Making It Work

At first glance, it may seem as though standardization and IBL cannot co-exist, but I argue this isn’t the case. Inquiry processes can be integrated into classrooms in ways that can improve upon instruction and learning.


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In many cases the teacher and school may have little control over the existence of standardized pen and paper exams, but there can be increased use of formative assessment. These tools are used at stages during the learning process to diagnose issues and challenges as they arise. The teacher does not use them for grading purposes (that is what exams and end products of learning assignments are for). Formative assessment can take the form of journal entries, RAN charts, checklists, rubrics or other activities in which students assess what they have learned and what they have difficulty understanding. Teachers make use of this information as the class moves forward with inquiry.


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Reflection is a vital part of IBL. When students think about their own learning they gain a greater understanding of their strengths and limitations, where they can improve, and see greater purpose in learning tasks. The teacher gains a better appreciation for the perspective of students and can reflect on their own teaching, assumptions, and goals. Beyond this, reflection can help teachers and students adjust to challenges associated with IBL, especially if they are new to the process.


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Inquiry skills and tasks should be scaffolded gradually as teachers and students become accustomed to the process. When students get used to asking questions and determining what they know and need to know about a topic, they can then progress to developing research and investigative skills. Building on this, teachers can help students become better analyzers of information who can make judgements about their findings and communicate these to others.

Types of Inquiry

According to Watt & Colyer (2014), there are three types of inquiry which can be used in classrooms:

Open inquiry involves students designing and conducting investigations independently after having already chosen their own driving questions. This requires a high level of competency with inquiry skills and involves the least amount of direct teacher instruction.

Guided inquiry involves a considerable amount of teacher assistance during the inquiry process. Skills such as question development, finding and selecting relevant information, organization, and critical analysis will have to be modeled by the teacher to give students a grounding in the process.

Blended inquiry is a melding of the two types identified above. In it the teacher decides when and where to give students more autonomy and where explicit teaching of inquiry skills is required.

For teachers and students new to IBL, it is recommended that they begin with guided inquiry and progress to blended inquiry after experience has been gained in the use of relevant skills. Open inquiry should only be used in cases where those involved have a great amount of experience with IBL. It should be noted as well, that IBL does not exclude some use of traditional teaching methods, like lecturing and note-taking, but rather integrates these as the need arises. If the teacher finds students require direct instruction in a concept in order to complete a learning task, then this can be done when necessary.

This is another model of inquiry, in which there are four types, each with varying levels of teacher and student responsibility.

Final Thoughts