Inquiry-Based Learning

21 Jan 2012


Scope Statement, “Inquiry helps kids to think creatively. When you capture their imagination they begin to think creatively and creativity solves problems for life.” (
Inquiry-based learning is a natural human activity in which the learner obtains meaning from experience. Traditionally, inquiry has been most readily associated with the sciences, yet it has been employed in many other fields of study as well (Martinello 1998). John-Steiner (1985) showed how creative people in the arts and sciences recall their ways of thinking. Whether implicit or implied, specific or general, all inquiries are driven by questions, issues, and wonderings. Over the past century, it has been implemented as a useful and definite approach to teaching and learning. It is an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural, empirical, and material world, which leads to asking many questions, making discoveries, and rigorously testing them in the search for new understanding (Foundations, 2001). Using the tools and methods of scientists, artists, problem solvers, and citizens in society, students in an Inquiry driven classroom gain both a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them. The idea of inquiry learning itself must be subject to critical examination (Inquiry at University of Illinois, 2001).
Inquiry based learning should incorporate a process of formulating appropriate research questions, organizing the search data, analyzing and evaluating the data found, communicating the results in a coherent presentation. The procedure an inquiry lesson follows should mirror that which experts in the subject area would pursue for the same assignment (Foundations 2001). There are four necessary elements of successful inquiry according to the American Association of School Librarians (1999):
1. Inquiry-based Learning asks relevant questions that come from the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy, which are comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis. Although, these are only different types of possible meta-cognition, when the questions teachers ask are classified, they become even more significant as the teacher moulds the learning environment and expectations (Bloom 1957).
2. Inquiry-based Learning involves questions that are interesting and motivating to students. Real life forever poses problems newer and more complex problems. By guiding students through those same scenarios we allow them to learn to solve problems in a supported environment with the help of their peers and their teacher.
3. Inquiry-based Learning utilizes a wide variety of resources so students can gather information and form opinions. Because, the Internet is not the safe place we would like it to be, teachers have the responsibility of keeping their students away from offensive material and safe from others users. We can do this by selecting the sites ahead of time. Reviewing the links on those pages and providing a hotlist of sites that students are allowed to look for information.
4. Teachers play the role as guide or facilitator. The teacher uses their expertise to guide the inquiry lesson. The teacher is constantly evaluating the progress of the students and the direction the inquiry process is taking.

The inquiry process is driven by ones own curiosity, wonder, interest, or passion to understand an observation or solve a problem. The process begins when the learner notices something that intrigues, surprises, or stimulates a question; something that is new, or may not make sense in relationship to the learners previous experience or current understanding. Therefore, questions are at the heart of inquiry. According to D.P. Wolf (1987), there are five major types of questions: inference questions, interpretation questions, transfer questions, and questions about hypothesis: these questions are outlined by Wolf (1987) below:
1. Inference Questions: These questions ask students to go beyond the immediately available information (Bruner 1957). To push beyond the factual in this way makes the students find clues, examine them, and discuss and analyze which inferences are justified.
2. Interpretation Questions: If inference questions demand that students fill in missing information, then propose that they understand the consequences of information and ideas.
3. Transfer Questions: If inference and interpretation questions ask a student to go deeper, transfer questions provoke a kind of breadth of thinking, asking students to take their knowledge to new places.
4. Questions about Hypotheses: Typically, questions about prediction and hypothesis are associated with the sciences, but they can also be employed when reading a novel. The students can ask questions about the text, predict outcomes, and for hypotheses about their reading.
5. Reflective Questions: When teachers ask reflective questions, they are insisting that students ask themselves: How do I know I know? What does this leave me not knowing? What things do I assume rather than examine? (Wolf 1987).
Sadker & Sadker (1985) suggest that the teacher must ask active questions to keep the inquiry lesson on task, and not be satisfied with the typical uh-huh response that students often give when quizzed. As the teacher acts as the facilitator, to the observer, there is an impression of a kind of mutually constructed improvisation unfolding (Mehan 1978, 1979). In this improvisation teachers keep questions alive through long stretches of time, coming back to them days, even weeks, after they have first been asked (Wolf 1987)
The next step is for the student to take action, through continued observing, raising new questions, making predictions, testing hypotheses, and creating theories and communicating conceptual models. The learner must find his or her own pathway through this process. It is rarely a linear progression, but rather more of a back-and-forth, or cyclical, series of events (Inquiry at University of Illinois, 2001).
As the process unfolds, more observations and questions emerge, giving occasion for deeper interaction with the phenomena, and greater potential for a further development of understanding. Along the way, the inquirer collects and records data, making representations of results and explanations, and drawing upon other resources such as books, videos, and the expertise or insights of others. According to Callison (1999), there are four types or levels of inquiry, which are as follows:
1. CONTROLLED - The teacher chooses the topic and the school and its library have enough resources to give all students the opportunity for success. This is when the students receive the basic skills and exercises.
2. GUIDED - students work on research, usually in groups, and all students are expected to create the similar final products and/or reports that included similar content.
3. MODELED - Students become the apprentice as the teacher and media specialist become the coach. The student has more freedom in topic selection, method, and process. Ideally, the teacher and media specialist model and engage in research alongside students.
4. FREE - Free inquiry is when the student is on his/her own. The student is responsible for everything: selecting the topic, key issues, and questions to choosing the appropriate and unique product for an avenue to presentation and reporting. Free Inquiry is ideal for an independent study. Students are able to see multiple sides of an issue. Students who have been developing inquirers in earlier years should achieve Free Inquiry by senior year (Callison 1999).
Making meaning from the experience requires reflection, conversations, comparisons of findings with others, interpretation of data and observations, and the application of new conceptions to other contexts. All of this new information serves to help the learner construct a new mental framework of the world. Effective classrooms rely on many different ways of teaching science. Inquiry learning has proven to be a powerful tool in the classroom and in keeping wonder and curiosity alive in students.

Reference: Multi-Curricular Inquiry-Based Learning, Adolescent Learning and Development, Professor H. Hartman, 2002.

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