Connecting to Inquiry

Last year, I had the opportunity to experience teaching within the IB Primary Years Program at Tokyo International School. I found that although I had always considered myself a teacher who effectively used inquiry, the PYP framework allowed me to take student learning to a place where students were making personal, cross-curricular, and world connections to what we were doing in the classroom. These connections were then the springboard for taking their learning further as they delved deeper out of personal interest and curiosity. As an educator, I found teaching within this framework enriching and powerful.

As I began to explore the various facets of inquiry learning and teaching, I started to venture outside of the Primary Years Program to find new ways of implementing what I know.

I attended a three day Kath Murdoch seminar in 2010 where I was able to discuss strategies for using inquiry, and practice many of the skills first hand. Kath Murdoch is well regarded amongst the international circuit for her work surrounding how to best use inquiry in schools. Here are some of the key points that I found most relevant when thinking about how to use the information I gained from the seminar:

What Makes an Inquiry Classroom

Quality inquiry is explicit
– learning intentions are shared with students
– the language of thinking and inquiry is taught
– students know why they are doing what they are doing

Quality inquiry is conceptual
– focus is on big ideas, not topics
– emphasis on making connections and demonstrating understanding (not just knowledge)

Quality inquiry is investigative
– students positioned as active researchers where learning is driven by questions
– students learning the research tools of the disciplines

Quality inquiry is skill-based
– explicit development of thinking, collaboration, self-management, research and communication skills (21st Century competencies)

Quality inquiry is active
– students are actively involved in ʻdoingʼ the learning with an emphasis on first hand, real world experiences.

Quality inquiry is relevant 

Quality inquiry is personalized
– opportunities for students to investigate issues that matter to them

Quality inquiry is deep
– deep understanding rather than surface coverage

Quality inquiry is reflective
– heavy emphasis on self assessment

 Framing the Inquiry
Phases of Inquiry
These are the cornerstone ideas and strategies of strong inquiry teaching but most importantly, successful inquiry owes its effectiveness to skilled teachers who are able to scaffold learning, engage student curiosity to question more deeply and support students in the how of inquiry.

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