Assessing Information Literacy and Inquiry Learning

Painting of an open book, the pages appearing to fly away like birds.

The main point to bear in mind about information literacy is that it is entirely about acquiring transferable skills, not about absorbing content. The library is the ideal environment in which to acquire these skills, because it is not a subject-specific space.

The same is true of inquiry learning, which appears to be training children to think like (good) scientists. That is, to follow the steps of a well-structured scientific experiment before drawing a conclusion. This is a fantastic principle to be working from, as it is the basis of all functional, day-to-day critical thinking, including on topics like social justice, politics, or even literature.

Ross J. Todd outlines the great advantage inquiry learning in facilitating evidence-based practice assessments. Todd notes that the first step in pursuing the amassing of evidence of the benefit of libraries is “teaching students the fundamentals of inquiry-based research” (Todd). Todd’s article makes clear the two-for-one benefit of teaching students via the inquiry learning model in a library context. It both advances the students’ learning, and simultaneously provides the basis of a means to assess the degree and nature of that learning (see also, FitzGerald). Assessing and responding to their level of information literacy is best done by training them in inquiry learning methods. Thus we all are winners.

In most descriptions of important achievements in cognitive development, it is listed as desirable outcome that a child forms the ability to transfer learning into different contexts (Herring). The basic flow-chart of inquiry learning looks like the ideal model to facilitate the acquisition of that ability, because it requires both planning what and how to investigate, and then reflecting on it. It’s what good scientists do, it’s what good philosophers do. It’s basically what anyone who has contributed to the expansion of human thought has done.

One big advantage of this model is that it doesn’t prescribe a specific learning methodology. Rather, because the children initiate the form their enquiry will take, they can pursue their investigations along whichever lines mesh with their own learning preferences. The inquiry learning model does not necessarily privilege aural techniques over visual/spatial ones, or the other way around, though the topic under consideration might advantage one or the other (e.g. aplying naturalistic learning methods will have some obvious advantage over musical systems for absorbing new concepts when pursuing a biology question) (Edutopia).

The librarian is perfectly situated to support this learning model, being the person who has access to a range of resource types, and the skills to select and guide. Yes, it does sound like hard work to get going. You are training children to follow a much more complex series of activities than the Federal Shadow Education Minister, Christopher Pyne’s, ignorant “chalk and talk” model, which reduces the autonomy of the learner (Murphy). The thing is to have clear protocols, so the process doesn’t appear vague or overwhelming to the novice.

The role of the TL in this context is, most broadly speaking, to make the students into trainee researchers. Classroom, subject-specific teachers are somewhat obliged to be more content-heavy, and more focused on evaluating how much of that content the students have retained. A librarian is more at liberty to focus on the competent acquisition of skill structures.

Reference List:

Edutopia. Website accessed 22 March 2013.

FitzGerald, Lee (2011). The twin purposes of guided inquiry : guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan 30(1), 26-41. Retrieved from

Herring, James (2011). Assumptions, Information Literacy and Transfer in High Schools. Teacher Librarian 38(3), 32-36.

Murphy, Katharine (2013, March 4). Let’s Hear More from Pyne on ‘Chalk and Talk’ Teaching. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

Todd, Ross J. (2003). Irrefutable Evidence: How to prove you boost student achievement. School Library Journal.

2 thoughts on “Assessing Information Literacy and Inquiry Learning

  1. Thank you Anna for sharing that with me. if that’s the standard of blog writing then I really must lift my game. I love the “Trainee scientist” analogy.

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