Educating Educators: Inquiry, the School Librarian & Common Core Standards

Stuart, David. "Highest Frequency Words in the CCSS for ELA and Literacy". Teaching the Core.
Stuart, David. “Highest Frequency Words in the CCSS for ELA and Literacy”. Teaching the Core.
What is Inquiry? 

Inquiry is a processes of knowledge seeking for knowledge building. Inquiry is characterized by curiosity, observation, questioning, hypothesizing, investigation, evaluation, discovery, evidence seeking, making connections, collaboration, argument building, synthesis, meaning making, problem solving, expression and reflection. Inquiry is messy, and often involves periods of uncertainty and confusion. Inquiry requires persistence, flexibility, independence, risk taking and open mindedness. Inquiry often results with more questions than actual answers.

Inquiry & Research 

These terms are often used interchangeably. Research tends to have a more formal connotation and  is often characterized  by the investigation, writing, documentation and publishing parts of the process. Inquiry is characterized by questioning, based on the understanding that questioning leads to deeper connections, meaning making and/or innovation. Inquiry is often used to identify a more hands on kind of learning experience, while the term research is often used to identify qualitative outcomes, such as “the research proves.” Maybe because research is a more commonly used terminology and definitely because inquiry is essential for original research, librarians often use the term “inquiry based research”. It’s important to note that fact finding alone is neither inquiry nor research.

Inquiry & Information Literacy
Information literacy/fluency skills, disposition and responsibilities are integral to Inquiry. In general, Information literacy is the ability to utilize the skills, tools and dispositions necessary to effectively identify, find, evaluate, analyze, synthesize, express and share information in an ethical and effective manner. The American Association for School Librarians (AASL) Standards for 21st Century Learners outlines the information based competencies necessary for inquiry and independent learning.
Purposes for Inquiry include, but are not limited to:  solving a problem, forming an evidence based argument,  making an informed purchasing decision,  pursuing an area of interest, deepening personal understandings,  and/or creating change and innovation.Expressions of Inquiry include, but are not limited to: a sales pitch, debate participation, an informed purchasing decision, an investment,  a paper, a blog post, a book, a video, a plan, a speech and/or an interview.

Student Learning & Inquiry 

Inquiry is a student driven learning experience in which teachers act as guides. Inquiry learning experiences not only allow students to construct knowledge related to the particular area of Inquiry, but more importantly to develop the skills and dispositions necessary to construct knowledge independently for future inquires. Through the Inquiry Process, students learn how to learn.

School Librarians & Inquiry

School librarians (teacher librarians, library media specialists) teach the skills and dispositions necessary for effective Inquiry.  Standard 1.1.1 of  AASL’s Standards for 21st Century Learners, reads:  Learners use skills resources and tools to: “Follow an Inquiry-based process in seeking knowledge in curricular subjects, and make the real-world connection for using this process in own life”School librarians live and breathe Inquiry!

The Inquiry Process
Librarian developed Inquiry Learning Processes/models scaffold and clarify the thinking skills and dispositions necessary for Inquiry learning.
Recognized Inquiry Processes are similar with a difference in terminology and emphasis.
  • Stripling’s Inquiry Model: (emphasizes questioning): Connect, Wonder, Investigate, Construct, Express, Reflect
  • Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (emphasizes feelings and thoughts in addition to actions): Initiation, Selection, Exploration, Formulation, Collection, Presentation, Assessment
  • Eisenberg’s Big 6: Task Definition, Information Seeking Strategies, Location and Access, Use of Information, Synthesis, Evaluation

Although these models may appear step like, they are not meant to be linear. For example,  the more someone learns about something the more questions they tend to have.

Inquiry and Common Core State Standards

Although Common Core State Standard developers chose to not use the term Inquiry, the skills and dispositions necessary for Inquiry are those that the Common Core emphasizes.

For example, the following  statements appear within Common Core State Standards introductory materials:
  • “Students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas.”
  • Students need to “conduct original research in order to answer questions and solve problems”
  • Students need to “analyze and create high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new”
  • “The students need to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum”
  • “Research and media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the standards rather than treated in a separate section”

Inquiry learning fosters the critical thinking, perseverance, evidence seeking  and deep learning understandings associated with the Common Core.An  analysis of  the Crosswalk, between Common Core Standards and AASL’s Standards for 21st Century Learners, details and highlights how the skills and dispositions associated with Inquiry learning are vital for meeting Common Core Standards.

In Note…

My impetus for writing this post, which became an Inquiry in and of itself, was our school district’s purchase of a “Research Report Writing Unit”.  My concerns about the unit allowed me to dig deeper in order to clarify Inquiry for a general education audience.

Writing Unit Concerns:

  • By referring to this unit as a Writing Unit, students do not have the opportunity to create the understanding that an Inquiry process is an effective means for knowledge seeking no matter the purpose or expression of for Inquiry.  Writing is just one of many ways learners express their constructed knowledge.  See Research: A Thinking Process Expressed in Writing
  • We’ve been working towards utilizing an Inquiry model, in our school and district, in order that students have a greater opportunity for skill transfer. Although there is something to be said for sharing with students that no matter the terminology, the understandings are the same or similar, the terminology and skills chosen for this unit may work to confuse students.  In addition, because this unit is, at this point, the only complete inquiry based research learning experience our students will experience while attending our school,  it would be most beneficial if students have the opportunity to utilize a researched and proven Inquiry process.

Because this unit was purchased,  it needs to be utilized.  In retrospect, during planning, I should have suggested framing the unit with Stripling’s Inquiry Model and pulling scope and sequence sections  out from the purchased unit as they fit into this well established Inquiry process. This would have been beneficial not only because we’d be starting with a proven model, but also because we would have more effectively been able to identify missing skills and understandings.


CCSS: A Limited Definition of Literacy


Kurtxio, Web, Flickr Creative Commons
Kurtxio, Web, Flickr Creative Commons










The fact that the Common Core State Standards reference to literacy is limited, and so, problematic, has been bothering me for a while now. However, with a brief search of various organizational, cultural and crowd sourced understandings related to to the meaning of Literacy, I now realize that it’s going to take a lot more time for me to make sense of this issue than I have at the moment! So…I’ve decided , (at this very moment!), that this blog post will serve as the very basic start for an ongoing Inquiry.


  • Most adults in the US and in general dictionary definitions, define literacy  as the ability to read and write; that is, a literate person can read and write.
  • The definition/understanding of literacy has changed with time.
  • The definition/understanding of literacy differs amongst cultures.
  • Transliteracy is a term that refers to multiple literacies.
  • A librarian’s area of expertise is Information Literacy
  • Information Literacy is often synonymous with Media Literacy which is often synonymous with 21st Century Literacies
  • Other Literacies commonly referenced: digital, financial, visual, cultural, media
  • My current definitions of literacy: an understanding; the ability to learn and communicate utilizing a shared means for communication.


Probable Hypothesis:   The Common Core State Standards are limited due to a limited understanding of the meaning of literacy.


  • Did the creators of the Common Core State Standards offer a formal definition of literacy as it relates to the standards they wrote?
  • Is the CCSS definition limited due to testable skills? (I know, this could be an I think I know!)


  • How much of literacy is knowledge/understanding as opposed to the skills necessary or ability to create knowledge?
  • How do other cultures define literacy?
  • Who is/what are the organizations that matter when it comes to the issue of literacy?
  • What are the biases that might exist with this issue?


  • What is the history of  literacy’s relationship with education in the United States?
  • Does literacy within content areas define student learning objectives in nations that we associate with advanced education systems? (Finland etc)=

Investigation Plan/Thoughts:

  • Be aware of my personal biases, (that a broader definition is necessary!), during my  investigation; do not discount explanations that I don’t agree with!
  • Start by collecting resources in diigo

Express Plan:

Other than a future blog post, I am unsure how far to take the results of this Inquiry. Possibilities include offering written findings to NJASL, AASL, Knowledge Quest, SLJ, Library Media Connection.

Note: If I find that someone else has already compiled complete and up to date findings with regard to my Inquiry, I may not take this any more further than sharing the conclusions that they’ve already come to!

That’s it for now!



Eracism Debate: A Powerful Learning Experience

Before our winter break, a group of diligent sixth grade students at Lounsberry participated in the Eracism Project, one of Julie Lindsay’s and Vicki Davis’ awesome global learning experiences known as the Flat Classroom Projects. According to the Flat Classroom Project blog, the Eracism Project, “joins diverse cultures and includes authentic debate for global competence and international mindedness”. In all honesty, the experience of debate was not my impetuous for joining this project; it’s the global connect piece that piqued my interest. As I’ve written before, it is imperative that our students connect with people of different cultures in order to participate effectively  in an increasingly flat world.

Characteristic of my impassioned and somewhat impulsive behavior, I requested to join the project, without plans for how it would be implemented. In most cases, a teacher needs a class to work on these projects, and without a class of my own, I needed to find a teacher that could fit a project like this into their already way too filled curricular requirements. The project began at the same time as our Critical Thinking class students had just finished a unit on questioning and were starting a unit on resource evaluation and a review of search; I consulted with Kathy Singerline, and we decided to have all students in all three classes first ask questions and then search and evaluate possible resources, and we’d figure things out from there. We were given the topic from the start as  “Global management of natural resources will cause conflict between cultures.” We were assigned the negative side for the first round and would bedebating The American International School of Guangzhou, China.

First Realization: Before finding resources about something that you know nothing about, find someone who’s an expert or at least somewhat knowledgeable about the topic to help  bring it down to a 6th grade level of understanding! We did contact our district’s science department administrator and a high school environmental science teacher, however we failed to realize that this was more of a political science issue. We desperately needed background knowledge and since part of our responsibility was to clearly define the topic, it was difficult to know where to start. Not only was this topic difficult to grasp, mainly because it could be defined in a multitude of ways, it was also extremely difficult to find information that was comprehensible for sixth graders with little to no background knowledge in this area. If they couldn’t understand the information, how could we ever expect the analysis and synthesis necessary to build a formative argument.

Second Realization: Don’t expect to teach students how to evaluate resources if they have little  background knowledge and can’t even  understand most of what they’re reading, and don’t expect to gather and access resources from 75 students, about a a multidimensional topic, with the hopes of finding 5-10 sources of information that can be used to support an aligned argument!

At this point, I realize that you’re probably pondering the positiveness of the title of this post; it does get better and although our experience was somewhat frustrating, the possibilities are now oh so clear!

Kathy Singerline’s Critical Thinking students needed to start their next unit on Game design, so this project soon became an extracurricular learning experience. Although our experience so far felt somewhat frustrating, a number of students were intrigued about the concept of an international debate and agreed to stay after school and work during enrichment periods, when possible, to continue participating. We would have loved to have had all students participate in the learning activities referenced on The Eracism Wiki but we simply ran out of time.

The first rounds were held in a simulated-synchronus fashion using Voicethread. We collaboratively prepared an opening statement, which included our definition of the topic, our argument statement (stating the case) and three reasons, with examples, to support our argument. ReadWriteThink has a graphic organizer that was helpful for our students.  We followed with a rebuttal and closing statement in response to the Affirmative team’s recordings from China. Much to our surprise, we won, and did so again in the second round against the Wellington School, in Columbus Ohio.  Note: Before the second round  Julie, Vicki and other organizers decided to simplify the topic to read, “Global control of natural resources cause more harm than good.”

The final round was recorded live using Blackboard/Collaborate and although the competition from the Quality Schools International Bratslavia, Slovakiawas fierce, we won; we actually won!

OK , here’s the important stuff, what we learned and what your students could also have the opportunity to learn, through the process of debate:

  • The CCSS’s emphasizes research and Information fluency skills, expressing  the need for questioning, refocusing inquiry when necessary, and assessing the credibility of resources. Covered in a big way!
  • I think________ because________. The CCSS  for Reading and Writing are all about argument and evidence and what better way to make this need real than through an authentic, real-world experience such as debate. Students were required to identify arguments, citing evidence from multiple authors and media sources, which they then synthesized to create and support their own arguments and evidence in their presentations.
  • CCSS emphasize collaborative speaking and listening skills; no need to explain how this project met those standards, right?!
  • More specific to the Eracism debate experience was that it fostered the “understanding of other perspectives and cultures” as expressed in the CCSS and well, just something that makes plain old good sense!
  • This learning experience also helped students foster habits of mind necessary for learning including:  curiosity, perseverance, flexibility, risk-taking, humility, and open-mindedness.

Most importantly, there was a reason for all this learning; it was purposeful. It gave this group of students a listened to voice and they knew that their voice mattered.