Inquiry for the Beginner Teacher, Part 2

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"How do I implement this in my class?"

The school year is underway and you would like to try an inquiry with your students.  Where do you begin?  

First, it is important to realize that your first inquiry will be MESSY! Inquiry makes not only the teacher uncomfortable, but it will also make your students uncomfortable because it is a style of learning that they are not accustomed to. The "traditional" student relies on the teacher to spoon feed information that will later be memorized for the unit test.  Students have discovered that they rarely need to think for themselves because they can always rely on the teacher to give them the answer.

Second, you need to establish what type of inquiry you would like to do.

-best for students who are new to inquiry
-inquiry must be heavily modelled and scaffolded by the teacher
-teacher provides students with numerous resources

-best for students who are highly experienced with inquiry
-inquiry is completely independent and student-led

-teacher decides where to provide instruction and where to give students independence
-mix between guided and open inquiry

For those students with little or no background knowledge of a topic, teachers must provide information and background that motivate students.  Students need past experience and knowledge of a topic in order to do productive inquiry. (Johanssen,2000)
Before establishing an inquiry topic, it is so important that the teacher build a solid foundation of knowledge in the students.  It is imperative that students build schema around the topic before attempting to analyze what they've learnt.
 Use class time to introduce several different point of views related to the Big Ideas in the curriculum.  Some fantastic resources to help build background knowledge include YouTube, Netflix documentaries, Newsella news articles, short stories, and news reports.

Afterwards, the teacher can lead a discussion about what the students saw, what they realized, and what they felt and thought.  This is a great opportunity to have students make connections between what they have been learning.

Encourage questions that promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills as students will need these skills to complete a successful inquiry

 Finally, here are a few helpful tips that will help guide your knowledge building phase:

Tip #1: Take as long as you need
Don't rush!  This part of the inquiry is one of the most important because students must know enough about the topic to be able to inquire about it.

Tip #2: Use engaging resources
The last thing you want is for your students to be bored with the topic before even starting the inquiry.  Make sure that you keep students engaged with a variety of authentic, informational resources that will ensure students are excited to learn more.

Tip #3: Think-aloud as much as possible to model proper skills and language 
This is especially important if your students are still new to inquiry.  It is up to the teacher to model the 21st century skills that you want your students to develop.

Tip #4: Use formative assessments to gage student engagement and readiness
In order to keep students engaged, it's essential to know when to keep teaching a concept, or when to move on.

Tip #5: Encourage students to find useful resources on their own time
If you feel like you are running out of engaging material, challenge students to find new resources, or discover a new point of view that hasn't been presented yet.

Once you've established enough background knowledge , you can start planning your inquiry using an Inquiry Model.

IMPORTANT: Students do not have to complete every step of the inquiry process themselves.  Depending on the literacy level of students, the amount of instructional time, and the type of inquiry you selected, you may choose to provide certain steps to your students.

Lindsay Deschamps


I am an Innovation Instructional Coach for District School Board North-East in Ontario, Canada.


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