Monday, 2 March 2015

Inquiring about Inquiry

I'm not sure about global trends but here in Australia we're all about the inquiry.  Which is great if anyone in the room understands what that means and I'll freely admit (now) that at the beginning of last year I wasn't 100% clear myself.  I asked a few questions of my colleagues and crammed in a whole lot of reading.  By the time I asked the original VRPs to come up with inquiry questions of their own I thought I was top of it. Well maybe not exactly on top of it. More like alongside. And so, alongside the VRPs I refined my understanding as they did.  

This year our teaching team has restructured the way we are teaching Humanities and Social Sciences    (HASS) to start the year learning inquiry skills (through 'action learning') as a priority.  Sounds obvious doesn't it?  Yes, well, moving along.  :\

For one legitimate reason and another the VRPs' HASS lessons have been largely scuttled so far this year. Time and energy for HASS?  There has been very little. From what I've seen though, this years' VRPs have been struggling with developing inquiry questions. So today I posed the question: "what is an inquiry question?" and asked them to spend ten minutes in pairs categorising a series of questions as inquiry or not. I did this on (which as you know is one of my favourite web 2.0 tools) as you can see here:

Our action learning area is Asian geography... Can you tell?

Regrouping we discussed why each question is or is not an inquiry question.  You will notice that there are a couple of questions that weren't unanimous, and these prompted some rich discussions about the characteristics of inquiry questions.  
Having agreed on our list, everyone reviewed the questions they'd already posed.  They shared their review with a partner,  and had to justify their decisions. Along the way some wonderfully rich inquiry questions were formed. We quickly ran off copies or took photos on ipads/ipods of the list for everyone to take home as they were to pose a series of questions for home learning tonight ready for review and choice tomorrow.   I'm excited to see their questions tomorrow.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it.
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning.
Standard 6 Professional learning.


  1. Thank you for your comments about my train trip. I was wondering about a few terms in your blog, VRPs and HASS. I'm sure that they are probably Australian education related but I can't work them out. I will comment again about you lesson. It is only 6 am here and I am just about to get up!

    1. Hi! The VRPs are my class. I teach in a school that runs single gender classes alongside mixed gender classes. Last year I taught in a 4 class unit that had 'the girls', 'the boys' and two mixed classes. My class felt a bit 'bereft' of an identity. They noticed that RP (they call me Mrs RP) sounds a lot like IP which lead to VIP which in turn lead to VRP. So my kiddos became known as the VRPs. This year I'm in the same unit and eve though we only have one mixed class the name has stuck. The kiddos sometimes say it means Very Rad People. I like it!
      HASS is, as you guessed, an Australian curriculum term: Humanities and Social Sciences (so: History, Geography, Civics & Citizenship, Business & Economics).
      Thanks for your comment: aren't 6am wake ups awful?

  2. Great blog post! Inquiry is one of those funny things that has changed over the years. I have seen full on student led inquiry (usually fell over) To teacher directed (boring) and have seen somewhere in the middle work fairly well.

    You are spot on starting with what is an inquiry question. I have found that this is the first stumbling block for many students. The next is a lack of a clear inquiry process.

    At my school we developed the Road to Success. It probably has too many stages but essentially it goes -
    1) Teacher led immersion
    2) Developing wondering
    3) Finding information or making initial designs
    4) Stopping to check we have the right information and are on track
    5) Develop final answers for sharing, how the information will be shared or finalise and create designs
    6) Celebrate and Share
    7) Reflect on you learning.

    Point England School had a really simple inquiry/learning cycle - Learn, Create, Share. I thought this really captured the essence of it all.

    Inqury is a great learning skills for our students and the time and effort needed to get it going is worth it!

    I hope this #28daysofcommenting comment was helpful!

  3. Hi Gareth.

    Learn, create, share describes my classroom perfectly. I really like your Road to Success. May I borrow it please?

    Inquiry is a fantastic skill isn't it? Over the next few years as Aussie kids have time to benefit from a few years of the new curriculum it will be embedded earlier and earlier so that by the time they get to me in year 6/7 this level of breakdown probably won't be necessary. It's wonderful visiting the junior classes and seeing their inquiries already.

    Thanks for your comment! (Loving this #28daysofcommenting as much as the #28daysofwriting!)