Learning Theories: Guided Inquiry



Kuhlthau, C. C. (2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 1-12. Retrieved from http://wp.comminfo.rutgers.edu/ckuhlthau2/wp-content/uploads/sites/185/2016/02/GI-School-Librarians-in-the-21-Century.pdf


School libraries are essential for transforming schools into 21st century learning environments. Although the Internet, mobile devices, and Web 2.0 tools have changed our lives for the better, there are negative aspects as well. It is hard to tell the difference between good and bad information and between what is quick-lived and what is long-lasting, and choices made can have a long-lasting impact on every aspect of our lives. It is not enough to teach students how to use information technology tools; they must be able to use them in creative and meaningful ways.

Because technology is always changing, teaching students to use the latest technology is counter-productive. Guided inquiry is a research approach to learning that enables students to use various sources of information to gain a sense of understanding and perspective that can be used in an ever-changing technological world. This is not something that teachers can achieve on their own; school libraries must become guided inquiry learning centers with school librarians working as primary agents, collaborating with teachers to teach students how to find, evaluate, and use information in meaningful ways.

Guided inquiry’s foundation is constructivism, and it is planned and applied intervention through the Information Search Process, or ISP. The ISP consists of six stages of inquiry: initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation. Without guidance, students will focus only on collection and presentation and will acquire little knowledge in the process. Teachers and librarians must monitor students’ feelings throughout the process and must ensure that guided inquiry connects to their world to maximize motivation.

Guided inquiry requires a flexible team approach that utilizes school and community resources. At minimum, a guided inquiry team should include a teacher and a librarian. Assessment is an ongoing process as students progress through the inquiry process, and there is a SLIM Student Learning Inquiry Measure for this purpose.

There are five kinds of learning accomplished through guided inquiry: information literacy, learning how to learn, curriculum content, literacy competence, and social skills. This makes learning through guided inquiry an extremely efficient method of learning. To start implementing the change, it is important to have some teacher and administrator support, a plan of action, and a support system for sharing both problems and success stories.


Guided inquiry learning is an effective way to prepare students for the modern world, in which technology changes constantly and information is everywhere. Students must be able to take information and use it in creative and meaningful ways, and inquiry teaches them how to do that. School librarians must be an active part of guided inquiry and must collaborate with teachers throughout the process. This article is a great overview of what guided inquiry is and how to implement it, and it would be something a school librarian could show to school administrators and teachers to build support for change.


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