Collaborating productively, thinking critically, communicating effectively and persevering are important competencies students need to master, and an inquiry rich classroom is the perfect learning environment in which to develop them. Inquiry is higher order thinking and problem solving in action. Its power to shift academic ownership from the teacher to the learner is profound and far-reaching, and when effectively implemented, it can create a palpable energy that cannot be duplicated in a teacher-directed, traditional classroom setting.
Although research supports inquiry’s effectiveness, teacher buy-in comes with growing pains. No longer “in control”, the teacher must commit to becoming a learning facilitator and, in some cases, must demonstrate a willingness to replace lengthy stretches of direct instruction with unfamiliar practices that extend beyond long-established comfort zones. Are we educators willing to take a chance if it means building a richer learning environment for our students?
I’m convinced that the inquiry process is worthy of consideration. Here is what it entails. A typical inquiry lesson starts with guiding questions that point students in one direction as opposed to another, and time must be devoted to composing appropriately challenging provocations. It also requires the teacher to model question writing so that students can begin to formulate their own higher-level, thought-provoking questions. As they progress through an inquiry lesson, students learn how to search for answers that may or may not be those traditionally identified as “right” or “wrong”. The academic risk taking that is an essential component of the inquiry process often leads to profound and substantive thinking that reaches beyond the scope of the teacher’s initial learning plan. When this occurs, the teacher needs to be prepared to welcome student exploration, as countless learning possibilities exist.
Written by Jennifer Mattu, Guest Blogger.