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Inquiry - An open, inquiring mind leads to contentment, March 3, 2017
Posted 03/06/2017 08:23AM

Inquiry - An open, inquiring mind leads to contentment, March 3, 2017

What is Inquiry?

When we hear the word 'inquiry', we may not really understand what it means. Inquiry is the basic method of human learning, and the best way to encourage children to become life-long learners, so that they are capable of answering their own questions and solving their own problems.

Questions arise automatically in our everyday life. When we wake up in the morning we often ask ourselves questions such as, 'What time is it?' or 'What day is it today?"

Then, subsequent questions may be "What do I have to do today? Where do I want to go? What should I do this morning? What tasks do I have to finish?" and so on. But, these are only questions. The quotation "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand" reminds us that effective learning requires action. Inquiry is a question, followed up with action.

How do we inquire?

Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. Effective inquiry needs action which is a proper and appropriate response to the question.

For instance, most of us have, at one time, wanted to ride a bicycle. The basic question we had was "How can I ride a bicycle?" The next step was to seek out strategies, such as asking someone who can help us to learn how to ride or, maybe, going to a playground and trying to ride a bicycle. Another strategy for learning might be watching people riding bicycles and copying them. These are examples of action. Actions can be simple or complex. Whether the action is simple or complex, it is essential that we take action to answer our questions.

We learn strategies for answering our questions from parents, teachers, or other adults, or just try to work it out by ourselves. We experience life, and how to deal with it. From the earliest baby stage, when we are not able to walk, and through our childhood, we all experience "inquiry moments". For most people, inquiry is lifelong.

Good schools use Inquiry

Nowadays, in good schools, good teachers ask students to take action and be responsible for their own learning. Teachers have roles such as a facilitator and a mentor. In any curriculum which is based on outcomes. criteria or competencies (such as the USA Common Core), students can become the center of learning. Students are the doers, and they must actively participate in their learning.

There are many models of inquiry favored by different educational experts. From Kathy Short's work we get the following stages in an inquiry process.......'Turning In, Finding Information, Sorting Out, Going Further, Taking action and Reflection'.

From Kath Murdoch, the stages in the inquiry model are.......'building from the known. Taking time to find questions, gaining new perspectives, attending to differences, sharing what was learned, planning a new inquiry and taking action'.

There is one common thread throughout both of these inquiry-based models, which is that students actively construct their own learning, build their own concepts to solve problems they have encountered, and develop questions to define their own conclusions. Students might have different questions from their peers in class, which is good in an inquiry context, as long as they are still on the right track. It becomes the teacher's job to supervise and guide them when they struggle.

The variety of students' questions shows the depth of their thinking skills and levels of knowledge. Their questions may become guiding steps for them to elaborate and explore further what they are curious about. Formulating questions is not easy, because good questions must have something to uncover objectively. Good questions are open-ended, and can generate different answers.

This allows students to develop their own level of knowledge and ability so that they can search for the information that they need. Students' needs become different as they question differently. A teacher in an inquiry classroom must be able to read the situation so that he/she can support individual learners. The other advantages are that students do not compete with each other, and, instead, support others who have similar interests. They become independent. They ask for teachers' help only after they have tried, and come to a dead end. Students become risk takers because they are encouraged to try new things and are not afraid to find new ideas.

Skills are necessary to build on basic knowledge

It is, therefore, no wonder that the activity model in one class may be different to another, even at the same level. This happens because the students' inquiries and questions are different to one another. It also happens because students have different learning styles and abilities. However, there is one similarity of style in all inquiry-based classes -students construct their own learning. To do this, they need subject knowledge as a means to an end, not as an end itself; they need thinking skills, research skills, time management skills, social skills, and communication skills; and their attitudes toward learning must reflect positive learning.

Knowledge is needed in inquiry-based learning. Knowledge is necessary to support students in constructing their concepts, in developing their understanding and in applying theories. Students need skills to examine knowledge as it constantly changes and develops.

Good attitudes are necessary to maximize learning

The attitudes of being cooperative, independent and committed are essential for children to learn at their best. In the inquiry classroom, students need cooperation to work effectively in a group and need independence to complete individual projects. Other desirable attitudes that students should develop are tolerance and care for others. They should be open-minded towards their learning and other people around them. Building their confidence and self-esteem so that see themselves positively helps them learn better.

Inquiry should also happen at home

Inquiry-based learning needs a learning environment which is supported by parents. The home is where the child's first learning happens. Children's questions should be encouraged and answered. To provide an answer that encourages further exploration by children is a skill that many people do not have -attending parent' workshops at your child's school, and/or talking with his/her teacher can help in this respect.

Children can be taken to real places to collect data to complete their inquiries. They can use their friends and relatives as resources. They can learn to interview people about their experiences. They should ask their parents in order to find out information. Very importantly, parents should provide their children with books and other resources so that they can inquire about their world. The most important thing a parent can do is to model being an inquirer themselves.

Four Simple Strategies for teaching your child to inquire:

  1. Encourage your child's questions, and take the time to answer them.
  2. Learn to ask questions that lead to other questions, and encourage higher levels of thinking
  3. Work with your child to take action to answer their questions.
  4. Provide your child with books, games and electronic resources for them to carry out their own inquiries.
Nishimachi International School
2-14-7 Moto Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0046 Japan Tel: +81- (0)3-3451-5520

A well-recognized, independent, and coeducational K-9 international school in central Tokyo.

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