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Inquiry based learning

Building an Inquiry Based Learning Continuum: Checklist included

By August 12, 2019March 25th, 2021No Comments

You may have read or heard of inquiry-based learning, and the fact that it is an effective method of engaging students and creating learning and curriculum models that are more effective than route ‘memory’ learning.  This is correct, as the role of questioning is taken on by the students themselves taking an active role in their learning process. Students are guided to explore the concept, content material, ask questions, and share thoughts and ideas in small groups. Outcomes are less predictable, and the learning takes place as an experiential process that involves activating curiosity and wonder instead of merely delivering information.

 This is popular amongst students as it releases some of the one-way authority of a traditional teacher / student relationship and transfers some of the responsibility and ‘power’ over learning to the student and their peers.

The Types of Student Inquiry (see image below) are a scaffolded approach to inquiry, one that gradually increases student agency for learning while providing learners with the necessary skills, knowledge, and understanding to be successful in their inquiry. 

inquiry based learning

But exactly HOW do you start incorporating this type of learning into your curriculum continuum? We’ll discuss that here, and include and easy checklist download for you so you can start incorporating inquiry-based learning into your classroom and formative assessment design.

Kath Murdoch one of the ‘legends of Inquiry’ shares many resources on The Power of Inquiry 

This diagram is a reminder of the inquiry process;

inquiry based learning

The questions under each of the stages in the process help guide learners in their own learning.

The criteria below by Innovative Global Education is an excellent way to check your units to decide if they are going to be; conceptual, significant, complex, comprehensive, interesting, and teach critical global competencies such as skills and dispositions..

inquiry based learning

What is a ‘Global Citizen’ and What is Service Learning?

 The Global Citizens’ Initiative defines a global citizen as; someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community’s values and practices.”

The goal of service learning is to move the role of learning beyond the classroom through meaningful connections with the local community and the world at large.

Community service for learners is not a new,  assisting the community is usually a part of most school and tertiary offerings. Students ‘count hours’ to meet credits. However, with service learning, the concept goes beyond the simple ‘helping out and volunteering for community service.

Service learning entails the creative combination of academic theory in a specific subject or across subjects (transdisciplinary), and practical application in the real world, in order to meet the needs of the community and consolidate academic theory, skills and content. On top of the obvious learning benefits, the community, learners, and educators are all enriched through the experience.

Service-learning provides the necessary opportunities for learners to develop competencies such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, resilience,   personal management, as part of the learning outcomes. 

The learner realises early on that what they learn in the classroom has a powerful and beneficial impact in the ‘real’ world. Inquiry based learning takes place in the classroom but also works extremely well with service learning in the community  that involves field work as well.

Characteristics of Effective Service Learning Programmes:

1.  Community Partnerships and Collaboratives

Establishing community relationships and environments that answer to the needs of relevant learning opportunities for students, coupled with authentic requirements for the student’s contribution to the community. Service Learning Coordinators help collaborate and coordinate sustainable partnerships with curriculum, development of student leadership, goal setting, projects, resources, timelines, impacts and sharing with both the school and wider community.

2.  Application, Connections, and Opportunities

The degree to which the practical learning environment in the community intersects with the curriculum; academic content taught and assessed both in and out of the classroom is critical to successful service learning. Students need to be able to draw logical and consistent parallels between concepts,  classroom theory, knowledge, skills, and the practical application with the community. The six stages;

  1. Investigate
  2. Plan and Prepare
  3. Action
  4. Reflection
  5. Demonstration and Communication
  6. Help align curriculum with the needs of the community to make the service learning effective.

3.  Degree of Reflection and Learning

The depth of learning taking place can be directly correlated to the degree of self-reflection and complex analysis that each student engages in. This means that students make connections between all the different pieces of information and apply subject/s knowledge more fully than in an academic only classroom environment. This helps learning by offering opportunities meaning making and for transfer. 

4.  Community Feedback

Feedback is ongoing throughout the service learning between the community, teacher, students, coordinator for meaningful action and learning. We must provide opportunities for students to experience various types of service to develop learner agency. For learners to develop an understanding that their work makes a difference and is of value to the community gives students a sense of self-worth, pride and purpose in their learning and a better overall understanding of the world around them.

Integrating service learning and curriculum design to create exceptional learning. 

How does one even start integrating inquiry-based service learning initiatives into the curriculum design? One of the best ways to start is to look to others for inspiration, and many educators from all over the world have taken the time to share their experiences online or through specific academic databases.

Look at the ‘content standards’ that students need to take out of a learning subject, and instead of presenting that information, map out a set of questions and guidelines that would lead the students to the conclusion of the information –  a reversed process. 

If a student really gets stuck in the process and does not know what to ask or where to go next, instead of giving him or her the answer, ask a question, or try to get another student to open up the conversation and help move it forward. When students take ownership of their learning and can direct their own learning, they are able to apply this to their daily lives in any learning experience.

Use the element of surprise to engage students, by travelling non linear paths when you can. For example, use a provocation such as a visual aid; images, objects, challenge, video that is relevant to the start or middle of the line of inquiry, and work backwards from that point for the beginning. Indulge interesting student questions as often as you can, to engage thinking skills and learning. 

If you know you would serve your students better by adopting a more inquiry-based learning style but feel a little daunted as to where to start, what to do and how to present the concepts to your fellow teachers and educators, we have prepared a really handy, free checklist that you can use to organise, document and guide your thinking.

For Leaders we recommend you and your leadership team complete the Service Learning Framework Checklist!

The Service Learning Framework Checklist will help you :

  • articulate your vision
  • gain clarity
  • develop consistency
  • assess student leadership potential
  • design a curriculum
  • establish a budget and resources
  • establish timings
  • contact potential partners
  • understand the sustainability of your project over the years.

While inquiry based learning can seem more loosely created than traditional learning, the opposite is true, and the process needs to be carefully planned and documented in order for you to replicate the successes, assess and discard strategies that did not improve learning, to teach others, and facilitate leadership with organised documentation.  For each of the bullets above, you can use this Service Learning Framework Checklist to document key actions, timelines, responsibilities and implications and your measures and evidence of success for each one.

Tara Barton

Tara brings passion and a deep understanding of service learning, rooted in years of experience, to her training. Her training builds bridges from theory to implementation while generously sharing her resources and knowledge to ensure our success. Tara works with the whole school (administration, teachers, students, and SL leaders) to build a sustainable program that is embedded in the curriculum and tied to the mission. She energized a faculty on a Friday afternoon, no easy feat, leaving them with a desire to learn more about SL and to become more involved. I cannot recommend Tara highly enough.

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