Saturday, 27 July 2013

Inquiring About Inquiry:
My Journey Into Inquiry Based Learning (Part 2)

This post focuses on connecting my thinking of inquiry with research.  To see my journey into inquiry, go here in Part 1 of Inquiring about Inquiry.

I joined a book club in the middle of the school year with some teachers in our school board. We read, A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. This book describes how to create a sense of wonder in the classroom by creating specific areas in your room to allow students to wonder and question. It explains how to focus into students’ natural curiosity by having them create questions. This eventually leads to the creation of a non-fiction piece of written work. This book gave concrete examples of primary inquiry and focused on the curiosity of the child. The Ontario Science and Technology curriculum quotes Jeffrey Bloom (on page 28) about the sense of wonder in our classrooms as children are naturally curious.

"Trying to understand how the world works is what children do naturally, and it is what you need to take advantage of when teaching science [and technology]. Just remember: Avoid being the knowledge authority. ... Instead, cultivate a sense of excitement for exploring and inquiring about our world and for generating and testing possible explanations."
Jeffrey W. Bloom, Creating a Classroom Community of Young Scientists, 2nd ed. (2006), p. 4

Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry by Jeffery D. Wilhelm makes some great literacy connections in the book. He explains inquiry very well and provides examples and details of inquiry geared more towards junior/intermediate students. A great quote connecting literacy to inquiry: “Most recent research in cognition shows that reading and writing are forms of inquiry, and are best learned in contexts of inquiry and through the questioning and discourse that is central to it”  (p. 10).

Lorraine Chiarotto’s Natural Curiosity focuses on a child’s understanding of the world through environmental Inquiry. This is a very practical book with great examples classroom inquiry. It discuses assessment of inquiry in detail and quotes the Ontario curriculum and Growing Success. As these are documents I need to use to help plan and asses my students, I know that this can be a great resource as I work through inquiry throughout the year. Chiarotto provides classroom a variety of examples of inquiry. Two of these examples specifically focus on grade one students:
  • “The Grade 1s Explore Seasonal Changes” (P.58)
  • “Grade 1/2: Susanna’s Story: What is a Living Thing?” (P.134-139)

In one of the Capacity Building Series monographs, Special Edition #24, “Getting Started with Student Inquiry” (October 2011) discusses inquiry and student engagement in an easy to follow and read monograph. A great quote to remember, “While engaged students may appreciate extrinsic rewards such as good grades, or praise, their motivation is not dependent on these things. They are engaged in learning because they find it interesting, enjoyable and self-fulling.”

Kuklthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2007) defines inquiry as:

“Inquiry is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic or issue of importance. It requires more than simply answering questions or getting a right answer. It espouses investigation, exploration, search, quest, research, pursuit and study. It is enhanced by involvement with a community of learners, each learning from the other in social interaction.”

As I read and reflect upon the last year of inquiry, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have created inquiry to be more of a project, than a journey of learning for my students. I focused my energy on the questioning part and had the students create lots of questions, but sometimes it didn’t go further than that. We probably created more wonders than we actually answered. I had my students doing “hands on” activities and had them creating something. I tried to let my students guide the learning, but only when it was convenient for my teaching. We definitely had moments of great inquiry and great learning. We also had times where it may have been more “busy work” than anything else. It was all engaging and fun, but purposeful?  

“Inquiry-based teaching is collaborative, investigative, and deeply intellectual. The teacher has a responsibility to make the inquiry experience purposeful and high thoughtful. Teaches are the primary architects of the learning experience.”
- Wolk, “School as Inquiry”

Wolk has helped me tweak my thinking. I now know that I need to focus on the big ideas and the big questions and go from there. In the article, he quotes “without the big ideas, an inquiry becomes little more than a friendly version of reading a textbook or a “fun activity.” With big ideas, a teacher can challenge students to think far beyond the sanitized context of a textbook” (p. 119). I need to allow my students to learn from each other and work through ideas together. I need to allow my classroom to get “messy” and the learning to get complicated. I need to be okay to not always have the answer; however, I need to always remember that I need to have a plan in mind. I need to really KNOW the curriculum and know my students. I need to be planned and purposeful in my assessment. On Page 22 of Natural Curiosity, Chiarotto writes:

“In an inquiry-based classroom, the teacher assesses student progress on a continuous basis throughout the school year, collecting and using a wide range of information to provide an informed and comprehensive picture of the student’s learning.”

Through all of the research I’ve studied, I can very clearly see that inquiry needs to be a part of my classroom. Inquiry needs to be focused, assessed and worked on together as a team. I’m planning to incorporate Science and Social Studies into my Language program as well as through an exploration time at the end of the day. 

I would love to hear your thoughts about inquiry. How have you used in in your classroom? What are your thoughts on inquiry as we start into a new school year?


  1. I enjoyed reading your reflection and it made think of where I am in the inquiry process. I based my inquiry through the curriculum I provoke students' thinking by presenting any issue or real event that is presently taking place.Once they pose their questions and compare and categorize them then the students deconstruct the curriculum and add on to the categorization the overall expectation and more questions. I focus on collaborative learning and sharing new learning through many tools. I am learning more on designing thinking and students taking more ownership of learning. I am hoping to continue learning with my students on designing thinking and ownership of learning. I will be posting on my blog the assessment process as students also take ownership of it and I focus more on the as and for than the of. The of is only at the end of the process. It is a rubric composed of the criteria throughout the process categorize under the achievement charts for the report card grade. I am @rolat on twitter and you could check my blog. I am also learning to share my thinking globally and my students learning.

  2. I love that you work through the curriculum with your students. I will definitely be checking out your blog often - the assessment process with inquiry is a tricky one. Thanks for sharing and commenting!

  3. Jenni, thank you so much for sharing your thinking re. inquiry. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I don't think that I was completely at the inquiry stage last year, and I want to make more of a "leap" this year. I see this as a big change in teaching practices. I don't know how it will go. My big concerns right now are what about those students that don't express questions or wonders? How will they be inspired to inquire more? How will all students react to such a change in teaching and learning? This will be a big change for all of us! I'm excited to get started.


  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Aviva!
    I found this year that once you start with the big idea and a question/wonder that intrigues most, they all get caught up in the excitement of it. Of course, with Grade One, that's a lot easier than juniors, they can get excited about anything!
    At first, I found my students had a hard time coming up with questions and allowing themselves to really wonder. But with practice, they all started really thinking about things. One student in particular came up with some great insights and wonders that I didn't think he was capable of. Inquiry allows students who may not always express their questions in the "formal" way of teaching to actually express them in a different way. Looking forward to continuing this journey with you!

  5. Popular discussion on education as well as recent findings in the learning sciences tell a similar story. The model of education typical of 20th century classrooms was effective for that era of human history, but the ‘knowledge society’ we now live in requires new thinking about what constitutes effective and engaging teaching and Inquiry based learning.