Scaffolding to Support Authentic Inquiry


Yes, Information Literacy is my responsibility..I’m a teacher-librarian. I desperately want for our students to be ethical, effective and creative users and producers of information. Contrary to what your image of a librarian may be, however, I’m not a big rule follower; and accordingly, I have no interest in being a school’s rule imposer. Nevertheless,  I’m often caught in the position of feeling that way.

For example, in my current temporary position, a class comes into the library to work on a health project. The teacher wants them to come up with an advertising like slogan about diabetes and “collect” facts and pictures to go along with their slogan on a billboard, actually a poster on construction paper. He gives them two websites to use for information, tells them that they need to use those websites, and as long as they use those websites, they don’t have to cite them on their posters. If they want to use another site, they must see him or me. He also tells them to use Photos for Class for images.

Because I am all too aware of the realities of education, I proceed, Kristen Fonchiaro style, in my act of  “nudging” towards Inquiry. The teacher likes the physical poster aspect, so I leave that alone. After sharing  a statistical report from the CDC, which he added to the resource list,  I offered the suggestion to have students choose an audience which their billboard is aiming to reach,  which he liked. With regards to image selection, I shared that  Photos for Class is great for lifestyle pictures, but I gave him a couple places to try if students needed medically accurate images.  I asked if they discussed persuasive techniques to assist in their slogan creation and he thought that students were fine. I ask if he would like for students to ask questions to support their inquiry, and he didn’t think there was enough time.

I made these suggestions for the following year. Start by having students brainstorm what they think they know about diabetes, share the statistical report from the CDC, (or a couple infographics from the PDF). with the class, and discuss what they find surprising. Have students choose one surprising fact and brainstorm questions, Question Formulation Technique style, related to the fact. In addition I shared virtual ways they might create their “billboards” and suggested having them add QR codes for additional information. I also shared that he could use their constructed questions, and how accurately their created slogans and supporting information reached their chosen audience, as another form of assessment.

However, here’s the issue I’m truly trying to get at for this post. This teacher is saying to students that they “must” use the websites he gave them, because for an earlier project,  I said that if they didn’t use the given resources, they’d need to (find and) evaluate the resources they found, which they have not yet learned to do. He’s telling them that they “must” use Photos for Class, because for the same earlier project, I told him that they needed  to consider their rights to the images they were using, in addition to attribution, (especially) since for that project, they were publishing their creations. (I’m not sure why he told them that they didn’t need to cite their information sources?)

Because these students, and the teacher for that matter, have not had the opportunity to develop information literacy competencies, they don’t understand why they are being told to do what they are being told to do.  I have quickly become the maker of rules and the limiter of options…definitely not a role I want to take on!

So, how do we solve this problem? For students, I believe that we have to start young, scaffold and model.  Kindergartners understand that putting someone else’s name at the bottom of something they created is disrespectful; and handing out Oreos and saying, “I baked these last night” is unethical. First graders can add the information providers name  to their information writing. Second graders can learn to use advanced search options, boolean operators or quotes, within a given database. Third graders, can say “according to”, when sharing fun facts on their morning announcements show.  Fourth graders can  consider, “according to whom?” when presented with an infographic to interpret. Fifth graders can choose a presentation medium according to their determined purpose and audience.

With respect to teachers, it’s more difficult, because most were not introduced to information skills until they were in high school or college, and see them as higher level academic only competencies. In addition, most were not given the opportunity to consider why they were doing what they were doing and plus, too much has changed too quickly for them to keep up. I think the best opportunity we have, is to provide our teachers with age appropriate scaffolds to use with their students and to foster their use across all content areas.  If teachers continue to simply skip what they don’t understand, we are doing our students a disservice. Information literacy is a real world competency;  ethical responsibilities and effective practices do not change because they aren’t required in a teacher generated rubric.

Limiting resources is not the answer, because it does not support authentic inquiry.  There is no way to anticipate the questions students come up with..and there shouldn’t be. With respect to my suggestions for the diabetes project shared earlier, student questions might pertain to ethnically based lifestyle choices, Native American living standards or healthcare for the elderly. The information they are curious about, can’t be found in the limited resources originally shared. Yes, teacher-librarians are there for guidance, however, if the ultimate goal is independence, we have to allow students the means for developing information skills, dispositions and responsibilities, one age appropriate step at a time.


CDC. Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

Fontchiaro, K. “Nudging Toward Inquiry” School Library Monthly. Sept. 2009, Vol XXVI, No. 1. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.



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