What is Inquiry Learning?
Inquiry learning is grounded in the idea that individuals carry on the process of learning for a lifetime. “Inquiry” is defined as “a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge — seeking information by questioning.” We believe that memorizing facts and information isn’t the most important approach to learning in today’s world. Information is readily available and scientific hypotheses change. We want our students to have an understanding of how to get and make sense of the information and experiences which they encounter daily. Inquiry is not so much about seeking the right answer — because often there isn’t one — but rather seeking pertinent resolutions to questions and issues.
*Inquiry is not taught at a specific time of day or during a specific subject; it is a process and philosophy to learning.
Why is it important?
Inquiry provides a context for constructivist learning which enables children to construct their own understandings. Children generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas.
Students are empowered to direct their own learning, to ask their own questions, and pursue their interests within a topic. Thus, they have a vested interest in what they are learning. Inquiry encourages curiosity and goes beyond just collecting facts, data, and information. This allows students to apply their learning in a real-world context.
Students gain skills such as higher-level thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to transfer their learning across disciplines. Students learn various methods of investigation which are crucial in order to solve problems and contribute meaningfully to the global community as a lifelong learner.
How does it look in our classrooms?
In our classrooms, we support our students in their personal quest for knowledge through individualized investigations cued by a common unit topic and student curiosities. Students construct their understanding in this process through their questioning, research and problem solving skills. Students actively engage in the Inquiry cycle of getting information, sorting this information, and then using this information in an environment that is guided and supported through the gradual release of responsibility. A range of resources and materials are made available to enable students to actively explore and develop background knowledge on the subject in order to begin the questioning process. Students are encouraged to use the resources available and also seek out their own in order to advance through the inquiry process. The use of technology plays a significant role in this process. Students utilize a range of iPad applications to plan and gather their research, analyze the information they have collected and communicate their findings to a larger audience. From the teacher’s perspective, there are two separate learning events occurring: the content topic and, simultaneously, the Inquiry process. Throughout the entire process the classroom teacher and students create a culture of thinking and reflection.
Resources that are commonly used are:
- Graphic Organizers
- KWL Charts
- Self Assessments and Goal Sheets
- Wonder walls
- Researchers’ notebooks
What is the teacher’s role?
The teacher has a multi-faceted role in inquiry in the classroom. The teacher is a facilitator of learning. For example, as students delve deeper into their inquiry the teacher serves as a guide to ensure the students are moving towards their learning goals. A teacher is also a motivator because they push the students to ask more questions and think more deeply. They also act as connectors between students, teachers, local and world communities. The teacher helps students to make connections to their own lives to make their learning meaningful. The goal, by the time they move forward at the end of the school year, is for students to be independent learners and inquirers. The teacher guides the students to become aware not only of the content knowledge (what) but to also understand the process (how) and know how to apply this knowledge to unfamiliar situations/topics. “Get it, sort it, use it” is common language for the inquiry process at ACST.
How does it look within our Specialist and World Language programs?
There should be a strong connection between the mainstream classroom teachers (CPT etc.) and the Specialists / World Language teachers. The Inquiry process flows in both directions from one learning situation and back. Specialists teachers support mainstream inquiry instruction by using common vocabulary and inquiry experiences. Explicit teaching allows the students access to new language which connects to teaching/learning content language. It is important to maintain common language and involve natural, tangible, tactile experiences that consolidate and extend student learning. In this way, the student makes the connection and understands that learning is linked.
Written collaboratively by Elementary Faculty