Inquiry is a quarter of the eMINTS Instructional Model and it causes a lot of stress among our teachers. It’s a scary thing to give up so much control and move from a model of closed inquiry where the teacher makes all the decisions and asks all the questions to a model that is completely student-led. However, no one is asking anyone to make that leap just yet. Just try meeting inquiry halfway.
First of all, it is nearly impossible to expect students be able to guide learning by developing their own questions independently. There must be some guidance in developing a meaningful inquiry. This is where teachers come in as guides or facilitators. Teaching students how to ask the right questions and providing them the proper scaffolding can help insure that their inquiries are successful.
To do this, consider your next lesson and where it lies on a continuum of inquiry. Is it a closed inquiry lesson? Are you asking all the questions for students to answer? Do you provide the entire process? Answering “yes” to these questions would suggest that you are facilitating a closed inquiry lesson.
The next step is to give up some of that control. Try to limit the questions you provide. Maybe an essential question and one or two guiding questions will help students get started. Spend class time developing other questions that will guide the investigation. When students get stuck, provide examples or questions stems to get them going. When they ask questions that might not achieve your expected outcomes, work with the students to evaluate and revise these questions.
The next step is to help students develop a process. How open or closed this part of an investigation is totally up to you, but it’s also important to figure out what you are willing to leave up to the students. Start by prioritizing what is most important for them to perform. Anything left should left up to student discretion. For example, how students present what they have learned is an easy place to start giving up control. Allow students to choose their final products or at least give them an array of options.
Other small areas where you can give up some control in the effort to make your inquiry lesson more open might include…
- Give students the essential question and topic. Then, help to guide them in writing guiding and content questions.
- After dividing students into groups, allow them to create member roles that will help them with their inquiry. You may have to support them by teaching ideas such as interdependence and simultaneous activity.
- Give students a model of learning such as Bloom’s Taxonomy or Web’s Depth of Knowledge to develop their investigation.
- With the problem to investigated laid out, help the students plan out a process to meet a set of learning outcomes you expect students to achieve.
- If your inquiry project requires several processes or goals to be accomplished, allow the students to determine which order these tasks can be completed.
- Maybe provide the steps that students must follow for an inquiry, but allow them to determine how each step will be completed.
There are many small things we can do in order to make inquiry part of our lessons and units of study without jumping into student-led inquiry headfirst. If you struggle seeing your students as able to complete an inquiry independently, but you want to make your lessons more open, meeting open inquiry halfway might be a suitable compromise.
How comfortable are you with inquiry? What ways have you incorporated inquiry in your lessons? How far are you willing to go toward fully open inquiry?
Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.