The inquiry approach to teaching-learning is departure from the traditional teacher-directed strategies. Once a teacher gets somewhat comfortable with the process, the next battle for her in the classroom is how to structure it into an effective teaching-learning strategy.
While questioning and searching for answers are extremely important parts of inquiry, effectively generating knowledge from this questioning and searching is greatly aided by a conceptual context for learning. To facilitate the inquiry process, teachers/schools adopt the inquiry cycle and the students’ go through the different stages of creating and refining their inquiries with the teacher’s help. The process might end up in the creation of a product or the construction of an understanding. This process of product making or answer building is an iterative process which goes through verification, validation, sifting and sorting till a clear picture emerges. In this journey of constructing meaning, a child works on his own or with a small group of peers necessitating social and communication skills. The teacher provides the appropriate resources and provocation, structuring the activities to support the inquiries.
One of the schools that I work with has developed and adopted the following Inquiry Cycle for their elementary students:
The inquiry approach to learning is complex and dynamic; it looks different in different classrooms. As the process unfolds, it is rarely linear but cyclic or back and forth, very much in sync with the way the brain functions. Therefore, it has been called “a human approach to knowledge acquisition”.
Suffice to conclude in the words of Gordon Wells, “Inquiry is not a ‘method’ of doing science, history, or any other subject, in which the obligatory first stage in a fixed, linear sequence,… is that of students each formulating questions to investigate. Rather, it is an approach to the chosen themes and topics in which the posing of real questions is positively encouraged, whenever they occur and by whoever they are asked. Equally important as the hallmark of an inquiry approach is that all tentative answers are taken seriously and are investigated as rigorously as the circumstances permit.”