8. How do Teachers Start the Inquiry Process?
The pathway to become an inquiry-based teacher requires starting small, reflecting on their practice, developing a network of colleagues to offer encouragement, support, and maintain on-going conversation to help enhance their skills. It is important to plan across the Overall Expectations, create an assessment plan, and decide what elements of inquiry will be targeted.
Asking and answering questions is a fundamental feature of successful inquiry instruction which needs to be tied to content. Teachers have a role in helping students learn how to ask productive and significant questions.
Begin by taking the curriculum expectations, select a key concept, and present it to students as “big” questions. Engage the students by assessing and building on their existing knowledge, experiences and skills, and what they want to know. Students will be more interested in exploring a topic when they can connect to the topic personally. In addition, students will take ownership of their learning and assessing their own learning if they are involved in the co-construction of success criteria for both the final product and inquiry process. Also, Learning Goals that are stated in ‘student friendly language’ should be made visible at the onset of the inquiry process to address intention, relevance, and purpose – explicitly stating to students the ‘why’ of learning and deciding together ‘how’ we will get there.
Continue to model inquiry-based thinking by asking meaningful and authentic open-ended questions. Examples of questions to guide students in developing an inquiring mind include:
- What do you observe?
- What do you think will happen if…?
- What can we do to find out ….?
- Why do you think that happened?
- What do you think will happen when…?
- What are you still wondering about?
Continue to scaffold and model the stages of inquiry by offering experiences that lead students to generate their own questions and design investigations to answer these questions. Decide if the students will develop and explore their questions individually, in small groups or as a whole group. Throughout the inquiry process, the teacher gradually releases responsibility to students as they gain knowledge, skills, and confidence.
It is counter intuitive in inquiry instruction to follow pre-determined series of lessons. Instead, reflect on the students’ questions and ideas, and identify specific goals and objectives to guide the planning of the subsequent lessons in the unit. Students need time to explore, spark curiosity, and pursue questions on their pathway to inquiry-based learning.
As teachers map out their long-range instructional plans, take into account the amount of prior experience students have in scientific inquiry. Experienced teachers take this into consideration when planning how and when to introduce inquiry-based opportunities. For some classes, there may be a gradual transition over several months from teacher-led demonstrated inquiry and students completing hands-on structured or guided inquiry activities and labs, to eventually more open-ended, self-directed, student-centred investigations. Over time, the teacher’s role will change from motivator, to coach, to facilitator, to mentor.
Teachers may perceive they have less control as students move around in student-centred classrooms. To avoid chaotic situations, good classroom management and questioning skills will help to create a culture of inquiry.
Table 7.1: Planning Inquiry-Based Thinking Process for Students
SOURCE: Chiarotto, L. (2011). Natural Curiosity: A Resource for Teachers – Building Children’s Understanding of the World Through Environmental Inquiry. Oshawa, ON: Maracle Press Ltd., p19.
Suggested link for further information:
Capacity Building Series, Inquiry-Based Learning
1. Chiarotto, L. (2011). Natural Curiosity: A Resource for Teachers – Building Children’s Understanding of the World Through Environmental Inquiry. Oshawa, ON: Maracle Press Ltd.
2. Watt, J. and Colyer, J. (2014). IQ A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.
SOURCE: Watt, J. and Colyer, J. (2014). IQ A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, p139.