Guided Inquiry Design: Identify, Gather, and Create Phases
In schools and libraries where curriculum and learning outcomes standards guide teaching and learning, ensuring that students have voice and choice is essential. Student agency, learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant to the students’ themselves, can easily get lost in standards-crowded learning environments. If primary goals of inquiry are to tap into students’ interests and passions, increase their internal motivation to learn, and create opportunities for them to persist and succeed, then educators should assess their planning in terms of maximizing student voice and choice.
A well-constructed Explore Pathfinder—with numerous (if not, limitless) avenues for students’ own questions—is an essential feature of the Guided Inquiry Design (GID). These “dip in” resources focused around an overarching inquiry question must open doors for students to pursue related sub-topics and develop personally meaningful inquiry sub-questions. These openings are intentional and seek to stimulate students’ critical thinking and creativity.
When students identify their own questions, they are giving voice to their personal connections to the overarching inquiry question. Students’ opinions and perspectives on the topic will vary based on their values, beliefs, and background knowledge. Their identities, cultural backgrounds, and prior learning experiences will likely influence their questions. If they are working with a group, their classmates’ opinions and perspectives will also shape the group’s question(s). The inquiry guide(s) can help ensure that all voices are considered.
Differentiation and inclusion involve providing different learners or groups of students with options for how they conduct their inquiry process. Students’ individual strengths, preferred ways of learning, or accommodations necessitate that educators differentiate in order to increase students’ success in reaching the targeted learning outcomes. The “Identify” phase creates opportunities for students to take their individual or group’s questions in a multitude of directions, some of which the educators may not have predicted. When developing their inquiry plan, students may also seek to explore their questions in unique ways, such as bringing in experts or taking field trips off campus.
Students will build off the resources provided by educators and access far-ranging resources beyond those included on the Explore pathfinder. Educators support students at this phase by teaching/reviewing strategies for determining accuracy, authority, and authenticity of resources. They keep students focused on purpose, currency, and relevance as they curate their own resources. Educators also connect students with human resources in the school and community to further enrich their knowledge base.
Educators can offer students various strategies and tools for organizing their resources, making notes, and bibliographic record keeping. These are lifelong learning strategies are transferable to other learning contexts.
Likewise, the “Create” phase provides yet another opportunity for students to demonstrate learning and meet the target outcomes in a variety of ways. Educators can provide choice through a menu of tools for presenting learning. These can be various apps, online creation tools, or software. Educators may offer students options in terms of the format of a final product. In addition to the tool menu, they may provide a list of final products that includes journals, letters to the editor or op eds, poems, scripts, short stories or essays, bibliographies, debates, leading discussions, presenting skits and plays, taking action in the school or community, and more. Educators may (should) also be open to students’ presentations ideas.
When students determine how they will show their new understandings, they are more likely to be invested in their learning process because they “own” it. Their work products will be authentic in terms of the questions students ask, the audiences with whom they want to share, or the feedback they seek to receive. The one-size-fits all approach to final products may make it easier for educators to assess student learning outcomes, but they should have a strong rationale for why one single way for students to demonstrate their learning is best for all students. Educators must ensure that students’ voice and choice is still evident in their final products.
Coteaching the “Identify” and “Create” Phases of the GID
Having two or more adults in the room to guide students during the Identify phase is of benefit to students and educators alike. Monitoring individual student’s or student inquiry groups’ formulation of an inquiry question can increase learners’ engagement and enthusiasm as well as reduce their frustration. With a school librarian and a classroom teacher, or a public librarian and a caregiver offering support at this phase in the inquiry process, the outcomes are likely to be more satisfying and successful.
Inquiry guides can help students see opportunities to narrow or broaden their questions. They can ask students to define terms, determine keywords, and phrases within their questions that may otherwise cause students confusion or complicate their search for resources. Guides may help students reframe their question toward “how” and “why” and steer the away from “yes” and “no” answers. They can prompt students to consider other perspectives.
As noted above, far too many inquiry learning experiences result in predetermined presentation formats. While this can help standardize the assessments used for the inquiry, it can also stifle creativity, student voice, and student choice. When two or more educators are guiding an inquiry experience, the educators can feel more confident that they are able to respond to a range of creative processes, products, and presentations.
Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.