The action that was taken to improve learning after the first questionnaire and observation of the Information Learning Activity (ILA) was to consider the configuration of the groups that students were working in. This was based on my observations that students were having some difficulty with the research process in their current groups and this was supported by the data from Questionnaire 1, Question 5, where students had listed “finding true (relevant) information” as the hardest thing to do. Given that the students had selected their own groups it was simple for the teacher to reorganise them into more efficient working groups of three to four that had a range of ages, abilities and skills in them. This was in keeping with Kuhlthau et.als, (2007, p.36) recommendations for establishing a community of learners.
“Small, flexible groups provide students with opportunities to collaborate with others and share the many perspectives that they bring. Using small interest- based groups through the inquiry process allows students to co-construct knowledge while collaborating on projects.”
The classroom teacher had knowledge of the students’ particular strengths and weaknesses in terms of their ability to research, process and present information and once she re-organised the groups according to student ability and skills the ISP progressed more smoothly. This strategy of the teacher assigning members to groups was utilised throughout the project and group configuration was changed with each new phase of the project.
Given that Questionnaire 2 was completed at the end of the ILA the next action that I recommended was after an observation of the class whilst they were again working in small groups, after the cart had been built. The class was working on five group tasks: – pushcart decoration, scientific investigations, sponsorship letters, pushcart identity and poster production during the lesson. They were mostly in the initial stages of discussion and brainstorming with regards to these topics and the demands on the teachers’ time were enormous. It was a lesson where many students would have benefitted from guidance, described by Kuhlthau (2004) as a “zone of intervention, in which a student can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or do only with great difficulty”.
I was quite concerned about the demands that were being placed on this teacher, particularly given that she was both the library and science specialist in a small school who also took on a number of other leadership roles. Considering that all the research underpins collaboration (Kuhlthau et.al, 2007; Quigley, Marshall, Deaton & Cook, 2011; Donham 2010) and the use of an instructional team (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007) as essential for the success of an Inquiry Learning project I thought it was important that she was supported throughout the process. To help address this issue I scheduled my next observations to coincide with the periods of intensive group work so I could both assist and observe on the same day and there was also a fourth year student teacher who was on prac for four weeks who was assigned to the class. Although this was not an ideal collaboration (as will be discussed further in the blog post, Recommendations for Future Practice) it did improve the instructional climate for students. The teacher also found benefit in being able to discuss and share ideas and creatively plan and solve problems.
Donham, J (2010) Deep Learning Through Concept- Based Inquiry. School Library Monthly 27 (1) Retrieved September 5, 2012 from http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/articles/Donham2010-v27n1p8.html
Kuhlthau, C. (2004) Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. (2nd ed.), Electronic Library,
Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. And Caspari, A. (2007) Guided Inquiry: learning in the 21st century school. Westport: Greenwood
Inquiry Teaching and Suggestions for How to Meet Them Science Educator; 20 (1) 55-61 Retrieved August 12, 2012 from http://www.eric.ed.gov.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ940939