SJAM Inquiry Centre

"Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand."

How Does an Inquiry Work?

With thanks to "QUEST: Inquiry Learning: Definition and Discussion.

  • Students are at some stage of progression along a continuum that starts at teacher directed units, includes negotiated units through to student driven learning.

  • Students are actively supported and instructed by teachers in the acquisition of relevant skills.

  • Students are engaged in learning.

  • Students deepen or gain understanding of core concepts relevant to the context.

  • Students work collaboratively in small groups.

  • Students use and apply the information then share their solutions, decisions, thinking and outcomes in a celebration of understanding. They are not involved in a process of shifting and sharing information.

  • Students will access a range of information sources.

  • Students predicate their work on prior knowledge.

  • Students will be actively engaged in asking and following up on questions as a central skill.


To make the process work, we'll be setting some important criteria to work on this year...


Goal: To implement inquiry learning effectively we first need to have a clear goal and reason behind taking this step and to constantly measure every aspect of the implementation in terms of achieving that goal. Our central goal for implementing inquiry learning is to move the students in the ELC towards independence as learners.


Progression: It is unrealistic to expect students to be able to instantly handle the tasks that will be asked of them in independent inquiries. It is logical that the start point is highly teacher directed activities where we can develop foundational skills. Students can then draw on their experiences and learning to move to negotiated inquiry activities. Once skills have matured and developed further then students can move towards increasing independence in developing their own learning tasks.


Scaffolding: Inquiry learning, if it is targeted at developing independence will not be a sink or swim experience for learners. Early experiences will be highly scaffolded, allowing students to experience success and develop skills. To provide adequate scaffolding places large demands on teachers in terms of that preparation and planning as well as a high level of engagement and interaction with students as they move through the learning experience.


Skill teaching: Learning is a complex process and being independent as a learner requires the development of a large number of skills. These skills will not be acquired by absorption. Skills need to be deliberately taught by teachers and practiced by students in real and engaging contexts over time.


Engagement: Student engagement in learning is a central goal, however this requires  learning experiences that are highly relevant, challenging and practical for the students. impact negatively on student engagement. The  challenge is plan and develop relevant activities that they can engage in enthusiastically themselves.


Key Understandings: We have curriculum requirements (both external and internal) that include the development of conceptual understanding. It is important for us to clarify the key understandings they hope to learn and then use them as the base for the inquiry learning activities.


Grouping: The most powerful learning happens when students can discuss, argue, compare ideas and build understanding. It seems appropriate therefore that inquiry learning is more effective when students are actively encouraged to do this. Our class has been arranged for group work, and our groups put together based on the student's multiple intelligence inventories in order to use the strengths of the students and scaffold their weaknesses.


Applying and using information:  Real understanding comes through using and applying. For instance I could read a large number of books and articles on calligraphy, but it is the act of applying that information and actually doing some calligraphy that will allow me to really understand the concepts and information I have found. To bring a good inquiry to an end, the application of the information gathered is the best way to make it meaningful.


Information sources: Inquiry learning experiences should foster students into working with a wide range of information sources. These sources should include printed text, digital sources, images, data and people.


Prior knowledge: Gaining understanding is a process of linking new information to prior knowledge. This means that in any inquiry learning process there should be a time for clarifying prior knowledge. We also need to recognise that most of us will also think we know things that we later find are incorrect, false, distorted or naive in some way. the implication of this is that when we define our prior knowledge it may be of value to carry out some small research activities to validate the stuff we think we know.


Questioning: Questioning is a major central skill to learning. It could be argued that it is in fact our prime intellectual skill. Questioning is a skill set that needs to be developed, to do so teachers need  to have a clear understanding of questioning, questioning skills and how to facilitate students' questioning skills.