Reflections on Inquiry Learning…

Inquiry Transforms Learning Environments for Students by Michelle Bastock, Brenda Gladstone, and Judy Martin is an article from ATA Magazine Volume 87 2006-07. The article provides an overview of the inquiry learning framework. The purpose of this post is to synthesize my own learning.

Bastock et. al. identify 7 characteristics of Inquiry Learning

1. Authentic – inquiry learning is real work that the world needs to have done. The learning is characterized by knowledge building. Students should create understandings relevant to their interest and curiousity.

2. Academic Rigour – inquiry learning engages students in challenging tasks. Challenge that is designed by the teacher in response to each student’s gifts and abilities.

3. Learning in the World – inquiry learning relates to the real world outside the classroom. Learning relates to real life issues, communities, and perspectives.

4. Digital Technologies – technology is used as a vehicle to extend and enhance student learning.

5. Active Exploration – curiousity, creativity, engagement are supported by investigations using interviews, fieldwork, and laboratory work. The key piece is investigation.

6. Connecting with Experts – inquiry learning connects students with experts related to their subject of inquiry. Learning from people who possess the knowledge and experience is an important component.

7. Assessment for Learning – assessment and instruction are intertwined. Formative assessment based on clearly articulated criteria that are transparent to the learner is central to inquiry.

Inquiry learning is student centred, responsive to student learning interest, and dependent on the teacher as a guide for learning. What jumps out to me is the strong connection to Richard Elmore’s Personalization of Learning work and the Instructional Core model used by the CBE as part of its pedagogical priorities for teaching and learning. The instructional core model places the student, the teacher, and content as the core of quality learning. Teachers use professional knowledge and experience to guide creation of the challenging learning task and assessment strategies and align those tasks/strategies with the AB Program of Studies. Students share their interest with teachers and codesign learning tasks with teachers based on what is personally meaningful to them. In this model, learning tasks and assessment are co-created by the learner and teacher. Inquiry learning supports personalization.

Can inquiry learning cover all areas of the Program of Studies? In theory yes. Is it challenging to make this happen? My sense is yes. Is it necessary to teach your whole curriculum using the Inquiry learning framework? my sense is no. It requires a shift in how we think we about instructional design. This can be challenging particularly when a teacher is used to designing learning tasks in a different way. A couple of years ago in my role as Consultant with the CBE, I lead a pilot initiative aiming to enhance student learning by working with local Outdoor Education Centres and 12 schools that attended outdoor school programs during the school year. The goal was to increase capacity for outdoor schools to respond to stated student and teacher learning needs. Outdoor school programs traditionally are predesigned learning experiences that teachers are asked to connect to their yearly classroom learning program. What we were aiming to do was make a deliberate switch in how learning is designed and assessed.

I’ve been doing lots of reading lately from Hattie’s Visible Learning. Its interesting to me the strong connection between ideas underlying inquiry learning identified by Bastock and Hatties meta-analysis of teaching/learning influences on achievement. Hattie states that effective learning take place when the teacher decides the learning intention and success criteria so that learning is transparent to students – this relates to Elmore’s instructional core model where teachers are guides to designing learning tasks and assessment strategies. Hattie states that effective learning takes place when teachers check for student understanding. Inquiry learning also places assessment as central to effective learning. Bastock state that learning tasks should be challenging within the inquiry framework. Hattie’s research also connects challenging learning tasks to effective learning.

For me, the gems from the professional reading I do center on realizing that there are many things that are effective when it comes to instructional design. The key as a Teacher is to design instruction and assessment to reflect best practice as identified in professional literature. Inquiry learning certainly is one of those big ideas that help to personalize learning. The next step for me is to wrap my head around how this could look for high school curriculum where learning is typically more content driven that aims to prepare students for university. Learning is one of the great joys of my life. Finding more effective ways to make learning meaningful and relevant to students is my goal. Good luck with your own journey.



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