So what’s this thing called “guided inquiry”

In the last few days I have been working on further developing the context for my project.

After re-evaluating the direction I want my project to take, I have decided to change my context from an inquiry based English focus to an inquiry based History focus.  (Both of these are units of work I am currently working on with my year two class.)

After initially being hesitant in using my history unit, as it is not my area of strength, the work  of Bell, R; Smetana, L & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying inquiry instruction The Science Teacher, 72 (7), 30-33 certainly sparked some food for thought for me, and helped me to step outside my comfort zone.  I found it interesting that they feel that “teachers know that inquiry is important, yet most teachers lack a practical framework of inquiry to inform their instruction.” (page 1)  For me this is not so accurate. Personally I have found that current Australian curriculum developments provide a workable framework, and it is more that I lack confidence in my classroom practice when it comes to history inquiry based units of work.

As a result of being now more prepared to step out of my “comfort zone”  my project is now based on a Year 2 History inquiry unit centring on change with the local school environment.  Considering this I went with the safe and familiar (again!!), and used Google to begin my information search.  I based my initial searches on the activity from the Week Two tutorial

Google Search Google Scholar Search Google Search with +Australian Curriculum
inquiry units for primary schools 11,200,000 211,000 18,000
inquiry units for early years 11,000,000 487,000 23,800
guided inquiry in the early years 16,300,000 250,000 16,800
history inquiry in the early years 38,100,000 1,480,000 29,100

It was clear that I had to go back to the drawing board and really refine what I am looking for this project. (also learn not to rely on Google so much J ) I feel the need to firstly define what inquiry learning is truly about.  In defining this, I also began to wonder if in fact am I already using informal inquiry practices in my everyday teaching and just don’t realise it because I lack understanding of definition.

I like the idea suggested by Bell in his article “Simplifying inquiry instruction”, that “the inquiry scale should be seen as a continuum so ideally students should progress gradually from lower to higher level over the course of a year.” (Page 4)  It needs to remembered that no matter what opportunities are provided in an educational setting, a student’s progress on this continua in inevitably influenced by their ability.  This is particularly relevant in terms of where my early year’s students sit on this continuum and my expectations of them as a result.

Looking at the learning theories discussed in Kuhlthau, Carol C. ; Maniotes, Leslie K. & Caspari, Ann K. (2007). Chapter 2: The Theory and Research Basis for Guided Inquiry helped me to develop a basic grounding in guided inquiry theory.

Through my reading this week, I am finding that my own teaching philosophy can be aligned with some of the attributes of guided inquiry described by Kuhlthau, in particular, “striving to provide an environment that is challenging, social enriching and fun.” (page 16)

Through my previous study, and analyse of my teaching practice I have been able to gain an increased understanding of “constructivist approach to learning.”  In my ideal learning environment I strive to provide students with opportunities to have an active role in learning situations, using real world connections, and build on what they already know.  In reality however, the day to day school based expectations/curriculum expectations, interruptions, and not to mention the behaviour management influences, sometimes make it difficult to give the students “full control” over their learning.  I can only continue to strive towards this.

Using the work of Kuhlthau as a basis, I beginning to see more clearly that inquiry of any kind involves some of the following characteristics :

  • students exploring information,
  • Is ideally student driven
  • Links to prior knowledge
  • involves questioning, and predicting.
  • requires some kind of reflection.

Getting the students to actively reflect on their learning in a formal manner, such is expected as part of this project is not something I have really considered doing in the past with early years students. The work of Dewey has certainly given me food for thought.

Through investigations this week I have some insight into the inquiry process, have a clearer definition of guided inquiry in my head (although I’m still having trouble writing it down), but have a clearer idea of the theoretical frameworks on which it is based.   This week I want to spend lots of time refining my understanding of guided inquiry in the context of my project, come up with a more definite definition, and look more closely at the ISP Model outlined by Kuhlthau in relation to this context also.

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One Response to So what’s this thing called “guided inquiry”

  1. Jo this is a really interesting exploration of inquiry. I also love Kulthau’s work! I found her book Seeking Meaning to be heavy going but worthwhile, and her Guided Inquiry book to be excellent. This has recently been revised;
    Thanks also for following our ResourceLink blog!

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