Inquiry Interventionists: How to Support Inquiry-Based Learning for All of Our Students

How to Support Inquiry-Based Learning for All of Our Students

In the information-saturated world of the 21st century, inquiry skills are among the most essential for our students to develop. These skills are needed to help them succeed academically, and in life. Before going further, I want to define inquiry-based learning. The Galileo Educational Network defines inquiry-based learning as the

study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge (2021).

It is similar to other instructional approaches such as problem-based learning and project-based learning. Information literacy and research skills form the foundation of inquiry-based learning opportunities. This is where librarians can intervene and provide high levels of support for classroom instruction.

Curricular Connections

Information literacy is increasingly emphasized through the inquiry-based learning (IBL) expectations found in the Common Core State Standards (Maniotes and Kuhlthau 2014), Next Generation Science Standards (Tawfik et al. 2021), and National Council for the Social Studies standards (Marino and Crocco 2020). Unfortunately, not all students have had access to inquiry-based instruction.

In spite of the curricular mandates that require the teaching of inquiry-based skills, there are a number of barriers to inquiry-based learning. Among them is a lack of consistent and effective classroom information literacy instruction due to a lack of teacher training (Lee and Lee 2014; Shannon et al. 2019). Teachers may struggle to keep pace with the continual onslaught of new apps and information-seeking platforms available and to integrate them into their instruction (Ladbrook & Probert 2011).

Additionally, there is a barrier for linguistically and culturally diverse (LCD) students to access inquiry-based learning. Historically, these students have had limited access to IBL instruction because of a perception that they lack the background knowledge necessary to successfully complete this type of task. Peggy Ertmer and Krista Glazewski proposed an "ethos of intentionality" to connect complex problem-solving instruction needed for success in IBL with learners to leverage learners' cultural and linguistic knowledge as another significant form of background knowledge (2020). As librarians whose mission it is to support inquiry-based learning across our schools, intervening to provide equity for all of our learners in this manner is one of our most important missions.

Librarian Roles in Inquiry-Based Learning

One of my favorite analogies for the instructional role(s) librarians place is that we can act as "sherpas." Similar to the role of sherpa guides in assisting in climbing mountain peaks, we can support our teachers' IBL instruction by helping them with the heavy lifting to successfully accomplish the challenges of inquiry-based instruction. In order to fulfill this role, we must carefully approach collaborative instruction so that our teachers view it less as an addition to their teaching responsibilities and more as a support and boon to their instruction. This type of support can take on many forms.

Curation of Materials

Among the supports librarians can provide, curation of materials for IBL units is key. This role is especially important for our English language learners and our students who may not read on grade level. These students may need supplemental material support at their reading levels to facilitate the research aspects that form the foundation of the inquiry process.

Teachers may view locating materials at diverse reading levels to support inquiry-based learning for all their learners as a barrier to IBL. This is a great example of a practical way librarians can support teachers and help shoulder the instructional load. Resources such as CK-12 (, OER Commons (, Merlot (, EngageNY (, or state-funded databases can be employed to help curate materials to meet these needs.

Creation of Materials

Teachers may also need support in creating materials to facilitate the conditions of IBL for their students. This type of support might include developing visual reminders for research skills such as a mini poster.

Or, it might take the form of a sample product of their research such as the Adam Ruins Everything styled video summary of the pros and cons of outsourcing jobs to other countries found here: (A special thank you to Amy Hutto for this research approach).

Co-Teaching of Inquiry Skills

Another best practice for supporting inquiry is the co-teaching of research skills. Teachers may need their librarians to model these skills for students and help teachers stay current on the latest tools and methods for conducting research with their students.

A different aspect of co-teaching is instructional consulting. This is another great way to help our teachers with the heavy lifting of inquiry. Following a co-taught lesson, this could look like working with small groups of students to adjust their search strategies to find additional sources of information to support their inquiry projects or working with individual students who are struggling to locate materials at their reading levels.

Practical Applications of Inquiry-Based Learning Interventions

There are both curricular mandates and pragmatic reasons, such as creating equity for our learners, to support IBL across the curriculum. One of the easiest "fits" for IBL is through English classes, though IBL and the supporting research skills should not stop there. Science and social studies are also great initial avenues for inquiry interventions, as their content-specific standards emphasize inquiry-based learning. This effort could take the form of supporting inquiry into specific questions such as what are the outcomes of the Korean War or how can we best prepare for a natural disaster.

Nontraditional Inquiry across the Curriculum: Seek Out Islands

There are likely some teachers/academic departments in your school that are functionally "islands." These might be academic departments where there is only one or two teacher(s) in the building: music, art, engineering, family/consumer science, or other subject areas. These teachers could be primed for inquiry-based learning interventions. They may be pleasantly surprised and delighted to have a teacher-librarian added to their team as a collaborative partner for IBL.

One example of this is the collaboration I developed with our art teacher as a part of the Arkansas Declaration of Learning (ADOL) program. The art teacher and I developed an inquiry unit to discover what makes an effective memorial to honor the sacrifices of military veterans and their families. Students researched famous memorials such as the Lincoln Memorial, the 9/11 Memorial, and others to identify common themes and characteristics.

Through the program, we had access to a number of famous pieces of art, including Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell and Landscape by Mark Tansey. Students developed interpretations of these pieces that reflected on the costs of military service on soldiers and their families. Additionally, students created podcasts accessible through QR codes that explained how their work honored veterans. We invited local veterans and their families to visit the museum-like display of these pieces in the library.

Seek Out Cross Curricular Connections

As we have worked to support a culture of inquiry at my school, cross curricular inquiry-based partnerships have started to develop. These projects have included collaborations between traditionally aligned subjects such as English and social studies, as well between content areas that may appear to be less aligned such as English and math. As librarians, we can work across curricular areas to identify common skills and concepts and work to provide resources and support to develop projects to make these types of collaborations a regular part of the school's instructional program.

Implement a Vertical Teaming Approach (Collaborate with Other Librarians)

This past year, I worked early in the school year with my 9th-grade English teachers on research skill instruction as a part of an inquiry-based learning unit. In the spring, when the 8th-grade English department was developing an IBL project, I went back to my 9th-grade teachers to ask for their input about what they wished future students would bring to them. This sparked a conversation with the middle school (6-7th grade) librarian at the feeder school for Lakeside about what kind of inquiry-based learning instruction her students had experienced.

Having access to this information had a wide range of benefits. Not only did it provide enhanced communication with other librarians, but it also developed a vertical teaming approach which improved our library instruction across grade levels. This led to less redundancy and more clarity into the skills and capabilities we need to be building into our students to support inquiry-based learning. I want to continue the conversation with middle school and junior high teachers and librarians and with the high school media specialists who will work with my students in the future.

How to Start

Start Small with Foundational Inquiry Skills Instruction

Due to the open-ended nature of IBL and the array of skills students need to develop to be successful in it, seeking to provide inquiry interventions may seem overwhelming. To meet this challenge, consider starting on a small scale with some of your early adopting teachers and as word spreads, include more teachers. It would also be worth looking into the specific skills that underlie the mandates of IBL found in national standards such as Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards.

A positive initial goal might be to collaborate with your teachers on developing students' question-asking skills, which is a foundational skill of inquiry. This might be implemented so a past inquiry project that featured teacher-generated questions could be shifted towards a more student-centered approach by letting students select some questions to drive their inquiry. The QFT model offers a starting point for this type of inquiry intervention (

Seek Administrative Support

Teaching inquiry-based skills such as information literacy in isolation is not effective. Further, a one-shot instructional approach does not leave students with the confidence or skills to successfully implement inquiry (Wang 2016). Our students need multiple exposures to IBL, and they need to experience it across the curriculum to be successful (Breakstone et al. 2018). Seek out the support of administration to help develop a school-wide approach to make this a reality for all of our students across the curriculum.

Model Inquiry Skills for Teachers

Recently, I worked with a team of 9th-grade math teachers on a project where their students were researching statistics to answer the question: which athlete in a given sport is the best of all time? (such as Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James or Messi vs. Ronaldo). As we discussed the parameters of the project, it became apparent that the teachers needed more experience locating the information students were being asked to gather.

Modeling how to locate the statistics students would need to find for teachers was one of the most impactful parts of the team meeting. It gave teachers the opportunity to explore how to use the resources students would use firsthand, utilizing advanced search techniques such as employing Boolean operators. It also led to chances to co-teach the research aspects of this inquiry project and work directly with students who were struggling to support their responses.

Provide Scaffolded Support for All Learners

In order for all of our students to experience success in IBL, we need to help set up the conditions for their success. One way to do this is to intervene to provide resources that give students practice in the underlying skills.

For example, if 8th-grade English students are going to be asked to "Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced" (Common Core State Standards 2013), before they evaluate the efficacy of an article, students could be provided with smaller text samples to practice this skill and gain confidence.

Factitious ( is a great resource for this type of scaffolded practice. Students are presented with brief articles and are asked to read and classify if they think each one is real or fake. The website gives immediate feedback about the credibility of the source and which elements could be used to determine whether it is credible or not.

Specific Content-Based Examples of Inquiry Interventions

Collaborative Inquiry Interventions — Content Area Inquiry Activities and Supporting Interventions
English Curate a collection of resources aligned with the inquiry unit goals and students' learning capabilities.
Social Studies Use a platform with primary sources at students' reading levels or develop a Parlay ( to help them evaluate sources related to a controversial event in order to answer a question such as: What really happened on that night in 1775 that became known as the Boston Massacre?
Music Students explore what factors caused the composer to create the piece of music we are performing in class.
Collaborative Inquiry Interventions — Cross Curricular
Social Studies/English As students investigate the main cause of the Civil War, provide reading materials to support their research. Develop charts/graphic organizers for students to use as they write up the findings of their social studies research in English class.
Math/English As students investigate who is the greatest player of all time, they must support their reasoning with statistics. Students could then develop and write argumentative pieces in English explaining their reasoning.


Inquiry-based learning, though emphasized across curricular standards such as the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, is not yet fully implemented for all of our students. Providing these types of inquiry-interventions is not only a way for librarians to act as instructional leaders and partners, but also a key way to provide equity for all of our learners to prepare them to successfully interact with the ever growing and changing information landscape of the 21st century.

Works Cited

Breakstone, Joel, et al. "Why We Need a New Approach to Teaching Digital Literacy." Phi Delta Kappan 99, no. 6 (2018): 27-32.

Common Core State Standards. "English Language Arts Standards" Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2013.

Galileo Educational Network. "What Is Inquiry?"" Accessed October 2021.

Glazewski, Krista D., and Peggy A. Ertmer. "Fostering Complex Problem Solving for Diverse Learners: Engaging an Ethos of Intentionality toward Equitable Access." Educational Technology Research and Development 68, no. 2 (April 2020): 679-702.

Ladbrook, Judine, and Elizabeth Probert. "Information Skills and Critical Literacy: Where Are Our Digikids at with Online Searching and Are Their Teachers helping?" Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 27, no. 1 (2011): 105-121.

Lee, Youngju, and Jihyun Lee. "Enhancing Pre-Service Teachers' Self-Efficacy Beliefs for Technology Integration through Lesson Planning Practice." Computers & Education 73 (April 2014): 121-128.

Maniotes, Leslie K., and Carol C. Kuhlthau. "Making the Shift: From Traditional Research Assignments to Guiding Inquiry Learning." Knowledge Quest 43, no. 2 (Nov-Dec 2014): 8-17.

Marino, Michael P., and Margaret S. Crocco. "The Pre-Service Practicum Experience and Inquiry-Oriented Pedagogy: Evidence from Student Teachers' Lesson Planning." Journal of Social Studies Research 44, no. 1 (January 2020): 151-167.

Shannon, Christine, Jacqueline Reilly, and Jessica Bates. "Teachers and Information Literacy: Understandings and Perceptions of the Concept." Journal of Information Literacy 13, no. 2 (2019): 41-72.

Tawfik, Andrew A., et al. "Rethinking the Role of the Library in an Era of Inquiry-Based Learning: Opportunities for Interdisciplinary Approaches." In: Hokanson Brian, et al. (eds), Intersections across Disciplines: Interdisciplinarity and Learning. Springer, 2021.

Wang, Rui. "Assessment for One-Shot Library Instruction: A Conceptual Approach." Portal: Libraries and the Academy 16 no 3 (2016): 619-648.

About the Author

Brian T. Johnson, MLIS, is the media specialist at Lakeside Junior High School in Springdale, Arkansas. He earned his master’s at the University of Central Arkansas and has been National Board Certified in Library/Media since 2012. Johnson can be reached at Read his latest thoughts on YA literature and technology at Tweet him @brian_librarian.

MLA Citation

Johnson, Brian T. "Inquiry Interventionists: How to Support Inquiry-Based Learning for All of Our Students." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

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