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An old adage states: "Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I

understand." Inquiry implies involvement that leads to understanding. Furthermore,

involvement in learning implies possessing skills and attitudes that permit you to seek
resolutions to questions and issues while you construct new knowledge.

What is Inquiry-based learning?

"Inquiry" is defined as "a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge -- seeking information
by questioning." Individuals carry on the process of inquiry from the time they are born until
they die. This is true even though they might not reflect upon the process. Infants begin to
make sense of the world by inquiring. From birth, babies observe faces that come near, they
grasp objects, they put things in their mouths, and they turn toward voices. The process of
inquiring begins with gathering information and data through applying the human senses --
seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling.

A Context for Inquiry

Unfortunately, our traditional educational system has worked in a way that discourages the
natural process of inquiry. Students become less prone to ask questions as they move
through the grade levels. In traditional schools, students learn not to ask too many questions,
instead to listen and repeat the expected answers.

Some of the discouragement of our natural inquiry process may come from a lack of
understanding about the deeper nature of inquiry-based learning. There is even a tendency
to view it as "fluff" learning. Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. A complex
process is involved when individuals attempt to convert information and data into useful
knowledge. Useful application of inquiry learning involves several factors: a context for
questions, a framework for questions, a focus for questions, and different levels of questions.
Well-designed inquiry learning produces knowledge formation that can be widely applied.

The Principles of Inquiry-based learning?

There are certain principles that govern inquiry-based learning and can be summarized as
Principle 1
Learners are in the center of the entire process, while instructors, resources and technology
are adequately organized to support them.
Principle 2
All learning activities revolve around information-processing skills.
Principle 3
Instructors facilitate the learning process, but also seek to learn more about their students
and the process of inquiry-based learning.
Principle 4
Emphasis should be placed on evaluating the development of information-processing skills
and conceptual understanding, and not on the actual content of the field.

Four Levels of Inquiry

1. Limited/Confirmation Inquiry – Students confirm a principle through an activity when the
results are known in advance.
2. Structured Inquiry – Students investigate a teacher-presented question through a
prescribed procedure.
3. Guided Inquiry – Students investigate a teacher-presented question using student
designed/selected procedures.
4. Open Inquiry – Students investigate questions that are student formulated through student
designed/selected procedure.
The Five (5) Steps of Inquiry-based learning?
1. Ask questions
2. Probe into various situations
3. Conduct analyses and provide descriptions
4. Communicate findings, verbally or in writing
5. Think about the information and knowledge obtained

Advantages and Disadvantages

There's no perfect one-size-fits-all teaching approach that will connect with the interests and
abilities of every single student out there, and teachers know this intimately. So while there
are certainly disadvantages to using an inquiry-based learning approach, the pros far
outweigh the cons. Better still, there are ways around such stumbling blocks that teachers
can navigate with ease, and we'll discuss them as we go.

Advantages of Inquiry-based Approach

This is what inquiry-based learning is designed to do:


Students get to ask their own questions, creating greater interest in the topic. When they ask
their own questions, they pay more attention, as they are seeking open discussion and
Students are told to find the answers to the questions they have. In many instances, this is
effective because it prepares students for real-world scenarios utilizing skills they need in the
Students learn how to work with each other, solving problems as a unit.
Fact sharing has proven to enhance the ability to recall that information later. This
demonstrates inquiry-based learning has greater retention capabilities.
Disadvantages of Inquiry-based Approach

While this can be a beneficial method of learning for students and instructors, there are some
concerns with inquiry-based learning. Although engagement levels tend to be higher in this
setting, there are instances where this method presents challenges.
These are some disadvantages to this style of instruction, and the measures you can take to
overcome them.
When teachers focus learning time on student-led inquiries, it is important that no area of the
curriculum is left behind. As we operate in a space where standardized testing is the norm,
this could impact performance in this area. Without key learnings, students are unprepared
for their exams. In a STEM learning environment, this could be detrimental.
The workaround: The role of the teacher in connecting curricular outcomes to the line of
inquiry is the fundamental solution to this problem. By modelling effective questioning
techniques, teachers are able to guide their students to find the answers they need while
engaging in the relevant curriculum areas.
This teaching and learning style requires total student engagement and participation.
Students will be asked to speak up and immerse themselves in the activity. While this could
help enhance their public speaking skills and also promote teamwork, it could be daunting for
those students who have issues with speaking out. Additionally, it could be challenging for
those students who do not think quickly on their feet. Comprehension and learning disabilities
must be considered, which could become problematic.
The workaround: The solution is found initially in the kinds of questions that teachers ask
throughout any inquiry. Essential questions that are big enough and open enough for anyone
to answer from their own perspective, experience, or level of ability provide an entry point for
every learner into a conversation that is relevant to them. Enabling learners to share in small
group sessions with their friends is another way to support reluctant speakers. Above all,
inquiry-based learning is designed to be responsive to learner interest, ability, and pace.
If teachers do not completely understand or embrace this concept, they are unprepared and
unable to engage with their students on a deeper level. This creates a disconnect, which in
turn leaves the students unprepared and at risk. Teachers must have a clear understanding
of the value of creating a learner-centred classroom, and develop the essential skills to
facilitate inquiry-based learning.
The workaround: A key factor is understanding that great classroom inquiry is guided and
supported by the teacher, through questioning and by providing formative
feedback. Students are never left to their own devices; rather, the teacher facilitates and
guides each step of the inquiry process, ensuring that students are on the right track as they
develop the higher-order skills of critical and creative thinking.
Students involved in this type of setting must have the capacity to inquire and make decisions
on their own. As inquiry is a self-directed form of learning, they must be comfortable
with taking responsibility for their own learning, without relying on someone telling them what
to do on a continuous basis. While this does provide for student agency and voice, students
may not work well in an unstructured environment if they are unprepared or unequipped for
this shift.
The workaround: The critical solution to this potential problem is to teach the skills of the
inquiry process to learners. All learners have the capacity to ask great questions, and to make
judgements about the information they are researching. However, they must be taught these
skills. When teachers base their classroom inquiry on a structured inquiry process, and teach
students how to use this process, they provide a scaffold for self-directed learning that
enables all students to feel supported along the way.
The nature of inquiry-based learning does not lend itself to traditional models of assessment.
The teacher-centred paradigm of pre-preparing assessments that are designed to confirm
retention of pre-determined knowledge will not work well in an inquiry setting. This model will
standardise and effectively limit the levels of achievement to those that have already been
decided by the teacher. When this happens, individual pathways and potential
for personalised learning goals are lost.
The workaround: The solution is for the teacher to work from within the process, capturing
evidence of learning and higher-order thinking as students are developing these skills. From
the very beginning of a unit of inquiry, teachers create an opportunity for diagnostic
assessment by asking an essential question. Listening to student voice through their
responses will provide a wealth of information about prior knowledge and experience,
perspective, ability and interest, while engaging all learners in a conversation that builds
curiosity. Ongoing, real-time formative assessment is the answer here, and requires an
interactive role from the classroom teacher, to provide formative feedback and support
students to develop their learning goals.
Asking questions to drive learning is at the heart of the inquiry model. When teachers are
unsure of how to manage this process, they may default to asking closed, content-specific
questions, and the rigour of authentic inquiry is lost. It is important for the teacher to have a
proper grasp of how to ask effective questions to guide their students towards curricular
outcomes, while still enabling learners to think deeply and critically about their own learning.
If the teacher is lacking in this area, it has a trickle-down effect on the students as they will
not learn the basics of effective questioning, reasoning, and problem solving.
The workaround: The solution is to ask questions that connect to the essential
understandings and deep concepts of the curriculum, rather than to specific areas of surface-
level content. These questions are open to a range of perspectives and inspire a range of
responses. Students will discover the content more readily when they understand and explore
the purpose and relevance of learning it.
Learner portfolios become the collection point for evidence of learning in an inquiry-based
classroom, as students work at their own pace and level. Portfolios showcase student work
and reinforce the teacher’s grading, but most importantly they provide an ongoing opportunity
for feedback, enabling students to improve and progress as they build upon previous learning.
If teachers do not manage this process well, they may revert to relying on summative
assessment tasks to determine progress. This is very time-consuming as these assessments
are usually large pieces of work that must be individually graded.
The workaround: The solution for teachers is to focus on collecting evidence of
learning against achievement standards throughout the learning process. When teachers are
able to assign a level of achievement and provide formative feedback in the moment, they
add this to the learner portfolio, which becomes a progressive report of achievement rather
than a filing cabinet to be sorted out later.
Teachers may use checklists, a learning continuum, or rubrics to guide students through their
learning to keep them on task. While this may be useful for the students, if the requirements
are very vague, the instructor will not have the information needed to properly observe and
assess students. Additionally, rating scales may be skewed, limiting student learning and
creativity. This leaves the door open for educator bias.
The workaround: The solution to this potential risk is to ensure that any learning continuum
or success criteria are directly related to the outcomes of the curriculum, and that the levels
of achievement are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy of higher-order thinking. This ensures that
both the essential understandings of the curriculum and the critical and creative thinking skills
of learners are being assessed.

No teaching style is without risk. Inquiry-based learning does have limitations, but is still the
preferred choice of many instructors and students. However, to be effective in inquiry-based
learning, instructors must fully immerse themselves into this process, preparing to effectively
meet student needs while operating as a facilitator. Providing students with a rubric to follow
helps ensure they remain on task, cultivating skills needed to enhance their social and
emotional learning, and college and career readiness skills for the future.