Inquiry- Based Learning

Students learn more due to the fact that they take action and apply the skills that they learn.IBL is a fancy word for curiosity, every child is curious. Teachers need to allow this curiosity within a controlled environment. The best way to learn is to question. Human nature is to question therefore questions by students should always be welcomed by the teacher. IBL is about igniting passion and relevance and not just about finishing the routine. We need to assess knowledge and understanding and not memory and speed. IBL is about student exploration.

The basics of IBL are to come up with rich questions for students. Questions that don’t already have the answers in it. This enables thinking. The student will begin to do things related to passion and excitement, they become inspired and motivated, they struggle at times but this is the meaning of a true education. The IBL method allows for students and teachers to go far and beyond the expectations of the curriculum. Students become invested in their learning and are able to transfer what they learn in school to the real world.


How does an IBL lesson begin?

A teacher begins with the idea of where they would want to end in mind but gives the students the opportunity to drive it to that point.

Guided Inquiry – Teachers guide the students through the curriculum and gradually shifts the focus to a student based inquiry.

Student-based Inquiry– Students use what was guided by prior knowledge and begin to build their own inquiries, thus making them critical thinkers.

Teachers develop the guided inquiry based on the curriculum, however, students shape how and where they want to go with it.


Incorporating IBL into the classroom

The incorporation of IBL into a classroom may seem expensive, too open-ended and time-consuming but there are ways of avoiding this. IBL is a very good method as research has shown that it increases motivation and deepens a student’s understanding. Many ask the question of what if a teacher hasn’t ever been introduced to IBL or rarely incorporates it into his/her classroom, what steps can be taken to fully integrate IBL into classes so that it becomes a normal routine?

Firstly teachers need to be familiar with their content and topic for the lesson by looking through the curriculum which will help their understanding of what the students need to learn and also what is not part of the curriculum.

Teachers, as we know, have limited time so to brush up on content understanding teachers could use resources such as textbooks which are useful but in the age of technology sites such as YouTube, Google and Wikipedia saves time and is very effective. Teachers do need to be careful of sites such as Wikipedia as Wikipedia may have information that may be too intense and not relevant to that particular grade. Colleagues also can be helpful as a form of resource.

Once the teacher is confident about his/her research of the topic, the teacher should then come up with a rich inquiry-based activity for their students, again the internet is a great place to find activities and ideas. A teacher may want to change the activity a bit to fit the level of the students and of course one that fits the curriculum as well as links the activity to society.

Find activities that don’t require materials of a big budget, the important thing to understand here and implement is the concept of making do with what you already have before looking elsewhere.

Spreading the class into groups of not more than 6 groups allows for collaboration. Choose activates that are comfortable for both the teacher and students to do in class. Make sure that any activity done ensures the safety of students which is of paramount importance.

The teacher should begin the lesson by laying down the foundation with the basic content. This means that the teacher is going to teach.Teaching the BASIC CONTENT to develop the interest early on. Once the basic fundamental concepts have been presented the teacher may move onto some STRUCTURED INQUIRY.

Structured Inquiry

With structured inquiry the teacher provides students with a question to answer or a problem to solve and also gives the students a procedure to follow in order to arrive at a solution, the teacher does not provide students with a solution. The solution is what students have to figure out.

Structured inquiry helps students go over the content they had learned during the basic content phase of the lesson. Using groups allows for all students in the group to become active members. Every student in the group has an important role to play thus teaching responsibility. Teachers should then challenge students with a guided inquiry activity.


Guided inquiry

With guided inquiry, the teacher asks a question to the class presenting what they have learned thus far.It is now up to the students to figure out the procedure and come to a solution. Guided inquiry gives the opportunity for students to be creative and inquisitive therefore allowing them to ask the many questions they would develop. To stimulate this, the teacher can come up with creative scenarios.

Guided inquiry can be very rewarding as it ignites emotion when students arrive at the solution through the procedures they have created.Guided learning gives the balance of freedom and constraint. Meaning that they should solve a specific problem with specific resources but are given the freedom to use their own strategies. The end result is that they take ownership of their work and arrive at the conclusions without being overwhelmed by too many options and going off track.


Open inquiry

During the guided inquiry, students ask questions which would lead to open inquiry. Open inquiry is the bi-product of the other forms of inquiry.

In open inquiry, the teacher does not provide the solution, procedure or question. Students come up with the question, the teacher at the start of the lesson had already provided the foundation and guided them through as well as scaffold questions to them, students have the ability and confidence to answer questions from their peers. They do this by experimenting and making predictions with some teacher assistance.

Because questions come from the students there is a level of motivation to reach a solution, Open inquiry leads to powerful, teachable moments and is satisfying for both the teacher and students who can both take the opportunity to learn something new.


How to get your students to become critical thinkers?

Critical thinking has always been an important issue in education. All students will need an exercise critical thinking well beyond their school years. Experts agree that in keeping up with the ever-changing technological advances, students will need to obtain, understand, and analyze information on a much more efficient scale. It is our job as educators to equip our students with the strategies and skills they need to think critically in order to cope with these tech problems and obstacles they face elsewhere.

Fortunately, teachers can use a number of techniques that can help students learn critical thinking, even for children enrolled in kindergarten. Here are some teaching strategies that may prove immediately effective:

To Encourage Creativity

Traditionally, elementary teachers prepare templates for art projects before they give it to their students. By doing so, it levels the creative playing field and can, in some ways, help the classroom run more smoothly if every child’s snowflake looks the same.

I know it may be a bit unnerving to relinquish a bit of control, but rest assured that not having everything prepped in advance is a good thing. Instead, give students all of the supplies needed to create a snowflake, and let them do it on their own. This will allow students to become critical thinkers because they will have to use their prior knowledge to consider what a snowflake looks like, how big it is, what color it is, etc.

Do Not Always Jump in to Help

It’s too easy to always find a solution for a student who needs your help. Kindergarteners especially will get very upset when they can’t find their crayons or scissors. The easy way for a teacher to answer is “It’s OK, you can borrow a pair of scissors from me.” Instead of always readily finding a solution for your students, try responding with “Let’s think about how we can find them.” Then, you can assist the student in figuring out the best possible solution for finding their lost item.

Brainstorm before Everything You Do

One of the easiest and most effective ways to get young children to think critically is to brainstorm. Regardless of the subject, have students think about what they’ll be doing, learning, or reading— before actually starting each activity.  Ask a lot of questions, like “What do you think this book will be about?” Or “Tell me three things you think you will be learning in this lesson about space?” Give students every opportunity you can to be critical thinkers.

Classify and Categorize

Classification plays an important role in critical thinking because it requires students to understand and apply a set of rules. Give students a variety of objects and ask them to identify each object, then sort it into a category. This is a great activity to help students think and self-question what object should go where, and why.

Compare and Contrast

Much like classifying, students will need to look closely at each topic or object they are comparing and really think about the significance of each one. You can have students compare and contrast just about anything—try this out with the book your class is reading now. Compare and contrast the weather forecast for today and yesterday. Compare the shape and color of a pumpkin to another vegetable. Compare and contrast today’s math lesson with last week’s—the ideas are endless.

Make Connections

Encouraging students to make connections to a real-life situation and identify patterns is a great way to practice their critical thinking skills. Ask students to always be on the look for these connections, and when they find one to make sure they tell you.

Provide Group Opportunities

Group settings are the perfect way to get your kids thinking. When children are around their classmates working together, they get exposed to the thought processes of their peers. They learn how to understand how other people think and that their way is not the only route to explore.

When this valuable skill is introduced to students early on in the education process, students will be capable of having complex thoughts and become better problem solvers when presented with difficulty. It’s important for students to possess a variety of skills, but it’s just as important for them to understand the skills and how, and when to use them.

A humble question is an indispensable tool: the spade that helps us dig for the truth, or the flashlight that illuminates the surrounding darkness. Questioning helps us learn, explore the unknown, and adapt to change.

That makes it a most precious “app” today, in a world where everything is changing and so much is unknown. And yet, we don’t seem to value questioning as much as we should. For the most part, in our workplaces as well as our classrooms, it is the answers we reward — while the questions are barely tolerated.

To change that is easier said than done. Working within an answers-based education system, and in a culture where questioning may be seen as a sign of weakness, teachers must go out of their way to create conditions conducive to inquiry. Here are some suggestions (based on input from question-friendly teachers, schools, programs, and organizations) on how to encourage more questioning in the classroom and hopefully, beyond it.


How to Encourage Questioning

  1. Make It Safe

Asking a question can be a scary step into the void. It’s also an admission to the world (and more terrifyingly, to classmates) that one doesn’t know the answer. So teachers must somehow “flip the script” by creating an environment where questioning becomes a strength; where it is welcomed and desired. The Right Question Institute, a nonprofit group that teaches inquiry skills in low-income schools, encourages teachers to run group exercises dedicated entirely to formulating questions (no answers allowed!) — with clear rules and guidelines to ensure that students’ questions aren’t judged or edited, and that all questions are written down and respected. There are many variations on this type of exercise. The second-grade teacher Julie Grimm uses a “10 by 10” exercise, in which kids are encouraged to come up with 10 great questions about a topic during a 10-minute span. But the bottom line is, designate some kind of safe haven in the classroom where all students can freely exercise the “questioning muscle.”


  1. Make It “Cool”

This is a tough one. Among many kids, it’s cool to already know — or to not care. But what if we could help students understand that the people who ask questions happen to be some of the coolest people on the planet? As I discovered in the research for my book on inquiry, questioners thought of many of those whiz-bang gadgets we now love. They’re the ones breaking new ground in music, movies, the arts. They’re the explorers, the mavericks, the rebels, making the world a more interesting place — and having a heck of a time themselves. How cool is that?

  1. Make It Fun

Part of the appeal of “questions-only” exercises is that there’s an element of play involved, as in: Can you turn that answer/statement into a question? Can you open your closed questions, and close your open ones? There are countless ways to inject a “game” element into questioning, but here’s an example borrowed from the business world: Some companies use a practice called “the 5 whys,” which involves formulating a series of “why” questions to try to get to the root of a problem. Kids were practically born asking “why” questions, so why not allow them to use that innate talent within a structured challenge? Or, show them how to use the “Why/What if/How” sequence of questioning as a fun way to tackle just about any problem. Whatever the approach, let kids tap into their imaginations and innate question-asking skills in ways that make inquiry an engaging part of a larger challenge.

  1. Make It Rewarding

Obviously, we must praise and celebrate the questions that are asked — and not only the on-target, penetrating ones, but also the more expansive, sometimes-offbeat ones (I found that seemingly “crazy questions” sometimes result in the biggest breakthroughs). Help create a path for students to get from a question to a meaningful result. A great question can be the basis of an on-going project, a report, an original creation of some kind. The point is to show that if one is willing to spend time on a question — to not just Google it but grapple with it, share it with others, and build on it — that question can ultimately lead to something rewarding and worthwhile.

  1. Make It Stick

If the long-term goal is to create lifelong questioners, then the challenge is to make questioning a habit — a part of the way one thinks. RQI’s Dan Rothstein says it’s important to include a metacognitive stage in question-training exercises wherein kids can reflect on how they’ve used questioning and articulate what they’ve learned about it, so they can “pave a new neural pathway” for lifelong inquiry.