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Student Choice or Teacher Direction?


Many teachers I talk to are wary of Inquiry learning because their concept of 'good inquiry' is that it is pupil directed. This causes concerns for many teachers in terms of management and a whole range of practical issues. I believe that the bulk of these concerns are legitimate and that pupil driven learning brings with it a raft of problems and issues for schools and teachers to deal with.


I believe the end goal of Inquiry Learning is to have moved students down the pathway towards independence as learners and that pupil driven learning of high quality that is managed well,  is an evidential outcome of good inquiry learning.


I have seen a number of schools that have tried to have student driven learning as their start-point, and in the end they have often implemented a programme with a number of problems including:

  • It is very difficult for teachers to manage

  • Students lack the basic information and inquiry skills

  • The tasks set by students tend to be low level 'gather-present' tasks

  • To gain quality outcomes requires a huge level of teacher intervention.

I don't think that making a choice between 'teacher directed' and 'pupil directed' is the best way to look at this issue, rather I believe that there is huge value in starting with teacher directed and moving through two progressions aimed at  empowering students as learners.


Stage 1:  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 experienced success.


Stage 2: Negotiated Tasks

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'.


Stage 3: Pupil Directed Learning 

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.


To do this well it is helpful for schools to:

  • identify the skills they believe an independent learner will have when they leave the school

  • develop a rubric of stages of development in those skills

  • determine what stage of development students need to be at in the chosen skills to be ready for progression to the next stage of independence


As an example on of the schools I have worked with sees questioning as one of the major skills of an independent learner.

They utilise the QuESTioning rubric which is based on a range of questioning skills, and have decided that an independent learner will need to be able to ask questions right across the range from Stage 3 to Stage 7 inclusive.

They then decided what the transitional benchmarks in terms of questioning ability would be.


Teacher Directed Tasks Negotiated Tasks Student Directed Tasks
Students who are still asking some questions from Stages 1 and 2 of the QuESTioning Rubric Student demonstrates consistent ability to ask questions from Stages 3 to 5 of the QuESTioning Rubric. Student demonstrates consistent ability to ask questions from Stages 3 to 7 of the QuESTioning Rubric.