Two helpful resources in understanding the principles of Guided Inquiry (GI) are Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (2007) and Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School (2012) by Carol Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari. Through years of research and professional practice, this team of researchers and educators demonstrates how GI “is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic, or issue” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). Students construct new knowledge actively and strive for deep understanding. Gone are the days of just gathering information for presentation, or copying and pasting information as ways of learning. GI requires thorough interpretation, analysis, reflection, and synthesis to handle the complexities and nuances of various topics. The process increases student engagement and invites students to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them. As a result, students take on more independence and more responsibility since they are constructing their own paths for learning.
As Meg and Cathy refined and implemented the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) in their classes, Heather and I shared with them all that we were learning about GI through our work and research in the library and information science field. The connection was a natural one.
Already embedded in the ILP were many of the skills and principles of Guided Inquiry. For example, the following five kinds of learning are integral to both the GI process and the ILP: information literacy, learning how to learn, curriculum content, literacy competence, and social skills (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). Throughout the ILP, students practice information and literacy skills while engaging with subject area material. Students are often collaborating, moving through the stages of the Information Search Process (ISP), and meta cognitively reflecting on their process of learning.
One of the most crucial components of GI is the concept of “third space.” In the Guided Inquiry Design Process, first space is described as the students’ world while second space is the school’s curriculum. Like a Venn Diagram, third space is created when the first two spaces meet and overlap; this is where “students use their knowledge of the world to leverage the content of the curriculum into new understandings of their lives” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012). In the ILP, third space is initiated when students generate their own questions as lenses to approach texts they are reading or information they seek.
The ILP is an organizational tool that captures students’ growth in learning. Beginning with standards, divergent questions, and curious exploration, students chart their learning on the ILP, completing activities and reflections that enable them to connect curriculum content to the world in which they live. At the end of a unit, students learn much more than just the content of the discipline they are studying; they learn how to research, refine literacy skills, think critically, make thoughtful decisions, search for and evaluate information, and reflect personally on their growth as learners.