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Learning Environment Management

Inquiry-based learning requires a different type of management style than traditional teaching.

Inquiry Learning Environment

The classroom teacher and school library media specialist must plan an environment with the following characteristics:


Although the process will be unique for each student, the classroom teacher and teacher librarian must anticipate student needs and be ready for the teachable moment. Rather than whole group instruction, consider learning centers that can be accessed as students find the need for a particular skill. Develop pathfinders that learners can use to guide information gathering. Prepare mini-lessons focusing on skills needed during specific stages in the process.


Information inquiry requires a flexible learning environment. Students will be working at different speeds and experience needs for a variety of materials and assistance. Students need easy access to the library media center, computer resources, and learning centers. They also need opportunities to send email, conduct an interview, or visit an area park.


Strive to develop an authentic environment. In this type of environment students have timelines, resources, and assignments that are meaningful and connected to a "real world" issue or problem. It's much easier for students to stay on track and stick to a timeline when they know that their decisions will impact others or their experiment results will be shared with another class.

Learning Community

Create a sense of community in the classroom. Rather than students always looking to the teacher for answers, build a sense of shared responsibility for learning that asks students to learn together. This can be accomplished through the use of a shared theme, group experience, or collaborative product.

Management Tools

To be successful, students must be organized and aware of the inquiry process. Checklists, timelines, and concept maps help students keep track of their progress. These tools also help a teacher anticipate questions and resource needs.


Although students may use a wide range of resources to complete a project, the teacher librarian can produce pathfinders to streamline the process of identifying and locating materials. Pathfinders include background information, basic print and nonprint materials, search strategies, suggested topics, and exploration guidance.

Planning Documents

Provide students with help in project planning as well as with the inquiry process. Project planning helpers include project guidelines, timelines, task sheets, checklists, and rubrics. Inquiry process scaffolds facilitate student learning. Scaffolds are needed for reception, transformation, and product development. Reception scaffolds include tools such as anticipation guides, KWL sheets, and graphical organizers. Transformation scaffolds include comparison charts, notetaking tools, and cause/effect diagrams. Production scaffolds help students produce final products and include software templates and helpers.


Information skills taught in isolation are ineffective. Instead, develop mini-lessons that can be used at the "teachable moment." When students are ready to take notes, introduce a mini-lesson on citing sources. When learners encounter the need to e-mail an expert, provide a mini-lesson in electronic letter writing.

Cohort Groups

Create small, collaborative learning groups that will follow the inquiry process together. These groups can serve many functions.

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