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Strategies for Promoting Students' Inquiry Skills

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Effective educators engage students in active learning. One way to do this is to promote inquiry skills. How can teachers do this? This lesson identifies strategies to encourage inquiry across content areas. Curious? That's inquiry working.

What Are Inquiry Skills?

Francis is a teacher who likes to keep her students engaged and learning actively. She knows that children learn best when they use high order thinking skills, things that require them to think critically, creatively, and reflectively. She designs lessons that allow them to use these skills in all subject areas throughout the day, like in reading, math, and science. How does she do this?

Francis capitalizes on students' natural curiosity by designing lessons that ask them to use inquiry skills. Also known as the inquiry process or inquiry learning, the basis of this method is to follow a circular process that asks questions, researches answers, interprets information, presents findings, and reflects. Using inquiry skills for learning has several benefits. Let's take a look at a few.

Benefits of Using Inquiry Skills

Inquiry skills are important for student learning. It requires them to be active participants as they gather information, analyze their findings, and apply critical thinking of what they learn. Using inquiry skills for learning can:

  • Foster curiosity
  • Develop critical thinking
  • Increase student responsibility
  • Encourage independent thinking
  • Support reasoning skills

In other words, teachers like Francis, who use inquiry skills in subjects like math, science, or social studies, are weaving in important skills students need in addition to their core learning. Let's see what this looks like in practice.

Inquiry Learning in Action

Remember, the steps for using inquiry learning are:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Investigate answers
  3. Create new understanding
  4. Communicate findings
  5. Reflect

Let's say Francis needs to teach her students about a scientific topic, like force and motion. Remember, the start of the inquiry process relies on asking questions, so Francis may engage her students in wondering about a specific aspect of force and motion, such as gravity. By leading her students to question what gravity is and how it works, she is encouraging them to be curious and use inquiry skills.

She can ask them essential questions, those without simple answers that require much thought and research, such as 'What would the world be like with less gravity?', or foundation questions, that are more easily answered like 'What slows the force of gravity down?'.

If Francis used the above foundation question, students then set about investigating answers. They may be working to answer a question in one class period or investigating for several days. Some students will use technology to research an answer, others experiment with ramps and cars, others with balls or feathers dropped from a certain height. Francis sets these learning opportunities up so students can investigate to find answers.

Their new learning helps them create understandings of gravity and friction. They meet to share their learning, allowing for even more conversations and deeper discoveries. They reflect on learning and synthesize new ideas and concepts, or align new learning with old. Finally, they apply this new thinking to their next lessons, posing new questions about force and motion.

Though teachers like Francis design these types of lessons that follow a specific process, inquiry skills can also be used in isolation in different ways.

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