More from Down Under – a little research

Does Guided Inquiry enhance learning and metacognition?

In 2014, I moved from being Head Teacher Librarian at Loreto Kirribilli, a Catholic independent secondary school in Sydney, Australia, to my present position as a lecturer in teacher librarianship at Charles Sturt University. I was lucky to be able to work with my wonderful friend and GI collaborator, Joanne Bleby, to carry out some research to judge the efficacy of Guided Inquiry methods and scaffolding in her Ancient History class, as compared to the Modern History class, which was not using GI methods and scaffolding. The wiki which housed all the elements of the GI is the Ancient Historical Investigation.

The research, summarised in this post, demonstrates that Guided Inquiry scaffolding does enhance learning and metacognition. Students undertaking the Historical Investigation in Year 11 develop an interest in an area of Ancient or Modern history, explore it, develop an inquiry question, and answer it in an essay. The Ancient History class was scaffolded by Guided Inquiry curriculum design and support, while the Modern History class conducted their investigation independently. Deep learning was evident in the questions asked and the answers written in the Ancient History essays. There is evidence of a difference in quality in the questions asked and answered by Modern Historians. It would appear that the scaffolding of Guided Inquiry has enhanced learning, while recognising the effect an excellent teacher has on already high achieving students. Ancient history students also demonstrated a high level of metacognition in their reflections.

Research aim

My aim was to find out if the scaffoldings of GI assisted in both the development of deep learning and awareness of the process of learning and to answer my research question: Does GI enhance learning and metacognition?


The Year 11 Historical Investigation was chosen as the area of research, because it is possibly the only time in the History curriculum where students are free to identify, explore and make conclusions on an area of history, only restricted by time periods and whether or not the topic is one they have to study as part of their curriculum. The sample was 52 students in two modern history classes of 18 students each, and one Ancient history class of 16 students. The students are 16/17 years old, all capable, highly motivated students, who have never undertaken a long term inquiry project before. Their teachers and teacher librarians are dedicated, talented teachers.

What did the GI entail?

The inquiry task in each class was effectively the same – Choose an area of Modern/Ancient history, create a question and answer it in an essay.

 What was the same for both Modern and Ancient History?

Each class had:

  • active support and feedback from teachers throughout the process
  • resourcing from the teacher librarian
  • teaching of how to use Easybib, create footnotes and to use the PEEL(Point, Evidence, Explain, Link) essay writing technique.
  • similarly highly motivated and capable students
  • a culmination conversation at the end of the unit.

What was different in the Modern and Ancient investigations?

Ancient historians:

  • were explicitly taught the use of GI and the ISP throughout, including different search techniques for different stages of the ISP.
  • worked in inquiry circles, which categorised choices of topics, as well as providing peer support for information gathering and synthesising.
  • reflected daily, as well as using the SLIM toolkit, on the wiki created by the teacher librarian for the task.
  • had teacher librarian support throughout
  • used a wiki to house the task, scaffolds, reflections and feedback.
  • were taught how to use Questia and Evernote, with feedback.
  • Were scaffolded explicitly on creating questions.

On all of the above points, Modern historians had no input.

The teaching team in the GI

The team of teacher and teacher librarians for the Ancient History GI had the following responsibilities:

Teaching team(Sorry it’s blurry!)


The following data were gathered from both Modern and Ancient History students:

  • Responses to the SLIM Toolkit (School Library Impact Measurement) (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005)
  • Essays written by students, including comparison of questions between Ancient and Modern historians.
  • Marks given to students for their essays and for their process.

A final reflection was asked of the Ancient historians only: Describe your feelings as you progressed through the stages of the Information Search process.

These are the questions in the SLIM Toolkit:

Q1: Take some time to think about your topic. Now write down what you know about it.

Q2: How interested are you in this topic? Not at all/Not much/Quite a bit/A great deal

Q3: How much do you know about this topic? Nothing/ Not much/Quite a bit/A great deal.

Q4: When you do research, what do you generally find easy to do?

Q5: When you do research, what do you generally find difficult to do?

Q6: What did you learn in doing this research project?

This instrument has been used in frequent practitioner and professional research. The questions were presented to students at Open, Identify, and Create/share stages of the task, except the last question, offered once at the end.

 Summary of findings from the SLIM questions:

Questions 1-4 were taken by the Ancient History class only, due to difficulties with the administration of the survey for Modern History.

Q1: Take some time to think about your topic. What do you now know about it?

The growth from facts to explanations to conclusions in the reflection sheets and in the essays does demonstrate a growth to deep knowledge. Every Ancient history student was able to take the movement from large numbers of facts, through explanations, to variable numbers of conclusions. But conclude they all did. Some of this movement can be attributed to the quality of the teaching they had, and their intrinsic motivation as highly achieving students at a highly achieving school, some to the scaffolding provided by GI.

The Culmination Conversation (student round table discussion at the end of the unit) also demonstrated the growth of deep knowledge, as students were able to express knowledge about historical ideas relating to their content area very clearly and at some depth.

Q2: How interested are you in this topic?

Ancient historians all maintained a high level of interest in the project throughout.

Q3: How much do you know about this topic?

Ancient history students’ self-reported knowledge grew from Response 1 to Response 3

Q4: When you do research, what do you generally find easy to do?

The most frequently mentioned items were take notes, and search effectively for the stage of the GID process

Q5 and Q6: taken by both classes.

Q5: When you do research, what do you generally find difficult to do?

Persevering and using complex sources were the most mentioned by Ancient historians

Getting started, identifying own perspective, persevering, using appropriate sources, synthesising information were the most mentioned by Modern historians.

Q6: What did you learn in doing this research project?

Both groups learnt the same concrete tasks, Use Easybib and how to do footnotes. Ancient historians also learnt how to search differently for the stage of the ISP concerned, use Evernote for notetaking, and Questia for deeper reading at Gather. Ancient historians demonstrated a strong awareness of GID process, while Modern historians had no awareness of an information process.

Other data – Essay questions

Some samples of Ancient Historians’ questions include:

  • How has history remembered the Battle of Salamis?
  • Who owns the past? Discuss this question in the light of ownership controversies in the last century.
  • “There have been many Alexanders: No account of him altogether wrong” (C.S. Welles).  Discuss how the diversity of the modern identify of Alexander was created by the ancient world.
  • “Boudicca has been altered by history to suit differing purposes and context”. Examine the validity of this claim.
  • “The only form of fiction in which real characters do not seem out of place is history.” (Oscar Wilde)  Assess the validity of this statement in relation to the Emperor Nero.
  • To what extent does the 1963 film, “Cleopatra”, provide an historically accurate representation of Cleopatra?

Of note is the higher order nature of the questions and the use of quotes to frame the questions.

Some samples of Modern History inquiry questions include:

  • Why does the dropping of the Atomic Bomb remain controversial in American history?
  • What is the significance of traditional medicine in South Africa?
  • Was Marilyn Monroe more than just another dumb blonde?
  • Assess the role of the moustache within the military of the British Empire.
  • Why did people follow Jim Jones to Jonestown, Guyana?

A clear difference from Ancient history questions is not using quotes to frame a question and a wider approach to what makes history, .e.g traditional medicine in South Africa. The questions are much more straightforward than their Ancient history counterparts. Specific guidance in creating questions was given to the Ancient historians.

Other data – Marks

Ancient historians’ process and essay marks showed strong alignment between process and essay.

Other data: Reflections – Describe your feelings as you progressed through the stages of the Information Search process.

Following are reflections gathered from the final reflection, administered to the Ancient historians only. They show more than any of the graphs the level of involvement in learning students had, and the quality of their metacognition.   They show a definite yes to both parts of the research question: Does GI enhance learning and metacognition?


I liked that we were also given complete freedom to choose what we liked, that way it was ensured that we were doing something that we found interesting, rather than something that was assigned…


The Sea people were so fascinating to me and I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in information about them. But I made sure to keep to overview information and not to immerse myself too greatly…

Immerse: The true honeymoon stage! Basking in my decision to focus on Emperor Nero, I pursued various online encyclopaedias and websites and watched as many YouTube videos as I could, this was a great way to absorb information quickly whilst being entertained, and gave me a fantastic overview basis to envisage the path for exploration…  


This was the fun part of the assignment, where there was no imposed time limit on you or any sort of expectation/pressure (yet). I could actually just sit there hours on end just reading information about the Sea Peoples…

There was so much information! I did fall into a dip, in which I wished to change my topic as I felt that there was nothing controversial about Herodotus.


At this point it was clear that my area of interest was in how history had shaped the various portrayals of Alexander through time and the implications of this for our modern idea of who the ancient personality was.

I found this part quite challenging as it was really hard to narrow my choices down. But with the help of my teacher and teacher librarian, it was easier for me to decide on my focus area.


When it was time to start gathering relevant information was when I had the most challenges in my research process. I found it extremely tedious and time consuming. This stage really required active learning, and persistence.


For me, the most challenging part of this whole process was the essay. I had talked over my mind map with my teacher, which definitely helped the whole process and I had a definite idea of where my essay was going however getting all my ideas out of my head and onto paper was harder than anticipated. At this point I was feeling frustrated, and I just wanted the whole process to be over…


Throughout this whole topic I have had the chance to evaluate my research skills. The daily logs have been good in a sense as they have structured my reflection and given me key goals to complete both short term and long term. The weekly reflections have helped me to gauge the progression of my researching skills and have targeted particular aspects of my research which I have needed to keep up to date, such as Easybib…


Does GI enhance learning and metacognition?

It would appear that the scaffolding provided to Ancient history students did enhance learning and metacognition, as evident from data shown. There are other reasons for the achievements of these students – they are motivated, high achievers, often with strong writing skills. They have very experienced and dedicated teachers. Achievements of the Modern historians without the benefit of GI scaffolding show that there are other factors at play, such as those mentioned already. However, there are definite differences in the quality of the questions posed by the two groups, and it is also clear that the Ancient historians became adept at recognising the stage of the ISP they were experiencing, and their reflections show this.

As was evident in their reflection sheets, and in their response to the final reflection: Describe your feelings as you went through the stages of the ISP, Ancient history students are aware of their own process of learning, and showed themselves adept at talking about the GID process. They learnt how to manage their information process, and what to expect whenever they do research, e.g. The Dip. (that loss of confidence expected at Explore in the GI Process)

Reading complex sources is anecdotally the greatest difficulty both groups had – they actively resist it.   As well, there were issues with creating an inquiry question – Modern historians said they found it difficult, Ancient historians wanted to create it too early.

In conclusion, it would appear that teaching/providing students with the scaffolding of GI and the ISP has enhanced their learning and metacognition.

Implications for practice:

Some broad generalisations about using GI in schools might be developed from this research, and the myriad other studies in this area. They are:

  • Teach students the ISP/GID process and help them practise using it – from Year 7 onwards. The earlier students realise that their information seeking and using behaviour follows the same process every time they have an assignment, if they are doing it with engagement, is valuable support indeed.
  • Allow students to choose their own area of interest and to develop their own questions as often as it is feasible, as this is at the heart of GI, and inquiry learning, which is so favoured in curriculum documents in Australia and elsewhere.
  • Expect TLs to-co plan, co-teach and co-assess research tasks. They are teaching partners in the inquiry curriculum of the school.
  • Make TLs responsible for information literacy skills, and for the school’s achievement of the Critical and Creative Thinking General Capability (CCT) in the Australian curriculum, by building process steps into the grading of any inquiry task.
  • Teach students how to search appropriately for the stage of the GID they are at. Essentially this is to avoid information overload at Explore, to keep the search general then, in order to gather a notion of the scope of the topic. It’s also to search deeply at Gather, when pertinent, rather than just relevant, information is the key.
  • Teach students how to create inquiry questions, and specifically not to create them too early. Use scaffolding provided by such techniques as Question Focus Formulation (Rothstein & Santana, 2011)
  • Consider whether active teaching on coming to rich, substantiated conclusions where the conclusion is substantiated is necessary.
  • Look at how (if?) students are reading non-fiction texts and provide scaffolding from early years.

The last word is from a student, demonstrating the excitement of learning, through GI:

Without realising it I have actually connected a few dots in my understanding of world history as Alexander’s world is linked to the experiences of other people in history. It surprised me at how connected every event is despite seeming a long time ago. I’m very happy with my final essay.

For me, it was wonderful to move from the position of teacher librarian in this school to have the opportunity as a CSU lecturer to investigate the difference it makes to student learning by inquiry, if they are scaffolded by Guided Inquiry methods. It was also wonderful to be able to present these findings at the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) conference last year in Maastrict, The Netherlands.

 Onya from Oz!



FitzGerald, L. (2011) The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan 30(1)

Rothstein, D and Santana, L. (2011) Make just one change – Teach students to ask their own questions, Harvard Education Press. Retrieved from:

Todd, R. J., Kuhlthau, C.C. & Heinstrom, J.E. (2005) School library impact measure (SLIM). Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, Rutgers University. Retrieved from:

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