Teaching Methods - Inquiry Learning

Inquiry teaching: A Q&A with author, university lecturer and consultant Kath Murdoch.

What is the inquiry teaching method?

'Inquiry involves ... learning how to take on a question, or an issue, or a tension, a problem or a challenge and learning how to work through a process where, through that investigation, you come to a deeper understanding, or a mastery of skills, or a resolution of the problem. Inquiry involves kids being really [cognitively] active. The teacher kind of helps them [build a toolkit of strategies] that they can use to identify, gather and analyse information and then later on apply it and come to deeper understanding.'

What does it look like in a classroom?

'In a traditional classroom, the teacher’s role is generally to ‘dispense information’, provide learning activities, assess learning usually at the end, and it’s kind of all secret teacher’s business. But in an inquiry classroom it’s less about the teacher having all the answers that the children have to come to, and more about working through the process of learning itself.'

What role does data and assessment play?

'In relation to assessment the teacher positions themselves as an inquirer into the student’s learning. So we’re observing, we’re analysing, we’re questioning ... ‘What are the students revealing to me?’ and ‘How do I need to respond to this? Where to next?’

How can inquiry learning impact student outcomes?

'Well there’s lots of wonderful studies to show the impact on student learning, when they are engaged in investigations and really participate in that process. That when we really bring this lovely learning layer, this research disposition to our learning, we get kids that can, not only talk about themselves as learners, but can then transfer and apply what they know about learning to new challenges, to new questions.

'So we’ve interviewed children both early on and then later in our work in this area and noticed a growth in their language, in their confidence to talk about learning, in being able to give examples of how they might use what they’ve learned in other contexts. And this is what we’re looking for in a 21st Century classroom ... what skills are we really giving these kids to be able to make their way through this complex world, where there are volumes of information available at the click of a button? Are they self-managing, researching, collaborating, communicating? And, most importantly, are they thinking and do they understand the way their thinking helps them learn?'

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.