Making Sense of Inquiry

Dr. Shelley Robinson, Assistant Principal

I still grapple with making sense of inquiry-based learning, and have discovered that thinking about inquiry in the following ways, helps me to better understand it as an educator and a parent.

Inquiry is the process of seeking information through questioning. The levels of questioning can vary depending on the type of knowledge being sought after and the degree to which a student must understand. We seek to learn by asking “Why?” and this question lingers in the background of all essential understanding. From there we build in the “Where? What? When? How?” which stems from a variety of research strategies and starting points. These essential questions drive the program and are often generated and shared by both teachers and students.

These questions are cognitive and metacognitive in nature:

How do I know?
Can I ever know that?
What is the evidence?
How did I arrive at that decision?
How can I improve my system of learning for the next inquiry?

The teacher’s role is to help guide and model the questioning process where necessary to find congruence with curricular outcomes without stifling the natural inquiry process that develops in the classroom. Deep levels of questioning and reflection need to be nurtured.

Inquiry involves finding and understanding useful and meaningful knowledge while finding natural resolutions to questions, some of which are not always definitively right or wrong. Inquiry allows students to construct meaning while still considering the recommendations of curriculum developers. We must consider the provincial curriculum while encouraging the “living” curriculum. We sometimes need a road map, but we want to be part of creating the journey with our students so that it includes many applicable and meaningful diversions.

We want to move from transmitting information to children to allowing students to transform information into significant and long-lasting knowledge. This means that we collaboratively craft programs so that time is effectively used to teach and learn in constructive and authentic ways. Teachers and students need to be partners in learning.

The teacher encourages a variety of assessment procedures that include peer, self, mentor and teacher assessment referencing the learning process. This type of assessment is an ongoing part of the learning process and helps to gauge the successful process or uncover the obstacles impeding the learning process.

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