Category Archives: Inquiry

Inquiry Learning – just good 'old fashioned' effective pedagogy…

I am a big fan of inquiry learning and welcomed the opportunity to attend a full day workshop with Kath Murdoch last week.

I unreservedly support an inquiring classroom… however I am not a big fan of inquiry models. I am sure you know what I am referring to, normally some kind of cyclical or linear process to follow and guide inquiries in learning.  It may seem a bit contradictory, how can you ‘do’ inquiry without a model, but the workshop with Kath only reinforced this for me.

To support my point of view I am going to refer the notes that I made during the workshop but I am going to remove any reference to inquiry. When you do this the essence of what you are talking about is simply effective learning and effective pedagogical approaches.

Kath discussed four main areas which to her are the foundation of an effective inquiring classroom. My take on these were; relationships, student voice and choice, how are we learning what we are learning? and provoking curiosity. Let’s briefly unpack them:

Relationships

  • Know your students
  • Students finding out about each other
  • Students valued for who they are
  • “Do you know me well enough to teach me?”
  • Respectful connections: student/student, student/teacher
  • Vital in order for students to take risks and colborate
  • Becomes the fabric of an effectively functioning classroom

Student Voice & Choice

  • Students involved in decision making around their learning
  • Students co-constructing learning
  • Different options are provided for learners and their learning
  • Rich learning conversations with prompts for deeper thinking
  • Listening/responding/conferring/prompting
  • Inclusion of ‘passion’ type projects directly related to student curiosities
  • Student voice/choice is deliberately planned for, regular and authentic

How are we learning what we are learning?

  • Visible student goal setting and action plans
  • Clear learning intentions and success criteria
  • Rich in the characteristics of the Key Competencies
  • Looks like: participation, planned, focused, reflective, open minded, questioning,note making/taking, making connections to known/unknown

Provoking curiosity

  • Using objects/resources that provoke curiosity and trigger further learning: fascinating images, compelling texts
  • Deliberate questioning: What are you wondering about? What are you curious about?
  • Making use of any opportunity to ask and answer questions
  • Planned opportunities to model and record curiosities
  • Planned opportunities to reinforce processes, follow-up actions and how to’s

When you look at these characteristics of learning there are a number of elements that I believe are the foundations of effective learning and teaching. There is a clear alignment to the characteristics of assessment for learning through co-construction, learning intentions, success criteria, goal setting and reflections. The concepts of a differentiated and personalised approach are captured by involving students in decision making, having different options and outcomes for learning and allowing students to ask questions and follow their own curiosities. The richness of student voice clearly positions the learner in the middle with their learning built round them as opposed to learning being done to them. Building relationships “knowing where students come from and building on what students bring with them” (Ka Hikitia) is central to a trusting and healthy learning environment.

I would argue that an inquiry model takes the focus away from these attributes of effective pedagogy. It puts the focus on packaging learning up into a formula to be followed. If you were to ask teacher’s what is inquiry learning, what answers would you get? Would you get, “An approach to learning that is rich in student voice, relationships and student understanding of how we are learning what we are learning” or would the responses more likely be, “When students ask questions and find out the answers to their curiosities… oh and there is an action, a social action at the end.”

I am being deliberatley provocative but I think there is substance in the claim that inquiry models blur the essence of what an inquiring classroom is all about. Inquiry to me is just good ‘old fashioned’ effective pedagogy and I don’t need a model to tell me what that looks like.

Inquiry Visualisation

As mentioned in my previous post, the same time I sketched up the eportfolio graphs to visualise my thinking, I also played around with seeing what inquiry learning may look like.

The first graph tries to recognise the change of the inquiry process ownership over time. The younger the student the more teacher directed, transitioning into a guided approach where the teacher closely supports and guides the inquiry. Finishing the process off is the the ultimate goal of students being in complete control of their inquiry and the teacher monitoring and facilitating the process.

inquiry

The graph doesn’t really cut the mustard for me. Too many what ifs and open to interpretation from teachers and or models of inquiry. So I decided to take a different tack with the next graph looking more at an individual student and what the process may look like from start to finish:

journey1

In a purist form of inquiry the initiation or purpose of the inquiry comes from the student. A question, a curiosity, something that interests, engages and motivates the students to learn. The teacher then questions, listens, provides support and feedback directing and encouraging the student as they investigate, research and experiment. The student then takes control as they continue through their inquiry.

Again the visualisation here does not really work. It suggest that the teacher only conferences or has a checkpoint once with a student in their learning process which would be a bit of a worry. So onto the the next version:

journey2

I am quite happy with this representation. Again the inquiry is initiated by the student, and ongoing interaction with the teacher is shown as the progress dips into the “Zone of Co-construction” as the student and teacher check in with each other for further guidance, feedback, questioning. The end of the inquiry finishes with a bit of a flourish, some kind of action by the student as a result of their new knowledge.

This represents a reasonably capable student and also a teacher willing to let go and not be in control, acting as a guide for the student’s learning. Every student is different of course and even different inquiry contexts can alter what the process looks like. The graph above is also not exclusive to inquiry. It could just as easily be a literacy based project, art or virtually any other learning scenario.

Thoughts? How would you visualise the process of inquiry? The process of facilitating learning?

Interestingly, the term “Zone of Co-construction” seems to be unique, googling it returns zero hits. Maybe I should trademark it?