Unguided Inquiry

Unguided inquiry is an uncomfortable (for me) but effective teaching method.  You provide the students with a very general area of study and the students prepare a final product.  The students are free to use whichever resources they want to use in order to research the area in question.  The teacher becomes another resource that the students choose to use as a guide to other resources and any new skills required.  When it works properly, you will feel uncomfortable as your role becomes assessment based only - the students are working at their own pace and don't want interruptions.

When is it best used:
  • When the nature of the final product (report, discussion, presentation) is open
  • When dealing with higher order thinking skills (synthesis, evaluation)
  • When the lesson is focused on skill building and not just final results
  • To focus on the students' preparation process and experiences
  • When time is not a critical factor
Tips for success:
  • Hands off:  you must be willing to let the students work through their problems and come to you as a resource
  • The question must be engaging and open.  Often best with larger concepts (especially intangibles)
  • Students must feel free to use any resource that they find engaging
  • Your students must be engaged in this process (was this overstated?)
  • Some students may require a more guided approach - try to only guide progress and offer checkpoints
  • Although you are not dictating the final product, you may need to help students uncover their final product
  • Students pick what they want to focus on
  • Students are free to direct discussions and come up with their own conclusions
  • Students have more freedom to explore topics
  • Allows for free flowing ideas
  • Can get too far off topic
  • Need intrinsically motivated students
  • Final product might not relate to the educational aspects
Students' Role:
  • Students are very active participants in the process
  • Students collaborate openly and can find and use a wide variety of information
  • Students direct their own learning
  • Students can use their full range of creativity
Teacher's Role:
  • The teacher takes on a very passive role which frees time for assessment
  • The teacher doesn't require as much preparation time
  • The teacher is able to see what students are thinking about and what is important to the student
  • Thirteen Ed Online:  Slightly dated (2004) but thorough investigation of inquiry based learning
  • Alberta Education: From the same year, but a full exploration of inquiry based learning
  • Models, Strategies and Methods (our textbook):  great summary pp373-375