We had Trevor MacKenzie come speak with us. He is a teacher at Oak Bay High School where he teaches English. His teaching philosophy is based on inquiry style learning. In fact he even wrote a book on inquiry based learning called Dive into Inquiry. MacKenzie started down the path of inquiry based learning after having a student take a path that was not the best with school going to the wayside until his graffiti art became part of everything he did at school. When he was able to connect what he loved to school he started to attend again, he started to connect with people within the building. For some students the need to feel safe and connected is more important and needs to be established before any part of the curriculum. Inquiry based learning is a great way to modify classroom instruction to allow for all students to connect what they are learning with what interests them and is important tot them.
Inquiry based learning is designed to allow students to connect what interests them with what is required by the curriculum. There are four stages to getting students ready for inquiry based learning. The first stage is structured inquiry, the next is controlled inquiry, followed by guided inquiry, and then finished with free inquiry. Structured inquiry is the first step. IN this step the teacher selects what assignment will be handed in, what resources will be used. The student gets to pick how they will answer the question but not what they hand in. During this phase the teacher can check off the boxes required to meet certain parts of the curriculum. For example maybe a synthesis essay is used. The next stage is controlled inquiry. In this stage the teacher still controls what the topic is and the resources but the student gets to pick how they want to show what they learned. The third phase is guided inquiry. In this phase the teacher identifies the topics or questions that the student needs to answer but it is up to the student to find the resources they need to make the project they choose a success. The final stage is free inquiry. It is in this stage that the students choose their own project, their own resources, and their own topic.
With the free inquiry a lot of the marking comes from the process and the student evaluation of how they did. MacKenzie has his students keep blogs that update him on what they accomplished and what they worked on. He did not just focus on the free inquiry but also in the guided inquiry for the blogs. By using the blogs and providing self-assessment the students provide a reflection of what they learned and could figure where they needed to improve. He also emphasized the point of student evaluation rather than just teacher evaluation that normally comes in the form of tests. I think inquiry based learning can be very powerful when used in the proper way with the right amount of time for students to adjust from structured inquiry to free inquiry.