What do you mean when you say "inquiry?"

The inquiry approach is a framework that engages and supports all learners.  It helps develop thinking strategies that lead to deeper understanding about concepts.  (Faye Brownlie and Layton Schnellert).

Open inquiries are opportunities for students to explore any question or topic of their choice.  Some of the questions students have explored are:
  • Can I live as an artist without having to dedicate a great deal of my time to my "day job?"
  • How can I improve the trajectory of an airsoft gun so that it shoots more accurately?
  • What is healing?
  • Which university will provide me with the most diverse and fulfilling experiences in the field of biochemistry?
  • Which daily practices will improve my physical, mental, and spiritual health?
  • How can I create a fitness plan so that after graduation, I stay healthy and fit?  And when do I know if my program needs adjusting, and how do I adjust it when it does?
  • How can I write a song so that it is simple, powerful, and effective?

Curricular inquiries ask students to use open-ended questions to set a purpose for their learning within a curricular area.  Rather than asking students to "learn the right answers," they are asked to use thinking skills to discover information and work to synthesize and apply what they are learning to new contexts. 

What are the basic principles of inquiry-based learning?

According to Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels:

  • Choice of topics are based on genuine student curiosity, questions, and interests
  • Digging deeply into complex topics that matter to kids
  • Flexible grouping, featuring small research teams, groups, and task forces
  • Heterogeneous groups with careful differentiation
  • Student responsibility and leadership
  • Use of proficient reader/thinker/researcher strategies
  • Drawing upon multiple, multigenre, and multimedia sources
  • Going beyond fact finding to synthesizing ideas and building and acquiring knowledge
  • Actively using knowledge in our schools and communities; sharing, publication, products, or taking action
  • Matching kids' learning to provincial standards

According to Layton Schnellert and Faye Brownlie:

  • Students work to ask essential questions
  • The development of critical thinking is key
  • Assessment for learning gives continual feedback and opportunities for learning
  • Open-ended instructional strategies give maximum flexibility and personalization
  • Diverse texts allow choice, flexibility, interest, and mirror the way adults research
  • Gradual release of responsibility where teachers model the thinking skill, and students practice it until they are able to do it on their own
  • Assessment of learning (the summation) allows students to show what they know

Another way to phrase it (Daniels and Harvey)*:

 Inquiry Approach to teaching
 Coverage Approach to teaching
 Student voice and choice    
 Teacher selection and direction
 Questions and concepts
 Required topics and isolated facts
 Collaborative work
 Solitary work
 Strategic thinking
 Authentic investigators
 As if/surrogate learning
 Student responsibility
 Student compliance
 Student as knowledge creator
 Student as information receiver
 Interaction and talk    
 Quiet and listening
 Teacher as model and coach
 Teacher as expert and presenter
 Cross-disciplinary studies
 One subject at a time
 Multiple resources
 Reliance on a textbook
 Multimodal learning
 Verbal sources
 Engaging in a discipline
 Hearing about a discipline
 Real purpose and audience
 Extrinsic motivators
 Caring and taking action
 Forgetting and moving to the next unit
 Performance and self-assessments
 Filling in bubbles and blanks

*Please note that it is not my opinion that you cannot incorporate aspects of the inquiry approach into the coverage method; the chart simply highlights the basic differences taking into account that all strong teachers, no matter their methodology, include interaction, modeling, questioning, collaborative work, etc.

Why is the inquiry process important?

The world of work and education is changing.  As outlined in the competencies described in the BC curriculum students will be developing skills, such as collaboration, and creative thinking, that most researchers agree will be essential for all students to have for the world of work.

More importantly, inquiries allow students to deeply delve into subject matter that is important to them personally.  This process is the foundation to students' self-discovery and frequently ignites their passion for learning.