Friday, 26 July 2013

Inquiring About Inquiry:
 My Journey Into Inquiry Based Learning (Part 1)

“Children have a strong disposition to explore and discover. Inquiry- based learning builds on natural curiosity, enabling children to interact, question, connect, problem-solve, communicate, reflect, and more. This kind of authentic learning extends beyond the classroom to the students’ home and community. It essentially makes learning the ‘stuff of real life’ and children active participants in and shapers of their worlds."  - Michelle Kreller-Janke & Patti Hobler (Learning As We Go)
I’ve noticed that inquiry has become a very popular topic lately. Even the new Social Studies curriculum in Ontario has been designed and focused to implement inquiry. All around us, inquiry has become the new buzz word. Many people have been wondering about it, talking about it and trying to participate in it. I, myself have jumped on that ‘band wagon’ and started my own journey about this new thing called, inquiry.

BUT - inquiry is not a new concept.

Harvey and Daniels in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action trace inquiry to start in the 1590’s in Paris and Rome as people were designing buildings and monuments. John Dewey, “believed that students would learn more about themselves, the world and about valuable subject matter by working collaboratively with others” (p. 59). In 1918, Dewey’s protege, James Kilpatrick wrote an essay entitled, “The Project-Method: Child-Centeredness in Progressive Education” that focused on students working in groups to complete projects in social situations. Inquiry is NOT new; however, it has become a new buzz word around education in the past few years.

Play-based learning in kindergarten sparked the beginning of the inquiry journey for me. Last summer, as I began to think of myself as a grade one teacher again, I realized that I was going into a school where my students would have had two years of all day, play-based learning. How would that look in my grade one class? Could the students easily transition into desks? Would I need to put more play in the classroom? Would they be able to do the work? How could I make an easy transition from play-based learning to “real grade one” work? Last summer I had many questions. I talked to consultant in our board in the summer and tried to get my brain wrapped around the idea of incorporating some play into the class and allowing my students to guide some of the learning. Early in the year, she came into my class as were were starting to look into spiders. We had just started reading some books and they students began to take interest in spider research. Since it was the beginning of grade one, I read aloud books with information about specific topics, and they took the information they heard from the books and tried to show their learning in a way that made sense to them. I had students create posters, skits, procedures. They were engaged, they were learning, they were beginning to join in on my inquiry journey. The problem was, I didn’t know where to go from there. It wasn’t planned and purposeful, I got stuck. I knew I needed to try again.

Later on in the school year, our school board opened a workshop for kindergarten, grade one and two teachers to work together on an inquiry project (EPCI). We were given time to discuss and create our own inquiry to try with our classes. We visited each other’s classrooms and discussed what inquiry looked like. We had begun our journey. We looked at the statement: If students are given the opportunity to represent their thinking in different ways, then they will be more engaged and ready to extend their learning. My focus was through Science. My students investigated different materials and came up with different questions. From our questions, we investigated wood and metal – the most popular materials. We wondered about these materials and found out more information. The students also created structures based on their interests. Interest level was high and most, if not all my students were engaged in learning. They enjoyed working through the project and getting to control what they focused on learning. This time, I had a plan in mind of what I wanted to create and learn and had everyone create a structure using the provided materials and record their thinking on Educreations. It was more planned and purposeful. It was hands on and engaging. But is that really inquiry?

Later on in the year I heard about a school, where they did an hour of exploration time at the end of the day and linked play with Science and Social Studies. By this time, I was a little further on in my inquiry journey, so this sparked my interest. Did they have a better understanding of inquiry? Could I learn from them? I emailed the teacher and she offered some great advice and a few examples from her class. This could be planned, purposeful and allow for inquiry at the same time. This really got me thinking - can I do something like this in my class? How can I incorporate play at the end of the day while still focusing on the expectations of the Science and Social Studies curriculum? Can I use some of the concepts from A Place for Wonder to build a classroom of inquiry? Could I combine Language and Science like the book did? 

This summer I took my Reading Specialist, I was told that I needed to become a “go to” person about a topic and to inquire about an area that I had questions about. I needed to take about three weeks to research, to find out and to look into something that interested me. Of course, INQUIRY came to mind. By now I was a little further along in my journey and ready to start reflecting what I did last year and start planning how it can look in my classroom for the new year. Also, I could finally read that Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’ book Collaboration and Comprehension: Inquiry Circles in Action that had been sitting on my desk for the past few months. 

As I finished up on those three weeks of research and inquiry, I can say that it had been a busy three weeks of reading, talking and a lot of reflecting. I know that I still have a lot to learn; however, I am a little further along in my journey than when I first started. I feel that some of the readings have really helped shape my new understanding of inquiry. I am beginning to have a better idea of how inquiry can look in my class. I am beginning to come to some understanding of how I can incorporate learning in all areas, with a focus on Language and student interests by using guided questions and big ideas.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - connecting research to my learning to gain a deeper insight into inquiry.


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful reflection, Jeni! I dove into inquiry last year. My students were more focused and engaged. To be honest with you, science and social studies were not my favorite subjects to teach. Many of my "lessons" started with a read aloud, discussion of what they got out of the book, then a little project (cute craft, worksheet, etc.). When we did hands-on experiments, kids LOVED them, but they were all teacher led and conclusion was done as a whole group. Now, with inquiry approach, I believe my students will learn the same content, but in a very different way. As you mentioned, kids are naturally thinkers. They do ask good and sometimes better questions. We can guide their learning from there.
    Thanks for sharing about the play time. Wow, it would be awesome to be able to have an hour of playtime every day. It sparked me to think about all the cute craft ideas, themed puzzles, bulletin board cut outs, etc. can be used for guided play time. I may not be able to do this every day, but curious to see what type of conversation will happen when ss are given these open ended material to show their learning.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and being my learning buddy;-)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Leka! I enjoy learning with you as we take this inquiry journey together! :)

  3. Inquiry based learning (IBL) is a method of instruction that places the student, the subject, and their interaction at the center of the learning experience. At the same time, it transforms the role of the teacher from that of dispensing knowledge to one of facilitating learning. It repositions him or her, physically, from the front and center of the classroom to someplace in the middle or back of it, as it subtly yet significantly increases his or her involvement in the thought-processes of the students.