Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

An Inquiry-Based Approach to Library Instruction

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

An Inquiry-Based Approach to Library Instruction

Article excerpt

The work described in this article was founded on a philosophy that foregrounds the importance of students developing their own inquiry questions as an essential precursor to learning the complex skills of accessing, reading, and writing information texts. In the article, I outline how such an inquiry question was used to focus the work of 6-yearold students, involving them in the use and development of a variety of library and study skills. I refer to these students as "young inquirers" and show haw with the support of their teacher, they were able to approach their inquiry with an actively questioning mindset that led them to some often surprising insights into the process of finding and using information.


Amy and Kelly are two 6-year-olds who work in a pleasant open-plan classroom that borders on a central school courtyard. Their grade 1 class is responsible for the upkeep of the flower beds in the courtyard, and some of the students attend a weekly after-school gardening club run by parent helpers. It is June, and the school has decided to spend some money on hanging baskets for the courtyard. The students are keen to discuss the contents of these baskets, and because of this keenness, their teacher Mrs. Cox decides to involve them in deciding which plants should be purchased. Later they will visit the local garden center to purchase their chosen plants, but before that, in discussion with their teacher, the students realize that only certain plants will be suitable and that in order to plan successful baskets, they will have to find some information.

I followed the work of these students as they:

* set clear purposes for their work,

*drew up a framework for recording information,

* located information in a range of reference materials,

* collaboratively constructed their understanding of the information they located,

* made their recommendations for the purchase of plants, and

* were empowered by the knowledge they had constructed.

This article is an account of the work of this class of students and an illustration of the power of an inquiry approach to students' learning, especially learning the skills involved in effective use of books. I also explore the role of the teacher in such an activity. How can a teacher support the learning and intervene at appropriate points to take it just that bit further?

A Framework for the Research

The work described here was carried out under the auspices of a curriculum development project (the EXEL-Extending Literacy project) that focused on students' interactions with text, especially nonfiction texts, as a key medium for their learning in a range of content areas (an account of some of the early work of the EXEL project can be found in Wray & Lewis, 1997, and some more recent work is described in Wray, 2004). The original concern was that nonfiction text had been relatively neglected as a resource for learning, and the focus of most elementary schoolteachers was on children learning to read rather than reading to learn. Such a concern was not new. Almost 20 years earlier, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of schools (HMI) had found "little evidence that more advanced reading skills were being taught" (Department for Education and Skills [DES], 1978, para 5.30). The DES (1989) report on reading policy and practice commented, "Schools saw it as an important obligation to help pupils master the complexities of advanced reading, but while they saw it as their duty, few gave coherent accounts of what these skills were and how they were to be developed" (para 36). By 1995, HMI were describing good practice in teaching reading as producing elementary school students of whom they could say, "The variety of their reading increases, they talk about it in structured ways and use reading regularly for an increasing range of purposes such as information seeking" (Office for Standards in Education [OFSTED], 1995, p. …

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