Forum 4.1 Information Literacy and Guided Inquiry

My understanding of an information literate person is one who uses information effectively to learn, create new knowledge, solve problems and make decisions. They understand economic, legal, social, political and cultural issues in the use of information and can access and use information ethically and legally. They successfully use information and knowledge to demonstrate citizenship and social responsibility, and experience information literacy as part of independent learning and lifelong learning.

Langford (1998, p. 59), queries whether information literacy is a concept or a process, or a new literacy that has been transformed from existing literacies to complement emerging technology skills.  Abilock (2004, p. 1) took a wider view of information literacy, arguing that it is a transformational process in which the learner needs to find, understand, evaluate, and use information in various forms for personal, social or global purposes. I tend to agree with him. This is my understanding of information literacy as a teacher; with improved access and availability to information from a wide range of sources, information literacy becomes a flexible concept that changes criteria to satisfy the needs of the community.

While acknowledging that affective feelings impact on students abilities to research topics successfully (Kuhlthau’s ISP model, 2004, p. 13), I consider the PLUS model from the UK as the most efficient and effective for general use by teacher librarians (Purpose, Location,  Use  and  Self-evaluation).  After taking into consideration all the other information literacy models, the PLUS model (Herring, 2006, p. 3) can be used or adapted to suit the individual learning styles for all students, which is the ultimate aim of all teacher librarians when assisting students with their research needs. Teacher librarians have specific knowledge of the individual learning styles of all their students and can adapt to their needs accordingly, whilst bearing in mind the various affective stages the students are experiencing and at what level of independent learning or self direction. The ultimate goal being, that learners become information literate, self-directed and independent learners.

Using the PLUS model as an information skills scaffold or support for students, will successfully improve students’ planning, researching, reading for information, note taking and structuring of written assignments (Herring, 2006, p. 3). Kuhlthau’s ISP model relies on a team of teachers and teacher librarian to plan, implement, observe/monitor and assess student’s research skills and emotions as an indicator of their independent learning and ICT skills. Where as the PLUS model also provides a process for students to follow to achieve successful independent learning, but with guidance and advice from one or more teachers, not necessarily a balanced team of experts which some schools may struggle to provide due to time constraints or work loads.

Guided inquiry has recently emerged as an instructional framework to support students’ newly acquired information/knowledge. Guided inquiry offers “an integrated unit of inquiry planned and guided by an instructional team of a school librarian and teachers, together allowing students to gain deeper understandings of subject area curriculum content and information literacy concepts” (Kuhlthau, Caspari, & Maniotes, 2007, p. 1). Through every inquiry, students accomplish five interwoven, integrated kinds of learning: curriculum content, information literacy, learning how to learn, literacy competence, and social skills. Guided lnquiry places great importance on initially building students’ background knowledge before introducing students to the research task. This development of background knowledge provides students with a strong grounding for their research task.


  • All students receive a guided program to assist them to achieve successful independent learning and the development of information literacy and digital technology skills.
  • Providing targeted intervention in each stage of the inquiry process deepens students’ learning experiences.
  • Through every inquiry, students accomplish five interwoven, integrated kinds of learning: curriculum content, information literacy, learning how to learn, literacy competence, and social skills.
  •  Teams working together provide the additional guidance and support needed to teach and assess all five kinds of learning. Targeting a specific, related aspect of the resources through a staff expert is an effective extension of the team.


  • As the implementation of learning through inquiry is complex and multi-faceted, it takes a team to plan, teach and assess, which puts pressure on teachers who are already experiencing time-constraints and heavy workloads.
  • As a collaborative exercise between all relevant teacher’s, its success is dependant on a team of educator’s each responsible for one specific area, but if one of the team isn’t fulfilling their particular role for any reason, the process becomes vulnerable and less effective.
  • Most research was based at secondary level where students demonstrated successful implementation of Guided Inquiry process and with more teachers involved as a team. Primary school students would be less likely to have the same level of independent learning and evaluation skills and teacher student ratio necessary for successful research tasks.


  • The challenge of using guided inquiry is to take learning to a higher level—to raise the bar as well as facilitate the sharing of experiences, successes, and obstacles along the way.
  • For research to be effective, it is important for teachers to constantly observe and monitor the students’ learning, so that students experiencing difficulties could then be supported and issues can be addressed as they arose. One hundred percent monitoring is not always possible by the teachers due to unforseen circumstances, and sometimes students can disappear ‘under the radar’ and miss out on assistance or support.


Abilock, D. (2004). Information literacy: an overview of design, process and outcomes.

Herring, J. (2006). A critical investigation of students’ and teachers’ views of the use of information literacy skills in school assignmentsSchool Library Media Research, 9.

Kuhlthau, C.C. (2004). Learning as a process, in Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services, Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, p. 13.

Kuhlthau, C.C, Maniotes, L.K., & Caspari, A.K. (2012). Chapter 2 – The research behind the design, in Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, p. 1.

Langford, L. (1998). Information literacy: a clarification. School Libraries Worldwide, Volume 4, (1), 59-72.


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