Inquiry is a difficult skill for students to learn, but in many ways, it’s an even more difficult one for teachers to learn. On the surface, it looks like a teacher presents a question (or even just a topic where students write their own questions) and backs away to allow students to “construct their own learning,” with the idea that students will learn more from this process than from lectures, textbooks, worksheets and other carefully chosen resources.
The fact is that inquiry requires a balance of teacher guidance and student exploration, just as in other forms of education. You can’t point students at a question and stand back and watch … particularly at the beginning. You need to carefully scaffold students in the process of developing an inquiry skill set (and mindset). The benefit, however, is that as students become more comfortable with the process and learn the skills necessary, they take over more and more of the learning process. In addition, they retain more of what they’ve learned because they’ve had to make the connections themselves rather than have their teacher make connections for them.
At this point, my students are just starting to develop their abilities to do inquiry. We’ve learned how to find and evaluate sources, and how to conduct research. We’ve discussed in detail the difference between surface questions (fact-based, easily Googled, right and wrong answers) and deep ones (require analysis, synthesis and/or evaluation; may have wrong answers but have multiple correct ones). We’ve also tried our hand at creating engaging and informative presentations.
As this is their first time working with the inquiry process, I provided three inquiry questions from which they could choose rather than having them create their own (challenging even for educators). Having chosen, they turned their attention to the question itself.
When students are practiced at research projects, it’s easy for them to slip into choosing examples that are related to their inquiry, researching them and providing information about them. What I want, however, is for them to use these examples as evidence to help them answer the inquiry question. They start by figuring out what the question is actually asking them to do.
Unpacking the question can lead to great ideas and examples that will help students think about the topic of their inquiry. More importantly, however, it gets them thinking about what it will take to answer their central question. Keeping them focused on that will help ensure that the inquiry presentation is more than just a research project.
[Crossposted to http://ltssprod.edublogs.org]