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  • Writer's pictureNoni Harrison

Guided Inquiry Design

Updated: May 8

Information literacy models provide a framework with which to undertake an inquiry process. Of particular interest is the Guided Inquiry Design process, which is a constructivist approach that allows inquiry teams to develop and use frameworks that support effective student exploration and learning. The skills developed as part of a Guided Inquiry approach align with key thinking and social skills that students need to work as part of dynamic teams and in changing information environments. There is a need for schools to provide a consistent process to scaffold inquiry learning so as to offer students valuable learning experiences and meet the requirements of the Australian Curriculum. While there may be some barriers in implementing a whole-school approach to inquiry, the benefits certainly seem to outweigh the challenges.

The Guided Inquiry Design process was chosen to develop my Year 8 English unit, as it allows a variety of learnings to take place in authentic ways. Firstly, Guided Inquiry enhances curriculum content, information literacy, literacy competence, social skills and metacognitive practices. Through these experiences, students connect their world to the curriculum in, what Kuhlthau, Manitoes and Caspari (2012) call, the “third space” (p. 31-35). As Cooper (2014) identifies that this provides real-world relevance to the curriculum, which ultimately enhances student motivation to learn and deepens their understanding. The Year 8 English Unit I developed for Assessment Item 3, connects elements of the students’ world (health of the school community and surrounding environment) to the Cross-Curriculum Priority of Sustainability and the processes of inquiry. As this is a relevant unit of work for these students, it has the potential to encourage deep thinking and meaningful understanding of the topic (Maniotes & Kuhlthau, 2014). A key benefit of Guided Inquiry is that it provides students with ownership over their learning; whereby they are able to ask real questions about relevant issues. By providing choice and support throughout the process, students are encouraged to delve deeper into topics and develop inquiry and information literacy skills needed for the 21st century.

Guided Inquiry also builds key social skills including communication and collaboration with others, which are crucial for lifelong learning (Australian Library and Information Association & Australian School Library Association, 2009). These social skills are embedded in the Year 8 English unit through the use of Literacy Circles, Expert Jigsaws, Four Corners and other cooperative learning opportunities. The value of this is supported by Cooper (2014), as she states Guided Inquiry not only develops higher-order thinking skills but also “stresses 21st-century competencies by requiring students to communicate their understandings by collaborating, sharing, and reflecting” (p. 18). Additionally, Kuhlthau, Manitoes and Caspari (2007), deduce that an inquiry approach to learning equips students with strategies needed to work to their full potential (p. 46). It is apparent that schools of the 21st century need consistent learning approaches to prepare students for a world which requires complex thinking, effective communication and adaptable and transferable problem-solving skills.

Guided Inquiry not only supports a student-centred approach to learning, it also assists in meeting the Australian Curriculum requirements. Guided Inquiry can help schools build units of work that cross curriculum areas and promote the inquiry skills which underpin the curriculum. Lupton (2012) highlights the usefulness of integrating an inquiry model, as it can unite the strands across the curriculum (p. 12). Similarly, Nayler (2014) defines this as purposefully connected curriculum, which links content descriptions from up to three learning areas. A number of ELT401 students commented on the challenge of time when adopting an inquiry process (Dunn, 2017; Ellevsen, 2017; McKenzie, 2017). However, as I mentioned in Forum 5.3_2, an inquiry process enables students to explore a range of information and address a range of content descriptions concurrently; therefore, alleviating some time pressures within the curriculum (Harrison, 2017). Rohdes (2017) also mentioned, in Forum 5.3_1, an inquiry approach gives teachers the opportunity to work collaboratively across the curriculum and “bridge the gap”. Despite the absence of an explicit inquiry process in the Australian Curriculum, the opportunity exists for schools to adopt a process that links the curriculum requirements with the school context and needs of the students (Fitzgerald, 2015).

Insufficient access to computers and the barriers this might present when embedding an inquiry model however, this also provides an opportunity to go beyond the classroom and explore information in less ridged ways. As Kuhlthau, Manitoes and Caspari (2007) posit, teachers often fall back into old ways of teaching that were once designed to produce labourers rather than critical thinkers (p. 46). Guided Inquiry is a flexible framework; therefore, students need not rely solely on computers to conduct meaningful inquiry. Students can explore information through excursions, discussions, surveys, or exploring their school environment. Cooper (2014) corroborates this as she explains that Guided Inquiry offers strategies to navigate information “in ways that older teaching methods cannot” (p. 18). Ultimately, the Guided Inquiry Design framework supports student development and flexible, real-world learning experiences.

To address the demands of the current information landscape and the needs of the Australian Curriculum, schools would benefit from implementing a school-wide inquiry process. Guided Inquiry provides students with a flexible process with which to explore relevant and meaningful topics and develop skills needed to successfully navigate the world of information. Additionally, an inquiry approach such as this allows schools to develop programs that meet the needs of students and curriculum.


Australian Library and Information Association and Australian School Library Association. (2009). ALIA/ASLA policy on guided inquiry and the curriculum. Retrieved from

Booth, N. (2017, May 2). Forum 5.3_2 Guided Inquiry [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Carlier, R. (2017, May 6). Forum 5.3_1 Lupton and Bonanno’s analyses [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Cooper, J. (2014). Guided Inquiry by design: The story of student learning. School Library Monthly, 30(4), 18-20. Retrieved from

Dunn, M. (2017, May 13). Forum 5.3_2 Guided Inquiry [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Ellevsen, C. (2017, April 30). Forum 5.3_2 Guided Inquiry [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Fitzgerald, L. (2015). Opportunity knocks: The Australian curriculum and guided inquiry. Access, 29(2), 4-17. Retrieved from

Harrison, N. (2017, May 20). Forum 5.3_2 Guided Inquiry [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Lupton, M. (2012). Inquiry skills in the Australian curriculum. Access, 26(2), 12-18. Retrieved from

Maniotes, L. K., & Kuhlthau, C. C. (2014). Making the shift. Knowledge Quest, 43(2), 8-17. Retrieved from

McKenzie, L. (2017, May 13). Forum 5.3_2 Guided Inquiry [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Nayler, J. (2014). Enacting the Australian Curriculum: Making connections for quality learning. QSA Issues paper. Retrieved from

Rohdes, L. (2017, May 1). Forum 5.3_1 Lupton and Bonanno’s analyses [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Styan, H. (2017, May 2). Forum 5.3_1 Lupton and Bonanno’s analyses [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

#Informationliteracy #Fitzgerald #English #Lupton #Kuhlthau #GuidedInquiry #Unitofwork #Nayler

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