Inquiry-Based Learning: The Power of Learning Something New

Inquiry-Based Learning

In inquiry-based learning, it is about triggering curiosity, according to Heather Wolpert-Gawron, author of the article “What the Heck is Inquiry-Based Learning?“. Author notes Inquiry-Based Learning puts a new perspective on an age-old topic. Wolpert-Gawron believes triggering inquiry and curiosity is about learning something new. And “the power of learning something new is undeniable.”

“Inquiry-based learning is a teaching method where the classroom becomes a space of student-led exploration,” writes Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton in her article “What is Inquiry-Based Learning?”. Students ask questions, investigate and research to find the answers. The article briefly lists four types of inquiry-based learning:

  • Confirmation
  • Structured
  • Guided
  • Open inquiry

and 3 benefits of student question-Asking. I will discuss those benefits.

In addition, I will show you an example of structured and guided inquiry from the article “Using Inquiry-Based Learning to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom” by Matt Kuykendall.

Learning Something New

Heather Wolpert-Gawron describes a scenario that every teacher is familiar with:

“Let’s say you’re clicking through your Twitter or Facebook feed, and you stumble on a link in your content area. You realize it’s a new factoid, a new perspective on an age-old topic. Maybe it’s a new TED talk or graph with statistics, something that makes a concept more concrete. Maybe it’s an infographic or a photo, something that startles you and leads to furrow your brow and say, “Whaaa?!”

Wolper-Gawron notes, “You have to bring that “whaaa?!” into your classroom.” Wolper-Gawron believes “triggering curiosity takes modeling enthusiasm, and learning something new generates our own enthusiasm, even if it’s something new about the content we’ve covered for years.”

Author gives this example:

“I think one of the reasons why the whole world seems to be losing its mind over the Broadway production of Hamilton is because it presents a fresh take on a story we’ve all heard before. The power of learning something new is undeniable.”

So, teachers bring that “model your own curiosity quotient—that hunger to learn that defines how we advance our knowledge of the world.” And think about your content area. What is a new take on a topic you can bring to your classroom? What new piece of information might help you trigger your own enthusiasm, which can then trigger your students’ curiosity? suggested by Wolper-Gawron.

Now that you have discovered something that generates your own inquiry, and recreated the moment for your students where your curiosity was triggered, what is the next step you must take? Wolpert-Gawron suggests the four basic steps that represent the outline of a simple unit:

  1. Students develop questions they are hungry to answer.
  2. Research the topic using time in class.
  3. Have students present what they have learned.
  4. Ask students to reflect on what worked about the process and what did not.

Using Inquiry-Based Learning to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom” will illustrate these four steps.

3 Benefits of Student Question-Asking

Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton mentions in her article “What is Inquiry-Based Learning?” the 3 benefits of student question-asking, and they are:

1. Raises basic misunderstandings and knowledge gaps

Student questions are information-dense communication points that help an instructor quickly gauge the level of understanding a student has about the topic or project. “The quality of the questions students ask reveals how much they know and how well they learn” (White & Gunstone, 1992).

2. Prompts deeper thinking on a topic

Research shows that asking questions helps students better retain new information. “Questions activate ‘prior knowledge,’ helping students connect new learnings to what they already know” (Schmidt, 1992).

3. Helps students discover their thinking on a complex topic

When students ask questions, they must self-evaluate what they know. “The process of asking questions allows them to articulate their current understanding of a topic… and also to become aware of what they do or do not know” (Chin & Osborne, 2000).

Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton also provides tools and rubrics:

Create Culturally Responsive Classroom using Inquiry-Based Learning

Matt Kuykendall, author of the article “Using Inquiry-Based Learning to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom”, defines culturally responsive teaching as “views cultural differences as assets.” This uses diversity to guide curriculum development, classroom climate, and instructional strategies. Culturally responsive classrooms help students feel greater belonging, intrinsic motivation, and efficacy. Kuykendall cites this definition from University of Washington professor Geneva Gay (a foundational leader in creating culturally responsive learning environments).

Culturally Responsive Teaching Checklist, created by researchers at UCLA’s Center X, to help teachers create a culturally responsive environment. Kuykendall explains the check list this way:

“The checklist progresses from simple interventions that don’t necessarily change pedagogy, such as code switching during a lesson and recognizing multicultural holidays (level 1), to more cognitively and pedagogically demanding elements, such as analyzing events and themes from multicultural perspectives (level 3) and taking social action on meaningful social problems (level 4).”

“Levels 3 and 4 of this checklist lend themselves to an inquiry approach because of their focus on deeper learning and personal exploration.”

Kuykendall created an inquiry within the thematic unit of “Equity”. An inquiry requires students to identify and articulate a problem and solution inspired by the essential questions of the unit.

We asked these questions:

  • How do concepts of equality change over time?
  • To what extent do the media play a role in changing concepts of equality?
  • To what extent do cultural institutions resist equality?
  • To what extent is equality a function of economics, culture, or politics?
  • To what extent can individuals create change in levels of equality within a society?

Kuykendall’s students came up with various issues, such as hate speech, judicial “activism,” reparations, affirmative action, and wealth redistribution. Kuykendall’s students are able to use historical evidence to understand the nature of their problem and create a solution.

The Zinn Education Project is a wonderful resource for multicultural perspectives in U.S. history and is a resource Kuykendall often uses when developing guided inquiries for my students.

Types of Inquiry

Structured and controlled inquiry models are learning frameworks in which the teacher chooses the question and provides resources for students to answer that question. These structures allow teachers to ensure that students have certain shared content knowledge and understandings, and ensure that all learners hear multicultural perspectives, according to Kuykendall.

Kuykendall uses the “Transformation Approach” from Level 3 of the Center X checklist. Kuykendall explains this approach focuses on providing resources and instruction that integrate multicultural perspectives. Kuykendall suggests teachers who want to make their classroom more culturally responsive, but are not comfortable with designing full open inquiry experiences, should begin with inquiries structured around compelling questions that are purposely constructed to allow for, or even require, diverse cultural perspectives. This way students are provided with preselected sources, data, and information that is multicultural in nature and ideally reflects identities present in your learning community by the teacher. Students will use the preselected sources to construct meaning and understand questions or problems provided by the teacher.

Kuykendall’s ninth-grade U.S. History students were investigating the question, “To what extent can individuals change society?”. Kuykendall rephrasing the compelling question in this way, he can provide resources that require students to learn about the contributions of individuals from various cultures and backgrounds. The resources Kuykendall uses are:

The contributions of women to the labor movement, another focused on Mamie Tape and her family’s fight to allow Chinese American children to attend all-white schools, while another resource focused on the impact of Cesar Chavez on the labor movement.

Kuykendall believes students can acquire evidence from variety of perspectives and cultural backgrounds to answer the essential question.

Open Inquiry

Kuykendall notes “An open, or free, inquiry structure requires students to generate both their own questions and their own resources/content to answer their question. It goes a step beyond controlled inquiry, inspiring social action.”

Kuykendall believes one of the great benefits of a culturally responsive classroom is the cultivation of empathy among students. Kuykendall explains, “This empathy can then be leveraged to engage students in inquiries that allow them to investigate issues and questions that are personally important to them, such as the equality inquiry above.” “This practice invites students to engage in the “social action approach,” or level 4 of the checklist, because this kind of inquiry requires students to “make decisions on important social issues and take action to solve them.”

Reflection

Kuykendall encourages that reflection should be part of every student’s inquiry experience and is especially important in the service of creating a culturally responsive classroom. Kuykendall asks students to reflect on tough questions relevant to the question they were investigating, besides having them reflect on their own learning. Kuykendall gives an example of the guided inquiry cited above. Two reflection questions Kuykendall asked students were, “What additional obstacles do you think existed for the individuals you studied that were unique to their identity?” and “How do you think the individuals’ identities informed their actions?”

Kuykendall strongly believes these questions led to phenomenal conversations and took the learning to the next level in terms of perspective taking and developing empathy.

Kuykendall says, “by utilizing an inquiry approach in my classroom, I provide my students with higher-level cognitive experiences of synthesis, application, and creation. At the same time, inquiry allows me to create an environment where every student can customize their learning according to their own cultural identity, investigate the stories that they find meaningful, and solve problems that matter to them.”

Conclusion

Authentic inquiry supports a wide range of student-centered practices, such as project-based learning. It also supports Culturally Responsive Instruction, which includes teaching strategies that support student voice and choice, and connect to students’ experiences and interests.

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