Strategies for Inquiry-Based Learning and Teaching

Strategies for smooth inquiry-based learning and teaching in the classroom

Strategies for Inquiry-Based Learning and Teaching 

Hey, y'all! We've talked a lot about inquiry-based learning over the last few weeks, and now it's time to share some strategies for inquiry-based teaching and how to keep it all running smoothly. 

1. Keep the essential question the focus

It's easy to get off track with explorations and finding out new things. Keep the essential question the focus so that everyone stays on track. In some units, like phenomenon-based learning, the direction the kids take the unit can change over time. However, the essential question remains the overall focus of the unit. Depending on how broad (What is happiness?) or narrow (What steps will we need to take to plan a camping trip?) our question is will guide us in how flexible our unit will be. 

2. Model the investigation process

Kids are naturally curious and love to explore, but they also need guidance in how to go about explorations for academic purposes. Before you let them loose to dive into inquiry, model how they should start their inquiry-process, especially if group work is involved. 

Depending on the ages of your students or what you want them to accomplish, you may divide the class into teams and assign students roles. You may have individual projects planned but still have some teamwork involved in them. Or, you may just let them work on their projects as they please. However you set it up, make sure the kids know what the expectation is and how to work together if a problem should come up. 

3. Know when to pre-teach and when to let them go for it

Not everything can, or should, be explored through inquiry in a timely manner. Oftentimes, we pre-teach essential skills like we would traditionally do, then the kids use the skills we taught them to do the inquiry part of the lesson. This is especially true during project-based and problem-based learning where students apply what they've learned to complete the task. 

Think of it this way: if it's a skill they need to be able to use to solve the problem or complete the inquiry task (actual reading, the basics of math computations, social skills), a direct-teach lesson is in order. If it's the process or specific content they're working through, it can generally be the focus of the inquiry lesson. 

4. Be prepared

Most of the teacher work for inquiry-based learning happens before the kids get in the room. The planning, organization, tasks, etc. all happen during the lesson planning period. When the kids are in the room, the teacher becomes more of a coach or facilitator than a transmitter of knowledge. 

For example, we just completed a unit on coding robots. Before the kids ever touched a robot, I mapped out the entire unit and had everything prepped. When we started the lesson with the kids, I assigned partners, modeled how to decide who would do what, took them step-by-step through planning for their task, then let them explore what and how to do the things. They learned through trail and error how to get their robots to go where they wanted them to go. Then, they taught each other what they figured out. I was in the background during this lesson and they were in charge of their learning. None of this would have happened if I was just trying to wing it, or if I was telling them step-by-step what to do. 

5. Don't be afraid to try something new

Don't get me wrong, I love a good Robin Williams style stand-on-the-table-and-inspire-your-students moment. But sometimes, it's better for the kids to step aside and let them do the heavy lifting of their learning. It can be hard to try new things, but watching your students' faces light up when they learn something new is awesome. 

When I first tried the inquiry-based teaching approach, I wasn't sure how this was all going to go down. It was hard for me to let go and give them more control. It was really hard for me to not just answer their questions for them and make them figure it out. But after doing this for several years, I don't think I'll ever go back to direct-teach all the time.  

6. Check-in with students frequently

While the kids are working, I'm conferring with them, guiding them, and correcting any misunderstandings. At the end of the work session, we check-in with each other. The kids share what they've learned, and others will add onto it or make notes to and look at that the next day. (Kind of like the end of writing workshop.) 

I love this part of the day because the kids are so excited to share what they've learned and are proud that they found out something on their own. They're free to share whatever interesting facts they found out and love to hear that a classmate discovered the same thing or something similar. 

7. Help students stay organized

In our inquiry units, we have a lot of papers. We have folders just for our inquiry or phenomenon-based learning unit. The kids keep all their notes and project pieces in there so they don't fall prey to the abyss of their desks. In the beginning, I give them one paper at a time or a packet stapled together. As they get better at being in charge of their learning, they have access to a paper tray organized with different graphic organizers they can use. We pre-teach what each type of graphic organizer is for so that they know what they're looking for, but after a little trial-and-error, they become pros at choosing what they need. 

You could also have inquiry notebooks and teach the kids how to draw what graphic organizer they need so you never run out of copies. Both options work well, depending on the age of your kids. 

I hope these strategies help you feel more confident about using inquiry-based learning in your classroom. It's never perfect, but then, nothing in the classroom is! Learning is about getting messy. But with these strategies, it can be a little less chaotic. 

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful week. I'll talk to you soon. 

Stay cozy, 

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