A Focus on Inquiry

October 11, 2013 - 4 minutes read

Last month I wrote about three important themes that I see in our schools – inquiry, self-regulation and digital access. There is a lot of discussion around innovation in education, and our teachers are leading the way. On provincial assessments, our students regularly perform at the 100th percentile, but we know that we want a far broader base of skills for our students entering an ever changing world. For us in West Vancouver, and for high performing jurisdictions around the world, part of the shift has been to more inquiry based learning. But just what is inquiry?

I often come back to a definition from the Galileo Educational Network, who describe it as:

. . . a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world. As such, it is a stance that pervades all aspects of life and is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is based on the belief that understanding is constructed in the process of people working and conversing together as they pose and solve the problems, make discoveries and rigorously testing the discoveries that arise in the course of shared activity.

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

As facts have become so easily accessible in our digital age, our schools are becoming less about memorization and factual recall, and more about deeper study of questions and ideas. It does take different forms in our schools – at our International Baccalaureate schools – West Bay, Cypress Park and Rockridge (currently a candidate school) inquiry is set out by the IB governing body, at many of our other schools they have worked on a common language and approach across the entire school. This approach to learning is not limited to a particular age. I have seen kindergarten students at Irwin Park use an inquiry approach in their study of communities, and grade 12 AP students at Sentinel engage in inquiry-based labs.

All of our principals and vice-principals, and many of our teaching staff have recently read Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser that describe this move from “a preoccupation with content coverage, to a focus on what learners are actually experiencing with the learning we are designing for, or with, them.” It is a tremendously exciting time in our schools. We are shifting our practices to prepare students for a world that is less about the content and more about how they tackle questions and challenges.

I regularly write on my blog about the work with inquiry. Two particular posts that help give more details are one on the work of the Galileo Education Network and one on Spirals of Inquiry.

I also encourage parents to talk with their child’s teacher and principal about the work in their school around inquiry.