An Inquiry Approach to Learning
What is an inquiry approach to learning?
Inquiry learning is grounded in the work of Dewey (1938), Bruner (1966) and Vygotsky (1978). These theorists claim it is the student who needs to do the ‘heavy cognitive lifting’. We therefore view children as capable and confident learners.
Inquiry is the dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world through various perspectives and using a range of life skills and developing dispositions such as: being a communicator, a thinker, a researcher, a self manager, and a collaborator.
When we move to the heart of inquiry, it is about engagement, lighting a fire within students so they want to investigate and find out more. Students are involved in their learning, create essential questions, investigate widely and then build new understandings, meanings and knowledge. That knowledge is new to the children and may be used to answer their essential question, to develop a solution, or to support a position or point of view. The knowledge is usually presented to others in some type of a public manner and may result in some sort of action.
Inquiry in action at O’Connor Cooperative School
At the beginning of 2022 we engaged our children and staff in a long term inquiry into upgrading parts of our outdoor learning environment.
The first stage of our inquiry: TUNING IN & SCANNING
We wanted to find out what we already have in our outdoor learning environment and what the children and staff currently think. It also includes questions and investigations around ‘What is important to us?’. The children were invited to write or draw what they felt we needed in our playground space and provide some reasons for their choices.
The next stage: FINDING OUT
At this stage we wanted to gather more information. We noticed some uneven pavers in the playground and investigated getting the area fixed to ensure everyone’s safety. With the Education Directorate’s approval, the children and staff discussed what we needed in our playground and why we needed various features in this area. During investigations the children designed a playground space to enhance this area. After the children shared their thoughts and designs, each class nominated two project managers, who had shown a particular interest in this playground space.
Then we moved to: SORTING OUT
At this stage, the children’s thinking is growing and changing, and new questions are posed. Our student project managers met with the builders, Luke and James, to share their thoughts and ideas. The builders taught the children a little about playground regulations and the measurements and budget that we had to work with.
The children asked the builders further questions to clarify what we could include in our ‘fort and cubby’ designs. For example, due to a zip line being too high to be allowed in our playground, the student project managers suggested with enthusiasm, “What about a slackline instead?”. After reading the voted requests to the students, one of the year one project managers suggested that we could add a rope to the rock wall to meet the need of having ropes as well as a rock wall.
The final phase of our inquiry process is: ACTION
This is where children are taking real life actions and making a difference to or having an impact on their life or the lives of others. At this point we were all very excited to watch the builders add on the final features to our all-access fort. Some of the key features of our school fort, as voted by children, are a fort, a cubby, a slackline, ropes for climbing, stepping stones, a steering wheel, binoculars and a rock wall.
We loved hearing and advocating for the children’s creativity and agency in this school project. Thank you to our project managers for being fabulous collaborators and communicators with our project team.