ways trying to answer this question is like trying to answer the
question "How long is a piece of string?"
it is a very important question for any school implementing Inquiry
Learning as a school-wide approach to consider.
Different people will have different ideas, and different 'experts' will
all push their own theories and ideas. It would be foolish to think that
I would be any different, so the following material comes with an
The ideas expressed here have been formed over
seven years of working with schools as they implement Inquiry Learning.
They are based on experience, but are still opinions and as such need to
be weighed carefully in the light of your own experiences, knowledge and
understanding, and compared to what others are also saying.
believe there are a number of aspects that are essential to be
considered as you form your own answer to this question.(Goals,
Celebration of Found or Celebration of Understood,
Student Driven or
you purpose or goal for implementing Inquiry Learning as a classroom
question, on the surface, may seem to unrelated to the issue of quality
Inquiry Learning, but it is a crucial question because good
inquiry for you as a school (or as an individual teacher) must
ultimately be measured in terms of the outcomes. If you have a clear
reason and purpose for implementing inquiry learning then 'good inquiry
learning' is that which helps you to effectively achieve those goals.
most common reasons I hear for implementing Inquiry Learning are "As a
means of curriculum integration" and "Developing independent learning
skills in students".
response concerns me, because the underlying issue is usually a
curriculum rather than a learning issue. Most schools and teachers feel
increasingly under pressure to meet growing societal demands and
pressures, their curriculum is becoming crowded, and there is not enough
hours in the day to cover everything people now want to hold schools
responsible for. The major issue is curriculum quantity and you cannot
fix a curriculum quantity issue by changing classroom methodology. If
you want to address curriculum quantity in a powerful and effective
manner then you need to go back to your school vision, clarify your core
learning goals, and then re-develop your curriculum to meet those goals.
Implementing inquiry learning as a way of integrating curriculum is a
fallacy. What tends to happen is the creation of an approach where
students are exposed to an increasing number of aspects in shallow
formats, and the pressure on teachers is increased.
Developing Independent Learners:
the response that I look for and long to hear. These are the schools
that I look forward to working with because this goal fits my philosophy
and sits comfortably with my understanding of what inquiry learning is
really about. In fact if this is not a school's prime goal for
implementing inquiry learning then my advice is to find some approach
other than Inquiry Learning to achieve their goals because Inquiry
Learning is not easy to implement well into a school. If the development
of independent learners is a prime goal then 'good inquiry' is that
which actually helps you to achieve that goal. Of course this opens
other issues like assessment.
Celebration of Found or Celebration of Understood:
concepts were coined by by Dr Ross Todd (2003) in his discussions of how
a learner goes through a process where they
connect with, interact with, and utilise information to build new
knowledge and understanding. He stresses that the process should
“celebrate the understood” rather than “celebrate the found”. Many
models and processes include stages where learners 'communicate' or
'share' what they have found. when I examine or critique inquiry tasks
in schools one of the first questions I pose is "What are the
students being asked to do with the information they have found?"
Many inquiry tasks I see in schools simply ask students to feed back in
some way the found information. An approach is also criticised by
Kuhlthau’s (2001) who raised concerns about classroom practice that is
based on the transmission approach of finding and reproducing an answer.
As I examine inquiry tasks I look for tasks that require the students to
find information within the context of some form of need or problem and
then requires the students to apply that information. when these
students share the outcomes they celebrate their solutions, their
decisions, their thinking, the outcomes they have created and the
understanding they have developed. To me this is 'good inquiry
are are trying to equip or students with the skills of learning then we
need to make sure that success is a major part of their learning
experiences, for nothing will disenchant young learners quickly then
hours of frustration and failure. A major aspect, I believe, is that of
information resources. It is very easy to construct, or negotiate with
students, wonderful sounding inquiry learning tasks that end up walking
our students into deep black holes where there is no relevant,
applicable, useful information that is at a level they can comprehend.
Inquiry approach that allows this to happen on a regular basis has to be
challenged. A 'good' implementation of inquiry learning is one that
deliberately sets out to ensure that students have access to sound
sources of information at appropriate levels of difficulty.
Driven or Teacher Directed:
an issue that can be contentious, for many people believe that 'good
inquiry' is pupil directed. I believe that 'good inquiry' will take
students through three main stages on their journey towards being
Teacher Directed: The first step is where teachers craft high
quality tasks, tasks that target 'celebration of understanding', where
students are expected to apply and use the found information in some
way, and tasks that are fully supported by quality resources at levels
appropriate to the students' skills. Students who have worked through a
number of such tasks, been supported with extensive scaffolding,
have developed their own understanding of 'good inquiry', will have
built and developed some foundational inquiry skills and will have
Negotiated: The second step is for students (who have demonstrated a
range of foundational skills) to move into tasks that they negotiate
with the teacher. These tasks will bring with them more issues in terms
of availability and suitability of information, less scaffolding
support, and require skills at a more advanced level. Students will be
supported to negotiate high quality tasks that target application of
information and 'celebration of understanding'.
Pupil directed: This final stage is the ultimate goal of 'good
inquiry', these are students who have developed a sound set of learning
and information skills and are equipped to work as independent learners.
Individual or Collaborative:
Effective independent learners are not people who work in isolation, but
rather are learners who realise that their own learning is often
enhanced by collaboration, for it is in the meeting of minds and
communication and discussion of ideas that the majority of insights and
understandings are nurtured and developed. I am a firm believer in the
concept of 'collaborative inquiry' and generally have students working
together in groups of three. I find that there are a number of powerful
dynamics in threes.
Three seems to be a good size for open communication
Decisions are easier than with larger numbers
one student is absent then the group can still work
Three is a very easy number for teachers to monitor, 'passengers'
and 'dominators' are very easy to identify.
Wonderings and Wanderings:
matter how well a teacher constructs, designs and scaffolds an inquiry
unit, students will find all sorts of tangents that grab and fascinate
them. I believe there are two ways of handling these, and 'good inquiry'
should have enough freedom in the process and structure to allow
teachers and pupils ability to choose appropriately between the two
responses to these tangents.
Wonderings: These are the tangents you
encourage students to pursue in their own time as forays into
independent learning. Students will not have the support and scaffolding
and may well walk into some frustrations and problems with resources.
ensure that there is opportunity for students to share back their
findings and new insights, celebrate their successes and critique
supportively their frustrations. I suggest a large wall chart where
students' wonderings are recorded during the main inquiry unit.
These are more complicated and take more teacher
involvement, support and management. the concept off a 'wandering' is
where you have a student, or group of students, who have become
fascinated by a tangent and want to pursue it through abandoning the
original inquiry. Teachers will need to make some judgement calls and
probably do some preparation themselves before they allow students to
'wander'. A good 'wandering' is one where the students will find
relevant information at suitable levels, be able to find a natural
application to the information they find and can celebrate their
understanding at the end. A 'Good inquiry' approach is one that
allows teachers the freedom to let this happen and gives them, and their
students, the freedom to make these decisions.
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roles in inquiry learning. Keynote paper, The 2001 IASL Conference,
Auckland, New Zealand, 9-12 July. Retrieved 3 February, 2003, from
Todd, R. (2003). Keynote Address,
International Association of School Librarianship (IASL). 2003 Annual
Conference. Retrieved 5 November, 2003, from