Unit Critique

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“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!” (Dr. Suess 1957/1990) 

According to Lupton (2017) inquiry learning is seen as a constructivist pedagogy with components of the inquiry process such as questioning, information literacy and iterative research cycle, needing to be carefully planned. In order to critique the use of inquiry in the Curriculum to Classroom (C2C) unit Australia in the past, I will draw upon these components of the inquiry process and based on the results of this analysis, recommendations will be made in order to enhance the inquiry learning approach and outcomes of the unit.

Inquiry Analysis Australias Past (1)
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Research cycle

The inquiry process used throughout the C2C unit is based on the framework outlined in the Australian curriculum for developing students’ knowledge, understanding and skills. The framework is guided by the use of inquiry questions to allow for connections across the HASS sub-strands. Therefore the C2C is underpinned by the following Australian curriculum inquiry question: How have key figures, events and values shaped Australian society, its system of government and citizenship?  Through this inquiry question, the unit covers the scope and sequence of the Australian curriculum as well as the general capabilities of literacy, numeracy, critical and creative thinking, Information and communication (ICT) capability and finally personal and social capability. The C2C unit follows the Australian Curriculum’s Inquiry and Skills framework of:

Australian Curriculums Inquiry and Skills Framework (1)
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However, the implementation of this framework in the C2C unit has resulted in a more isolated and skills based approach rather than an authentic and holistic process. For example, individual lessons throughout the unit may address one or two areas of this framework, rather than following through a complete cycle of inquiry. This approach is evident in Lesson 1 of the unit (significance of federation) where students write a sub-inquiry question to analyse one source using a teacher generated scaffold. This inquiry question is not followed throughout the duration of the unit and is entirely discarded after this lesson, thus missing the opportunity for the students to complete a meaningful cycle of inquiry.

A key component of inquiry learning is the posing of questions to initiate the inquiry and guide the research cycle. Bell, Smetana and Binns (2005) argue that an activity is not inquiry based unless students are answering research questions through data analysis. According to Lupton (2017) “an iterative research cycle involves different phases of the research process with each phase informing the next in a continuous cycle.” This does not appear to be the case in C2C unit, as student are not answering research questions through extensive data analysis and these questions are not used to inform the next phase of the inquiry cycle. Therefore, it is advisable that another model of inquiry be used in conjunction with the Australian Curriculum approach in order to guide a true cycle of inquiry.

The highly structured and teacher-directed approach is also evident in the level of inquiry used throughout the C2C unit. The inquiry learning level can be seen as a continuum, progressing from teacher directed to student directed (Lupton, 2017). At the teacher end of the continuum, teachers make all the decisions to guide the inquiry, where at the other end of the continuum students make all the decisions resulting in a less directed open inquiry. An inquiry unit can also incorporate different levels of guidance in the various elements of the inquiry depending on the needs of students. According to Bell, Smetana and Binns (2015) the complexity of the inquiry also varies dependant on the level of openness. The following table modelled on Lupton’s work (2017), which incorporates models of scientific inquiry, examines the level of inquiry in the C2C unit:

inquirylevel
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Lupton (2017) states the two key defining elements that determine the level of inquiry are student agency within questions and method. As a result, the overall inquiry level of the unit can be defined as a structured inquiry. Martin – Hansen (2012) argues that structured inquiry does not include much true inquiry or actively engage student minds. As this unit is written for Year 6, the students are developmentally ready for a less teacher structured and more guided inquiry approach. It would also assist with greater levels of student engagement as they would have more ownership over their learning journey.  Therefore the overall level of inquiry currently evident in the C2C unit, needs to become more student-centred and move towards a guided approach.

Recommendations

To move the unit towards a more guided level, it is recommended that the Australian Curriculum approach be overlayed with another inquiry model such as Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari’s Guided Inquiry Design. The implementation of this model will improve the research process and allow students to complete a more personally meaningful and holistic cycle of inquiry. Guided Inquiry Design is recommended as it incorporates a collaborative approach to inquiry in order to support students to develop, research and answer their own questions. The model is also underpinned by Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP), which describes how students think, feel and act throughout the research process. This knowledge of the zone of intervention enables teachers to know when students need guidance and assistance throughout the inquiry, as well as independence.

Guided Inquiry Design also incorporates a concepts approach to information literacy to ensure students learn how to locate, evaluate and use information. In Guided Inquiry, information literacy is integrated into each stage of the inquiry model and is particularly emphasised in the Explore and Gather phases. This is another area that is lacking in the C2C unit, with students not given enough opportunity to develop these concepts through guided and independent research. The development of information literacy in students is crucial in an historical inquiry, as it is critical that students are able to make informed decisions about information and critically evaluate sources. The evaluation of sources will be examined further in questioning frameworks below.

As discussed above, The Guided Inquiry Design model would assist in moving the level of the C2C inquiry towards a more guided approach, allowing students more agency in the learning process, particularly in the formation of questions and the final communication of research findings. Again, this level of student agency can vary depending on the developmental needs of individual classes. For example some classes may be ready for a more open, student-directed inquiry as compared to others. The table below examines how the level of inquiry could be improved in the C2C unit, using a Guided Inquiry approach.

 

GID table
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Questioning Frameworks & Information Literacy

A critical component of inquiry learning is the use of questions to guide and inform all stages of the research process. As Lupton (2017) argues, without appropriate questioning frameworks “inquiry can simply replicate traditional term papers”. This seems to be the case in the C2C unit, where students are provided minimal opportunity (apart from one lesson) to develop and generate their own essential questions in relation to the overarching inquiry question (How have key figures, events and values shaped Australian society, its system of government and citizenship?). The C2C assessment also represents a traditional “pencil and paper” test, with no ability for students to choose the mode or method for presenting their own arguments or findings based on the inquiry topic. This lack of development in question asking skills, denies students the opportunity for personal ownership over their learning and the development of deeper understandings of the inquiry topic.  The development of process and evaluative questioning frameworks, also allows students to critically analyse and reflect on both the inquiry process and the credibility of sources gathered throughout.

Also requiring examination in the C2C unit is the explicit development of information literacy skills, particularly the critical evaluation of information. One of the Australian Curriculum’s general capabilities is that of creative and critical thinking. However, in the C2C unit the critical evaluation of information is limited to the historical disciplinary approach of examining primary and secondary sources of information. In lesson 1, two sources are provided to students to enable them to analyse sources for origin, purpose, content and perspective. There is also some discussion in Lesson 3, regarding the different points of view involved in Australia’s Federation debate and again in Lesson 7. However, information literacy and the critical evaluation of information is a much broader concept than this. There needs to be a holistic approach to the development of information literacy, including evaluating the credibility of information.

Recommendations

It is recommended that an essential question be used in the Open phase of the inquiry to introduce and provoke student interest in the inquiry topic. According to Wiggins an essential question is one that gets to the heart of the matter, promoting genuine inquiry into the big ideas of a topic. It also promotes lively discussion and encourages students to make connections and weigh up different alternatives and perspectives. The current key inquiry question (How have key figures, events and values shaped Australian society, its system of government and citizenship?) is quite lengthy and not written in engaging language for Year 6. Whilst it promotes genuine inquiry, an essential question followed by key questions that would be explored throughout the Open, Immerse and Explore phases would better capture and provoke student interest. For example:

Essential Question: How can Australia become more inclusive?

This essential question could be introduced in the Open phase of the inquiry after playing and discussing the lyrics of Advance Australia Fair. What values do the lyrics of the song suggest? (ideals of egalitarianism, freedom and inclusiveness).  Are they still relevant today?

Sample Key Questions:

Why and how did Australia become a nation?

How did Australian society change throughout the twentieth century?

Who are the people in the past who were not treated fairly or justly?

What are the rights and responsibilities of people in a democracy?

Is Australia a fair and inclusive democracy?

Inspiration for these questions has been drawn from the Yarra Healing Advance Australia Fair unit and the History Teachers’ Association of Australia’s Federation unit, both which provide excellent ideas and resources for educators on this topic, particularly from a critical literacy perspective. This critical literacy perspective, also covers the Transformative Window of Lupton’s GeSTE windows, which challenges the status quo and examines power, privilege and bias. This window will be further discussed in evaluative question frameworks.

Generative Framework

As mentioned previously, students need to be given the opportunity and scaffolded to pose their own questions throughout the inquiry process. As Kath Murdoch argues questions are the “heart and soul” of inquiry with student questions just as, if not more, important than teacher questions. The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) provides a framework for students to generate questions, as well as categorising and finally prioritising questions. The scaffolded process, particularly identifying questions as closed and open, as well as ranking final questions in order of priority, provides a framework that is easy to understand and suitable for year 6 students. It would be particularly useful during the Explore phase of the Guided Inquiry Model when students are identifying sub-inquiry questions to research.

Process Framework

The inclusion of process questions throughout the phases of the Guided Inquiry Design model will also assist in scaffolding students through the inquiry. A KWLHAQ chart started in the Open phase of the inquiry and added to throughout all the phases of the Guided Inquiry Design model would be a useful addition to the unit. Currently the C2C is very teacher-directed, so there is little use of process question for students to reflect upon as they complete the inquiry.  Brunner’s Inquiry process provides another useful framework of questions to guide students on their inquiry journey. Gourley’s Inquiry Circle also includes affective questions to assess what emotions students are experiencing. Elements and questions from these two process frameworks can be combined with the Guided Inquiry Design model to guide students through the inquiry research process as follows:

processquestions
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Evaluative Framework

Lupton’s information literacy model of the GeSTE windows provides a useful questioning framework when critically evaluating information in all aspects (Generic, Situated, Transformative, Expressive) of the inquiry process. According to Lupton (2015) “Critical evaluation of information and data is a crucial element of information literacy and inquiry learning” .The critical literacy aspect of the Transformative window is particularly crucial to the C2C unit, with the historical content involved. The Transformative window requires students to challenge the status quo, examine privilege, bias, the perspectives of different interest groups and the voices that have been silenced in the Federation debate.  The graphic below provides suggestions on how the GeSTE windows could be implemented in the C2C unit to improve the development of information literacy, in particular the critical evaluation of information.

GeSTE Windows (2)

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 Generic

Currently in the C2C unit, students undertake limited research to find their own sources of information, so there is no critical evaluation of new sources or websites. The inclusion of an inquiry model (such as Guided Inquiry Design) and the use of checklists such as how to determine website credibility or the C.R.A.P test would be useful scaffolds to students.

Situated

The C2C unit shows evidence of the situated window in lesson one of the unit when students are examining primary and secondary sources. However this approach needs to be evident throughout the unit and not in just one lesson. This could again be achieved through the use of the Guided Design Inquiry model where students re-search and gather sources to answer a sub-inquiry question. The National Museum of Australia also provides useful activities to interrogate historical sources.

Transformative

There is huge potential for the transformative window in this unit. Currently the issues are touched upon but not covered in much depth. With issues such as the White Australia policy, treatment of migrants and the rights of Australian Indigenous people and women having long lasting repercussions on Australian society, it is important students explore and critically evaluate these issues with regards to Federation.

Expressive

The students have little opportunity to explore the expressive window in the C2C unit. Currently students explore the views of different groups through using a process drama. However, students also need to be exposed to rich historical literature, stories, songs, film/TV and games at the time of Federation.  History Teacher’s Association of Australia provides some excellent resources in this area. Students also need more agency over how they will express and present the final findings of their inquiry.

 Summary

Although the C2C unit Australia in the Past includes elements of the Australian Curriculum’s stated inquiry requirements, I do not believe it provides a comprehensive and holistic inquiry experience for students.  To improve the outcomes and the inquiry process of the C2C unit, it is recommended that the use of an inquiry model such as Guided Inquiry Design be incorporated as well as the inclusion of questioning frameworks and information literacy concepts. In today’s information rich society, it is imperative we prepare students for the 21st century where the ability to effectively use, locate and critically evaluate information is crucial. Inquiry learning provides the framework for the development of these skills and provides students with deeper understandings and the ability to transfer this knowledge to other contexts.

Please click here to view my final reflections

 

Reference: Dr.Seuss (1990). Oh, the places you’ll go! New York, NY: Random House. (Original work published 1957

 

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