In a class of 35 students a few years ago, it was the start of the semester. After a few icebreakers and introductions, I asked students to take out a pen and paper and ask me 3 questions that they’d like to be answered this semester. My students were stumped. Many of them sat silently staring at the paper, and me, for 20 minutes.
The education system is designed to provide information to students, but it’s not designed to help students ask questions. Year after year, we tell students that they need to memorize information because it’s going to be on the test. Strategies of memorizing and regurgitating information are mostly what students need to succeed in the education system. However, those methods of learning are not always useful in the real world.
My students struggled to formulate questions about what they hope to learn throughout the semester. By using inquiry-driven pedagogy, educators can help to foster a culture of curiosity, creativity, and more importantly, critical thinking in students. Younger students naturally use inquiry as they build on their own curiosity and try to understand the world around them, much like scientists do. How can teachers support inquiry skills as students grow older?
Watch The Expanding Canon, “Inquiry: Rudolfo Anaya and James Baldwin,” to learn how inquiry-based learning can be leveraged in a literature or language arts classroom. For example, students not only use questions to explore themes that interest them, they can learn to ask questions about the goals they hope to achieve on a certain project and the discovery process:
- What is the problem I want to solve or issue I want to explore?
- What do I hope to accomplish by the end of this project?
- What is my vision for this project?
- What are some of the challenges that I will face while completing this task?
- How will I know I’m successful?
Inquiry in education gives us the opportunity to ask questions that let us become aware of those issues that we can then engage in to create impact. The most important aspect of all of this, is that inquiry is self-driven. Our job as teachers is to provide the tools that enable and empower students to actively own their thinking.
When we help students to ask questions and understand the context of their learning, they’ll be able to critically think about their own process of learning, and how to better advance within that process. Moreover, students can’t google what the right question to ask is, they have to understand how to ask questions.
To see an example of inquiry and problem-based learning, and how you can leverage it in the classroom, take a look at this overview of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Socratic Questioning in workshop 1 of Making Civics Real.
Rusul Alrubail, in addition to writing about education for Edutopia and Learner Log, also works for Ci.Strategy+Design, which helps students, entrepreneurs, and organizations to understand and recognize their perspective within their system and networks.
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