There is a subject at school that the kids do which is called “enquiry learning”. It’s another term I’ve heard floating around but never deeply understood what it meant in the context of learning at school. Sure, I understand what “enquiry” means – it’s asking questions. It conjures the image of a science class where kids experiment with ideas surrounding the question of “what happens when…” But that was about all I gleaned from the term. Since parent engagement helps children do better at school, I figure I really ought to try harder to understand what the kids do in school.
The first time I wrapped my head around “enquiry” was when our school shared with us the details of the Large Scale Enquiry Program. Like everything else in life, it takes a few rounds of repetition before we really get the gist of an idea so this is my second fly by over the subject…
What is Enquiry Learning?
Enquiry learning is a learner-centred approach that emphasises higher order thinking skills. It may take several forms, including analysis, problem solving, discovery and creative activities. Younger children begin with structured enquiry that is led by their teacher. As they develop their enquiry skills, they move through a progressive curriculum that shifts from teacher-led to student-led. The teacher’s role then becomes one that is supportive. It is similar to the analogy of children learning to swim, shown below.
The Process of Enquiry
The children begin with an entry point. The entry point is usually a “big idea” from which all learning in the enquiry process revolves around. Taking an example from Year 6, the entry point was:
Technology: with Great Power comes Great Responsibility
From there, the children will ask questions, seek knowledge, develop skills, and gain understanding. The process culminates in an exit point where the students demonstrate what they have gained from the experience.
Unlike traditional methods of learning, Enquiry learning is not linear. Students may move forwards and backwards in the process before arriving at the exit point. Even though the process can seem quite haphazard, the learning goals are clear. In the case of our technology example, the student learning goals are to understand:
- how digital technology can have a positive and negative impact.
- that we have a responsibility to use technology safely and appropriately.
- the need for people to be educated about the responsible use of technology.
At the exit point, the students need to be able take what they have learned and to be able to:
- communicate it clearly and with confidence to an audience.
- choose and create a method that is well organised and appropriate.
- organise and share roles and tasks with a team.
Why Enquiry Learning?
The “ability to crack complex problems is key to the economic success in the future”. Today’s students “with poor problem-solving skills will become tomorrow’s adults struggling to find or keep a good job”. – The OECD
If we want to raise problem solvers for tomorrow’s world, we need children who can ask questions, seek knowledge, develop the skills, and present the solutions. Now doesn’t that sound like an enquiry process? If that didn’t sell it to you, here are nine more reasons why: