What the Heck Is Inquiry-Based Learning?
When you ask a student what he or she wants to know, you are engaging in inquiry-based learning. It’s all about arousing people’s interest. And, I would argue, arousing a student’s curiosity is a far more important and complex goal than simply delivering information.
While complex, inquiry-based learning can be less demanding on teachers, partly because it transfers some responsibilities from teachers to students, but primarily because it engages students when they are given authority to investigate.
Teachers who employ inquiry-based learning strategies can combat the “dunno,” which is a persistent problem in student engagement.
When you ask a student something like, “What do you want to know about _____?” they will usually respond positively. Most of the time, you’ll get a shrug or a “dunno.” The use of inquiry-based learning, when done correctly, can generate such excitement in students that their neurons begin to fire, their curiosities are piqued, and they can’t wait to become experts in answering their questions.
Because of this, some people confuse inquiry-based teaching with other types of teaching. However, what inquiry-based teachers do is not difficult at all; it is simply hidden. Teachers keep the strategies they use to encourage inquiry a secret, and the students learn to become experts in their subject areas on their own.
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Learning Something New
It is all about learning something new when you are triggered into inquiry, and triggering curiosity is no easy task. Learning something new, even if it’s something new about the content we’ve covered for years, helps us to generate our enthusiasm.
Consider the following scenario: you’re scrolling through your Twitter or Facebook feed when you come across a link in your content area. Your attention is drawn to an interesting factoid or a fresh perspective on an age-old topic. Perhaps it’s a new TED talk or a graph with statistics, or something else that helps to put a concept into context. Perhaps it’s an infographic or a photograph, something that takes you by surprise and causes you to furrow your brows and exclaim, “Whaaa?”
By the way, I believe that one of the reasons that the entire world is going insane over the Broadway production of Hamilton is that it offers a fresh perspective on a story that we’ve all heard before. The importance of learning something new cannot be overstated.
You have to bring that “what?!” into your classroom as a teaching tool. You must learn to model your curiosity quotient, which is the insatiable desire to learn that determines how we advance our understanding of the world. It has been reported in the Harvard Business Review that having an increased curiosity quotient can indicate greater flexibility as well as an increased ability to deal with complexity.
So give some thought to your content area. What is a fresh perspective on a topic that you could introduce to your students? What new piece of information might assist you in igniting your enthusiasm, which in turn might arouse the curiosity of your students?
The 4 Steps of Inquiry-Based Learning
So you’ve discovered something that piques your interest, and you’ve recreated the exact moment that piqued your interest for the benefit of your student’s curiosity. So, what’s next in the world of inquiry-based learning? This can be answered in four basic steps, which should represent the outline of a simple unit in terms of organization.
1. Students formulate questions that they are eager to find answers to. Create an assignment that requires them to create a problem statement that requires them to pitch their question using a constructed response, additional inquiry, and citation.
2. During class time, do some research on the subject. Some of this must be done as classwork so that students can get in touch with the main researcher in the room—you. However, rather than doing the work for them, you will guide them and serve as a model for reliable research methods.
3. Ask students to give a presentation on what they’ve learned. Students should create and present a culminating artifact at the end of the course. When I ask my students to present what they’ve learned, I use a rubric with the goal of “Able to Teach” as the apex of what they should strive for in their presentations. After all, many people are capable of comprehending information, but how many are capable of communicating it? Students can use Weebly to create a website, or they can use Google Slides to create a slideshow presentation.
4. Instruct students to reflect on what aspects of the process worked and what aspects did not. The importance of reflection cannot be overstated. And it isn’t just about asking them to reflect on their previous views on the subject matter. It is all about taking time to reflect on the process itself. That’s where you can put your efforts into metacognition—the process of thinking about thinking. Students should be encouraged to think about how they learned in addition to what they learned.
Take, for example, a classroom where different students are presenting their findings on a single, straightforward aspect of the subject matter that you are teaching. You’d have a classroom where, on the whole, students learn more deeply and broadly than they ever have before.
Regarding student achievement, the strength of their question should serve as a guide for the research, the writing, and the delivery of the final presentation. It should serve as a motivator for them to advance to the level of expert in their self-described field. As a result, the more opportunities for students to get a taste of what it is like to be an expert, in whatever area they choose, the more likely it is that they will seek this feeling later in life.
Discovering your enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity is the first step in the process of becoming more creative. If you follow these instructions, you will be on your way to a classroom that is built on inquiry.