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Information Search Process & Guided Inquiry

What is Guided Inquiry?

Guided Inquiry is carefully planned, closely supervised targeted interventions of an instructional team of school librarians and teachers to guide students through curriculum based inquiry units that build deep knowledge and deep understanding of a curriculum topic, and gradually lead towards independent learning. It is grounded in a constructivist approach to learning, based on the Information Search Process developed by Professor Emerita Carol C. Kuhlthau's extensive research over a twenty year period. (Dr. Ross Todd)

Guided Inquiry Design Framework

The information on each of the phases are taken directly from the book Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School.

Invitation to Inquiry
Open Minds
Stimulate Curiosity

Open is the invitation to inquiry at the beginning of the inquiry process.  It is a distinct and important phase of the process that sets the tone and direction of the inquiry.  Once the learning team has decided on the learning goals, they need to create a powerful opener that invites the learners in and introduces the general topic to engage all of the students. The main goal is to open students’ minds and stimulate curiosity and inspire them to want to pursue the inquiry.  The opener is designed to spark conversations and stimulate students to think about the overall content of the inquiry and to connect with what they already know from their experience and personal knowledge.  It sets the stage for learning.

Build background knowledge 
Connect to content
Discover interesting ideas

In the Immerse phase, the students build background knowledge together through an immersion experience.  The learning team designs engaging ways for students to immerse in the overall ideas of the curriculum area under study, for example reading a book, story, or article together; viewing a video; or visiting a museum, a field site, or an expert. The main task of Immerse is to guide students to connect with the overall content and to discover interesting ideas that they want to explore further. As they build background knowledge together, each student reflects on ideas that matter to him or her and are worth further reading and investigation.

Explore interesting ideas 
Look around 
Dip in

In the Explore phase of Guided Inquiry, students browse through various sources of information exploring interesting ideas to prepare to develop their inquiry question. The learning team guides students to apply the reading strategies of browsing and scanning a variety of sources.  Students dip into a few texts to read lightly in order to make sense of the information they find and to raise lots of questions.  “Dipping in” is a reading strategy that enables students to go further into interesting ideas without becoming overwhelmed by a multitude of specific facts. Students can easily become overwhelmed by all the information and confused by facts that don’t fit together.  The learning team guides them to keep an open mind as they explore and reflect on new information they are encountering and to begin to find questions that seem particularly important to them. Guiding students through the Explore phase leads them to form a meaningful inquiry question.

Pause and ponder
Identify inquiry question
Decide direction

In the Identify phase learners pause in the inquiry process to develop a meaningful inquiry question and form a focus.  In Guided Inquiry they have had lots of preparation for this phase.  Students are ready to identify an important question for their inquiry because of the time they have spent immersing and exploring to build enough background knowledge to ask meaningful questions. The main task of the Identify phase is to construct an inquiry question from the interesting ideas, pressing problems and emerging themes they have explored in various sources of information.  The team introduces strategies that enable each student to think through information and ideas to clearly articulate a focused question that will frame the rest of their inquiry.



Gather important information
Go broad
Go deep

A clearly articulated question gives direction for the Gather phase.  Gather sessions are designed to help students collect detailed information from a variety of sources. In this way they are learning to determine importance in what they are concentrating on in their reading, listening and observing. The learning team guides students in locating, evaluating and using information that leads to deep learning. The main task of the Gather phase is for students to choose what is personally meaningful and compelling about their inquiry question in the information sources they find and reflect upon. The learning team guides students in a structured approach for managing their search and documenting what they are learning.  First students “go broad” to find a range of sources that are useful for understanding their inquiry question.  Next students  “go deep,” by choosing a core of the most useful sources to read closely and reflect with sustained attention as they find connections and gain personal understanding.

Reflect on learning
Go beyond facts to make meaning
Create to communicate

After students have thoughtfully gathered enough information to construct their own understandings of their inquiry question, they are ready to organize their learning into a creative presentation during the Create phase.  Creating a way to communicate what they have learned about their inquiry requires students to articulate what is most important about their subject and enables them to integrate their ideas more firmly into deep understanding.  The learning team guides students to go beyond simple fact finding and reporting and to summarize, interpret and extend the meaning of what they have found and create a way to share what they have learned. Create sessions are designed to guide students to reflect on all they have learned about their inquiry question and decide what type of presentation will best represent their ideas for a particular audience.  The learning team guides students in creating a meaningful, interesting, clearly articulated, well-documented presentation that tells the story of what they have learned.

Learn from each other
Share learning
Tell your story

Share is the culminating phase in the inquiry process when students share the product they have created to show what they have learned.  Students have become experts on the question for their inquiry community.  They now have the opportunity and responsibility to share their insights with their fellow students and communicate their learning to others.  Their inquiry products may be shared with a wider audience, such as their parents or another group of students in their school or in another school, perhaps online. An important component of Guided Inquiry is the collaborative learning that takes place when students share what they have learned in the inquiry process. 

Evaluate achievement of learning goals
Reflect on content
Reflect on process

The Evaluate phase, which occurs at the close of the inquiry process, is an integral part of Guided Inquiry.  Although Guided Inquiry incorporates assessment for determining student progress throughout all of the phases of the inquiry process, evaluation occurs at the end when the learning team evaluates students’ achievement of the learning goals. In addition, the learning team guides students in reflection for self-assessment of their content learning and their progress through the inquiry process.  Students’ self-reflection takes place while the entire process is fresh in their minds to reinforce content learning and establish good habits and competencies for learning and literacy.

What is third space?

If we think of the student’s world outside of school and the student‘s cumulative knowledge and experience as first space and we think of the curriculum as second space, the question arises of how to make these two very separate spaces intersect. When first space and second space overlap third space is created. Third space is where the most meaningful, lasting learning takes place.

The teacher’s main challenge is to create third space as often as possible. Inquiry provides the opportunity to create third space and Guided Inquiry enables students to make their own connections within the inquiry process that motivates learning and builds ownership and expertise. 

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