This unit is an inquiry unit of work intended for a Year 3 class, following the Australian Curriculum for History and English. It extends for a period of 6 weeks and includes the involvement of the class teacher, school librarian and support officers. The unit covers an investigation into the history of the local area of the school, and the creation of a piece of information text to communicate the findings.
As this unit comes towards the end of the year, it encompasses much of the HASS and English Achievement Standards. The researching and writing phases of the process means that both the Receptive and Productive modes in English are being utilised, and the skills-based nature of the task means that both Skills and Knowledge & Understanding in History are covered. The main History goal of the unit is to “identify individuals, events and aspects of the past that have significance in the present” and “identify and describe aspects of their community that have changed and remained the same over time.” It builds on prior understandings from Year 2, when students described “a person, site and/or event of significance in the local community”, and works towards Year 4 curriculum, where students begin to consider how events bring about change and why aspects of the past change. The unit also covers some of the ICT and Creative General Capabilities. Specific curriculum links are referenced in the unit plan.
The students in this class have had many experiences with structured inquiry through the use of Primary Connections units, and earlier in the year used books and other physical sources to find information about Australia in Geography. As such, this inquiry unit has been designed as a guided inquiry, with structured elements, to encourage the students towards more independent inquiry processes. In this unit, the overarching topic, research method, evaluation of sources, communication of findings and audience, has mostly been determined by the teacher. The students are required to formulate their own inquiry questions for research and it is expected that there is some innovation with the format of findings.
The unit utilises Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry design as its framework. Guided Inquiry is a research based approach which helps to support students to construct “personal knowledge while using a wide range of sources of information” and creatively share “their learning with their fellow students in an inquiry community” (Kuhlthau et al. 2017). Kulthau’s Guided Inquiry employs a team teaching approach, utilising the expertise of teachers, school librarians, specialist teachers and other experts as they collaborate to design and implement teaching and learning experiences for students.
Kuhlthau’s Guided Inquiry process involves 8 stages of working; open, immerse, explore, identify, gather, create, share and evaluate. The 8 stages are detailed below, in regards to the content of the unit plan, and theoretical concepts such as Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process, types of questions and Lupton’s GeSTE windows for critical evaluation.
This phase is designed to capture students’ attention and help them “make connections with their world outside school” (Kuhlthau, 2017). In this phase the students are inspired by the topic and introduced to the unit’s essential question: “How has our community changed? What features have been lost and what features have been retained?”
The essential question, chosen by the teacher, points to the big concepts in a curriculum area and “helps students make sense of important but complicated ideas” (Wiggins, 2017). It sparks discussion and idea formation in the context of the History curriculum. As the students consider the essential question and begin to comprehend the complexity of it, they enter the Initiation stage of the Information Search Process (Kuhlthau, 2004). They experience feelings of uncertainty about their role in the process and vague understandings of the topic. Kuhlthau suggests that it is necessary for students to communicate their initial understandings and questions with their peers as it begins their thought process and helps to break them through these feelings of uncertainty. The students do this in the Open stage by participating in class discussions about the history of Brisbane and the local area.
In the second stage, students “build background knowledge together through an immersion experience”(Kuhlthau, 2017). This is achieved in the unit through field trips, exposure to historical photos and general interviews with members of the local area who can share some of their memories. Students make observations on these materials and write wonder statements. As they begin to think more deeply about the topic, they identify areas of interest. The students select a historical photo that they wish to explore further and write some “wonder” statements inspired by the photo. The teacher’s role in this stage is to support the students to engage with the primary source and to assist the students in generating initial search questions through the Question Formulation Technique.
At this point the information gained is still very vague. Students are yet to form final inquiry questions, and may feel optimistic that their “wonder” statements and intial search questions are answered accurately and easily, as in the Selection stage of the ISP (Kuhlthau, 2004), because they haven’t yet experienced the information “out there”.
In these first two phases, students ask process questions to determine their interest:
In this stage students begin their searching for information through scaffolded search strategies in a limited and set range of texts. This is an opportunity for the teacher to demonstrate credibility checks of sources, as in later phases students will have to judge the credibility of different sources themselves.
Students view information as external, objective and codified, and are supported through the stages of the research process to find it. As they realise that their questions will not be easily answered, and that the information is fragmented or incomplete, they begin to feel frustration and doubt. Teacher support is essential in this phase as students need “support, structure, and strategies for learning from different sources of information to assimilate new ideas and form a focussed question” (Kuhlthau et al, 2017).
Students are led to generate new questions as the knowledge they build challenge previous assumptions of their understanding of the topic and leads to new ideas (Hung & Popp, 2009). Teachers support this process by encourage students to “speculate about each source, its creator and its context”.
In this stage, students ask the following process questions:
In this phase, students finally have a broad enough understanding of the topic to form their own inquiry question. Teachers support students to generate inquiry questions by helping them to consider;
“What do I want to know about this topic? What do I need to know? What do I know already and how do I know it? What might a possible answer be?” (YouthLearn). At this point, students have built an awareness of the available information and are able to focus their learnings into answerable inquiry questions. Students begin to feel clarity, increased interest and focus (Kuhlthau, 2004).
The following process questions are asked.
Students then move on to the “gather” phase, where they are finally able to gather deep and broad information about their topic to answer their inquiry question (Kuhlthau et.al, 2017). They use their background knowledge and learned search techniques to find pertinent and detailed information. Students will be experiencing an increase interest and sense of direction and confidence (Kuhlthau et al, 2017). In this phase, students will move on to critically evaluating sources using a checklist as they begin to select their own sources for use.
Students may use the following process questions:
In the create phase, students have collected all their information and begin to consider how they can communicate their learning. In this unit, the teacher has already decided on how the information will be presented, and the teacher librarian steps in to give examples of how non-fiction books are structured, and what elements they include. The class teacher takes on the role of teaching students how to construct a good piece of information text, including all paragraphing conventions, in small group working sessions. The students collaborate to ensure a universal design in their information book pages. Students evaluate information about how texts are constructed through the “Transformative” window (Lupton, 2016), reflecting on what role their information book has to play in educating students in their school about their local area and inspiring them to learn more, and considering what text features, information and views to include in order to do this. Students feel a sense of satisfaction at this point, as they reflect on what they have learned and created (Kuhlthau, 2004).
Students may think about:
In the share phase, students have “the opportunity and the responsibility to share their insights with their fellow students and communicate their learning to others” (Kuhlthau et al, 2017) through compiling their book pages and presented their page to the class. This takes the form of collaborative learning, where students teach each other and come to have a full understanding of the history of the local area in regards to their own.
Finally, students evaluate their work by reflecting on their experiences with the inquiry process and the content they have learnt, in order to “establish good habits and competencies for learning and literacy”(Kuhlthau et al, 2017).
In these last two stages, students may think about
Lupton’s GeSTE windows
The unit plan includes different ways of viewing information literacy, as set out by Lupton’s GeSTE windows. The graphic below shows how these aspects come in to play.
Image created by author.
The unit allows for movement through the different levels of blooms taxonomy. At the beginning of the unit, where primary sources are being examined and initial research is conducted, the students operate within the Remember and Understand stages. However, as the research process continues, students begin to employ more complex higher order thinking skills. The table below demonstrates how these stages are targeted through the inquiry. Not all students will be able to fully across all the stages.
|Remembering||Students recall facts they have learned.|
|Understanding||Students construct meaning from text and graphic sources.|
|Applying||Students use knowledge learned from previous searches to inform their next searchable question.|
|Analyzing||Students differentiate between different subtopics across different texts, and can recognise when one texts adds information to another. They compile notes across different sources that complement eachother.|
|Evaluate||Students know when information is irrelevant to the central purpose of their page and can justify their choices in including or leaving out information.|
|Create||Students search for, select, summarize, edit and rearrange information to create a book page. Their selection of information, graphics and text type elements is deliberate and linked and gives an overall explanation of the “aspect of the past” which has been reworded to make sense to the target audience. They have actively chosen what information to leave in and out from a number of sources and base their decisions on how best to support the reader.
Students who create their book page without this level of understanding may be operating at a lower order thinking phase, where they merely replicate facts from one or few sources.
Banner image from Pixabay, 2014.