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:


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

Student Voice & Choice

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

How are we learning what we are learning?

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

Provoking curiosity

  1. Using objects/resources that provoke curiosity and trigger further learning: fascinating images, compelling texts
  2. Deliberate questioning: What are you wondering about? What are you curious about?
  3. Making use of any opportunity to ask and answer questions
  4. Planned opportunities to model and record curiosities
  5. 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 #ICTPD #NationalGoal2 #KathMurdoch #learning

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