are engaged in an individual and a shared on-going inquiry into inquiry learning. This conversation focused on how students (and adults) engage with information when conducting inquiry in the digital environment.

Barbara has been instrumental in developing and recently revising the Empire State (New York) Information Fluency Continuum, a PK-12 continuum of the information and inquiry skills required for in-depth learning. Darryl is the originator of FOSIL (Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning), which was originally modeled after the Stripling Model of Inquiry.

This transnational conversation, “The Process and Stance of Inquiry in the Digital World” was hosted by and is available online from School Library Connection.

Inquiry as a Process
Brian captured my attention immediately with this anecdote. There was a sign that read: “Are you ignorant or apathetic?” Under the sign, someone replied: “I don’t know and I don’t care.” This was a brilliant way to make the case for why inquiry is critical in today’s educational landscape.

The inquiry process involves a continuum of skills that some of us have called “information literacy.” Some educators approach and teach those skills as a linear progression; others apply a spiral approach in which students revisit more or less the same skills in increasingly more sophisticated contexts and applications. Regardless of the approach, Barbara and Darryl agree there is a decades long history of inquiry as an effective (and preferred?) learning process in librarianship and in education. (I was first introduced to inquiry learning in my preservice classroom teacher program in the 1980s.)

When thinking about inquiry in K-12, we cannot ignore assessment. Assessment in inquiry does not only focus on what we learn as the result of our exploration. Rather it also focuses on how we came to know what we learned. The emphasis on process is one that aligns with the school librarian’s goals for students to grow as lifelong learners who will be able to transfer and apply the skills they learn and practice in K-12 throughout their lives.

Darryl brought viewers’ attention to Chapter 5 in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions IFLA School Librarian Guidelines, 2nd Edition that makes the case for inquiry as a “tool” that provides a means to an end—namely learning. Inquiry sparks curiosity and the desire to find out. Barb noted that inquiry has the potential to change students’ attitudes toward learning—to make them more generally curious and to help them realize the importance of taking ownership and demonstrating agency as they pursue answers to their questions.

Inquiry as a Stance
To build on the idea of increasing curiosity, inquiry can also be a stance. As Salman Khan notes: “The crucial task of educators is to teach kids how to learn. To lead them to want to learn. To nurture curiosity, to encourage wonder, and to instill confidence so that later on they’ll have the tools for finding answers to many questions we don’t yet know how to ask” (cited in Moreillon 2018, 37).

In order for individual students and classrooms of students to achieve success, the adults in the school must ensure that this stance pervades the learning community. When all educators at every grade level and in every discipline approach learning from an inquiry stance, the likelihood that students will become lifelong inquirers increases exponentially. Inquiry, then, will be experienced as an authentic approach to schooling as well as learning and life.

This idea of inquiry as a stance connects strongly with my experience as an educator. I believe and have experienced the role of the school librarian as a leader who ensures that inquiry is systematically integrated into school curricula. Leading classroom teachers and specialists to the need to dedicate time for inquiry and creating space for students to explore is essential work for school librarian leaders. Although I have never had the total experience of inquiry being the sum total of the curriculum, I can imagine it.

Inquiry in the Digital World
Along with our students, all connected adults have or have had the overwhelming experience of locating too much information related to a particular topic or idea. We have also experienced misinformation, disinformation, and outright propaganda, and the digital siren song of distractions that are constantly competing for our attention. All of these contribute to the challenges students (and adults) experience in learning in the digital world.

Remote learning during school closures has only exacerbated this situation because the alternatives to pursuing information online are constrained without physical access to resources. Sorting facts from fiction, perspectives from biased information, content that meets our purposes and answers our questions can be even more difficult when we are socially separated from peers and guides.

Problems Create Opportunities
Last week, I attended the Arizona Library Association’s virtual conference. Brian Pichman, Director of Strategic Innovation at the Evolve Project, was a keynote speaker. In his talk, Brian stated this: “Problems create opportunities.” I agree with this statement but I often wonder who gets to identify what the “problem” is. From whose perspective is this a “problem?”

In the case of inquiry in the digital world, my perspective is that “inquiry” is not the problem. Giving students time and space to develop curiosity and explore are essential to their development as thinkers and doers. For me, the “problem” is the digital part in that many students today—if they are given the time and space to be inquirers—lack the skills and guides they need to be successful in the chaos of the online learning environment.

How can school librarians capitalize on our knowledge and pedagogical skills to solve the problem of students’ digital overload? How can we insist on knowledge construction in the digital world rather than more and more consuming? How can we solve students’ and our problem with Zoom fatigue?

Is “isolation” the problem? I believe translating our practice and emphasizing interactivity between educators and students, connections between content and students out-of-school lives, and increasing one-on-one, peer-to-peer communication in the virtual learning environment may hold promise. What do you think?

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.

Pichman, Brian. 2020. “20 Ideas to Spawn Innovation 2020.” Arizona Library Association Conference. Online. October.

Stripling, Barbara K. 2020. “The Process and Stance of Inquiry in a Digital World [15:46].” School Library Connection Video. October. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2254856?topicCenterId=2252404.

Image Credit
geralt. “Laptop Question.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/photos/laptop-question-question-mark-2709647/

This entry was posted in Deeper Learning, Information Literacy, Inquiry, Instructional Leadership and tagged , , , by Judi Moreillon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon, M.L.S, Ph.D., has served as a school librarian at every instructional level. In addition, she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and district-level librarian mentor. Judi has taught preservice school librarians since 1995. She has taught courses in instructional partnerships and school librarian leadership, multimedia resources and services, children’s and young adult literature, and storytelling. Her research agenda focuses on the professional development of school librarians for the leadership and instructional partner roles. She has published four professional books; the most recent is Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018). (See the book study on this blog.) Judi earned the American Library Association's 2019 Scholastic Library Publishing Award. She is currently editing and contributing to Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

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