Inquire about Inquiry

Is the question “What is Inquiry?” a good inquiry question?  In trying to determine how to adapt my teaching practice to become one of inquiry, it is the question with which I need to start.

When beginning a unit of study or new concept with my students, I usually begin by determining what they already know about the particular topic.  So what do I already know, or at least think I know, about Inquiry?  I must admit that in certain ways, the term ‘inquiry ‘had for me somehow developed a negative connotation – that it was another ‘fad’ or extremist approach to teaching, similar to ‘whole language learning’.  This leads to another question:  Why is it that this negative connotation developed?

Douglas Llewellyn (2007) outlined several myths about inquiry that may have somehow come to cloud my judgement.  These include such notions that inquiry is simply following the scientific method, that it is unstructured and chaotic, that it is just hands-on learning, and that is an either/or proposition.  This last one in particular seems to underly my previous notion about Inquiry – that it is and ‘all or none’ method of teaching, a method that does not on the surface seem to mesh with my concrete-sequential nature.

My current school, where I have been for just one year, was at one time under the direction of a principal whose vision was that of inquiry.  The current principal has placed reading instruction and team teaching at the forefront of the school development plan.  Although she has never once stated that she didn’t value the inquiry approach to teaching and learning, the change in focus has caused the culture of the school to shift to ‘we don’t do inquiry here anymore’, at least for some teachers in the building.  This culture perpetuates the idea that inquiry is a “thing”, and not a process, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1.  The Inquiry Process. Source: http://www.youthlearn.org

This past week, through research and conversations with colleagues and peers, I am reshaping my view of inquiry.  In reflecting on my teaching practice through this new understanding,  I recognize that I do include elements of inquiry in my classroom. By encouraging student voice and input, and providing multiple means of representation, expression and engagement, I believe that I have many structures in place that align with the process of inquiry-based learning.

And so what is the next question? Where will my inquiry into inquiry take me next?

I’ll let you know…

References

Llewellyn, Douglas. (2007). Inquire within: implementing inquiry-based science standards in grades 3-8. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks (CA):  Corwin Press

Brunner, Dr. Cornelia.  The Inquiry Process. (n.d.)retrieved July 6, 2012 from http://www.youthlearn.org

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One Response to Inquire about Inquiry

  1. You pose some valid questions here. I often wonder, as employ one methodology or another, are we following a fad? How do we differentiate between what is fashionable and what is effective? Are there even answers to these questions? Have you seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on How Schools Kill Creativity? I think you might enjoy it.

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