Have you ever wondered exactly what inquiry based learning is and how different it is from traditional classroom techniques? Kris Hickson, Upper Junior School Leader for the Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) believes passionately in its power, having seen for himself the incredible impact it can have on pupils.
For those of you unfamiliar with the inquiry learning way of working, put simply it’s a learning and teaching method that prioritises students’ questions, ideas and findings.
The key to effective learning is making sure the students and teachers are engaged and enthusiastic about a topic. Because the child has a say in how a topic is taught it creates a buzz and excitement in the classroom as they rapidly fire out questions they want answers to.
This is very unlike traditional teaching methods that focuses on teachers telling students what they need to know. With inquiry learning, students are encouraged to find their own answers by carrying out research, asking questions and sharing ideas. It’s a move away from expecting students to read something and then just learn it. It’s also a move towards an active classroom where students don’t simply sit behind desks, but are encouraged to move around and to think for themselves.
Inquiry learning starts exploring any given topic with a provocation or big bang if you like. Something out of the ordinary will be used to get the children and teachers excited and enthusiastic about a topic. It could be, for example, that children are told that parts of an alien spaceship have been found at the school. A discussion of the provocation will then generate sparks, create questions and most importantly engage learners.
The next steps are pre–testing and finding out. The teacher starts by establishing what the class already know on any given topic and then students begin developing key skills such as conducting research in order to find out more. It’s at this stage that the students let the teacher know what particularly interests them about this topic and what they want to know more about. Although the inquiry is guided by students, the teacher will still ensure that the students have learnt all the required information on a topic.
This approach only allows teachers to plan lessons a maximum of two weeks ahead, as they have no idea which route the students’ research will take them. But Kris Hickson insists that not only does it keep teachers on their toes and stops them from getting stale, but also that it’s part of the fun!
They must then work in groups to sort out what they have learnt. In order to be successful at this stage students need to meet both previously agreed expectations and deadlines.
Ongoing provocations are used throughout the topic work to keep reigniting the students spark and interest in the topic. This could include them asking questions to a genuine expert from the world of work like a policeman or scientist.
In the final stages of the project students will revisit the finding out and sorting stages. Having reflected on what they have found they will present their findings to their teachers and classmates. Then the conclusion of a topic is marked with a celebration of their learning and achievement.
There are three main ways in which parents can get involved. The first way is that if your child shares with you ideas which they‘d like to explore further within the topic, share them with their class teacher or better still encourage them to do so. They may not be alone in wanting to find out more about that certain subject or it just may be something no one else has considered.
The second way is by encouraging your child to share with you what they have learnt and how they have learnt it; this will help keep the momentum going with the topic work.
And finally, join in the fun and play along. If your class teacher lets you in on a secret of something exciting they have planned for the class before it happens, don’t ruin the surprise!