FOSIL was developed in 2011 by Oakham School‘s Head of Library, Darryl Toerien.
FOSIL is based on the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum – a PK-12 (Reception-Year 13) continuum of the “literacy, inquiry, critical thinking, and technology skills that students must develop at each phase of inquiry over their years of school and in the context of content area learning” 1 – which was originally developed in 2009 by the New York City School Library System (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) while under the direction of Barbara Stripling. The New York City Information Fluency Continuum, as it was called, was endorsed by the School Library Systems Association of New York State (SLSA) in 2012 and renamed the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum (ESIFC). The ESIFC was re-imagined in 2019, again under the direction of Barbara Stripling, to adapt to the changing information, education, and technology environments, as well as the increasing diversity in student populations – the SLSA serves more than 3.2 million children in 4,236 schools in New York State (as of 18 September 2020). The ESIFC is endorsed by the New York State Library, the New York Library Association, the New York State Education Department, and as of April 2020, the FOSIL Group (see below).
Barbara Stripling, Professor Emerita in the iSchool at Syracuse University, is one of the pioneers of learning through inquiry and the stages of her model of the inquiry process “apply neatly across grade levels and academic disciplines as a basis for a modern interdisciplinary, inquiry-based curriculum” 2. Another major influence on the development of FOSIL is Carol Kuhlthau, Distinguished Professor Emerita in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, whose ground-breaking work on describing the affective, cognitive and physical demands that inquiry makes of students adds a vital dimension to FOSIL.
FOSIL, then, is a model of the inquiry process, an evolving continuum of specific and measurable skills that enable each of the stages in the inquiry process, and a growing collection of freely available resources that develop these skills within the inquiry process.
The power of FOSIL lies in the simple and logical way that the stages combine to guide students through the inquiry process:
- Connect: knowledge builds on knowledge, so pausing to take stock of what you already know reveals more clearly what you do not yet know
- Wonder: gaps in what you know give rise to questions, some more fruitful than others
- Investigate: these questions guide your investigation, which is aimed at sourcing reliable information that you can work with
- Construct: this is the point of learning by finding out for yourself – building knowledge and understanding from information in response to the questions that you have
- Express: once you know what you are talking about, you need to be able to share it appropriately, effectively and ethically
- Reflect: Doug Engelbart said it best when he said that the better we get at getting better, the faster we will get better, and this is desperately needed in a world facing increasingly complex and urgent challenges
It is in the nature of educators to share, all the more so if you believe that what you have to share makes the world of difference to quality of children’s learning. It turns out that this view is shared by an increasingly large number of librarians, teachers and school leaders. Soon, FOSIL emerged at the centre of a growing community of education professionals heading in a similar direction – teaching children how to learn by finding out for themselves. To more effectively support this growing community, and to increase its effectiveness, Oakham School lay the foundation for the FOSIL Group, which formed on 26 April 2019, and which is centred on the FOSIL Group website, the purpose of which is to allow its members to collectively develop their understanding of learning through inquiry, and to collaborate on designing and sharing resources to support learning through inquiry.
April 2020 saw the reciprocal endorsement of FOSIL/ the FOSIL Group and the ESIFC/ the School Library Systems Association of New York State, with Barbara Stripling commending FOSIL/ the FOSIL Group website for its clear and elegant presentation of inquiry.
The FOSIL Group has been founded on the principle that made it possible in the first place – we give freely because we received freely – membership is free, so if you wish to join and help shape this unfolding conversation, please register for the Forum.
For a fuller treatment of the history of FOSIL, please see E&L Memo 0 | Developing inquiring minds: a journey from information through knowledge to understanding in the Epistemology & Learning Memos. More recently (11 August 2020), Elizabeth Hutchinson interviewed Darryl Toerien about the past, present and possible future of FOSIL/ the FOSIL Group in An Extraordinary Journey: FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning). For insight into the development of the ESIFC, see E&L Memo 1 | Learning to know and understand through inquiry, by Barbara Stripling.
1 Stripling, B. (2017). Empowering Students to Inquire in a Digital Environment. In S. W. Alman (Ed.), School librarianship: past, present, and future (pp. 51-63). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
2 Callison, D. (2015). The evolution of inquiry : controlled, guided, modeled, and free. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.