I’ve been exploring Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspiri’s Guided Inquiry model for some time now.  (read Guided Inquiry and Guided Inquiry Design) For the most part, this has involved reading a number of articles and books but, of late, has involved working with a class of willing and knowing “guinea pigs” to take the model out for a test spin.  We are currently about half way through the process and I have a number of thoughts and observations that will be of use to me in future articulations of this model.

First, something very brief about the model.  The Guided Inquiry (GI) model, as described by Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspiri is an 8-step process that takes a student or a group of students from initial exposure to a broad concept to the evaluation of the product of a deep path of inquiry.  I have been aware of the model for some time, but have avoided exploring it too much partly because it seems to be the most extensive inquiry model I’ve seen (four or five phases of inquiry seem to be the norm) and, to be frank, the emphasis on feelings in the original research around this model seemed a bit “touchy-feely” to me.  After all, research is serious business.  There’s no room for emotions, right?

As I’ve explored the model, perhaps that most appealing part of the model is the idea that focus on the actual research question doesn’t occur until about half-way through the process.  The group that I’m working with is dealing with our Provincial Social Studies 10 curriculum and looking at immigration.  Immigration to Canada involves the ideas of Canadian identity, push and pull factors as particular cultural groups decide to move from their country of origin to Canada and what impact these waves of immigration have on Canadian society as a whole.  We started this process with the “Open” phase of GI, that is intended to peak students’ interests and get them to explore the topic in as broad a manner as possible. We watched 2 very short videos, the I am Canadian Molson Canadian beer commercial from a number of years back and the Shane Koyczan piece, We Are More, that he opened the 2010 Olympics with.  This sparked discussion, in small and large groups, about how we define the idea of being Canadian.  This discussion was fascinating as it raised a number of different perspectives on how we define someone as being Canadian and started to uncover some tensions around the relationship between Canadians and non-Canadians.  Each student then wrote their first entry in their Inquiry Journal/Blog reflecting on this discussion.  This provided a great jumping off point for the rest of our inquiry and started to create a key element of GI, which is the idea of third space.  That is the connection between what is relevant in the student’s world and what is important in the curriculum/class/school.  The overlap between school curriculum and personal relevance is the sweet spot where meaning emerges in learning.

The next two phases of GI are Immerse and Explore.  These two pieces are key and the phases that I think are missing from 99% of all research projects that I see coming through my Learning Commons.  Too often, a student is given a very specific research topic that they don’t connect with or a very broad topic with the requirement that they need to come up with a driving question or thesis statement by the end of class.  At the end of the research process, the teachers complain about poor writing, copy and pasting or the extensive use of shallow, low-quality information sources.  The reality is, that the students haven’t had the opportunity to develop any real understanding of the topic before they come to a point of focusing their research question.  They are left exploring Wikipedia when they should be gathering specific, high quality documents to support a clearly articulated research focus.  How can they do anything else, when they really don’t know what it is that they are researching?  Immerse and Explore give them the time to get a broad understanding of the surface concept required to truly be able to develop and interest in and ability to delve into a specific deeper area.  This Immerse and Explore phase is also the area that addresses the fear that many teachers have about time spent on personalized inquiry.  Will they have enough of an understanding of the broader issues to truly understand the curriculum (and pass the Provincial Exam)?

I love the word chosen for the next phase.  Identify isn’t about focusing a single idea that may have occurred to a student at some point in reading.  It is about working with a myriad of questions, organizing them, categorizing them, extending specific questions, wrapping others inside larger ones.  It is about having many questions and ideas and identifying that path of inquiry that has the most personal relevance, addresses the requirements of the assignment and is appropriate to the resources available and the time allotted.  It is here that we first begin to talk about what the actual assignment is.  I love the idea that up until this point, we don’t care how the student’s research will be reported back in final form (there are a number of formative assessment pieces including Inquiry Journals and Inquiry Logs along the way).  We care about the research itself and following up with the questions that the students have without clouding it with ideas of marks and requirements.  If the Open, Immerse, and Explore phases have been done well, the students really are caught up in their interest in their topic and also care less about the final product.

We are now working through the Identify stage.  We had allotted one class per phase and I am realizing that this is not enough.  Maybe it would be if our teacher team was larger and we could spend more time individually with each student.  Maybe it would be if I and my teaching partner on this unit had more experience with the model and knew to anticipate issues better and help the students through the more vague states of their exploration.  The value that I’m seeing in this GI model, and this seems that the students are echoing this as well, is that the Immerse and Explore phase is exciting for them as they get to truly dig in to ideas and questions that have meaning to them.  They are given the opportunity to play with ideas for the sake of playing with them and without having the dark cloud of marks over their heads.  I can only assume that one of the hardest things about GI design is getting that balance right between free, passion based exploration of ideas and meeting curricular and scheduling demands.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around how you get a class of 20 kids to run fairly parallel on, essentially, 20 independent but related research topics.

I am looking forward to seeing how this all wraps up.  I have the exciting opportunity to meet with Leslie Maniotes at a couple of schools in the Boston area in a couple of weeks to see how these schools are implementing the model and to talk to teachers and students about their feelings about the model.  I suspect that a number of my questions will be answered on that trip and that I will return with many more.  But I guess that’s my Guided Inquiry project!

4 thoughts on “Guided Inquiry – a Midpoint Reflection

  1. It has been fantastic working with Marc on this Guided Inquiry model (I am the teacher he is working with). What I have loved so much about it is the Immerse and Explore phases. So often we tell students to choose ideas that they are passionate about…but what if this doesn’t come naturally for students? They choose what others choose, what they think will be easiest, etc. To give students the TIME to truly immerse themselves in a subject area and continually build their own self-awareness to when they feel a spark of interest and curiosity feels very important. For some, this is more of a challenge than for others. I also love how it teaches students to be open despite uncertainty.

  2. What a great post! Some librarians in my district are implementing this model and discovering the power of the open, immerse and explore phases. I hope you’ll post again when you finish the unit.

    1. Thanks, Dee Dee! I agree, the open, the mercy, and explore phases are very powerful. I’m curious, did your students struggle with the identify stage if the first three stages were effective in expanding their thinking? I’ll be sure to follow up in my blog on this project. Thanks for reading!

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