Inquiry-based approaches represent a more facilitated form of teaching and learning. These approaches contain many of the same elements of more directed lesson designs; the order of these elements is certainly different as are the purposes and types of tasks and the types of teaching strategies. It’s generally agreed that there are four phases of an inquiry-based approach to learning, During Phase 1, students interact with the content or task, independently or with peers, “doing it alone” or “doing it together.” Either way, they’re doing the doing. In the next phase, students clarify their thinking, through a guided of process summarizing, paraphrasing, and categorizing. This can and often occurs with the teacher – the class is now “doing it together.” Sometimes, the teacher may need to provide a model or “I do it.” The thinking and work from Phase 1 is analyzed and misconceptions are examined and collectively corrected. Within Phase 2, the class develops questions, or inquiries, that drive the rest of the lesson. These questions may relate to misunderstandings that were uncovered in Phase 1. Phase 3 is the longest and most important portion of the lesson, when students launch into inquiry – into doing the thinking and doing. It is likely that Phase 2 (and even Phase 1) will be revisited as needed. The last phase, Phase 4, of the approach is when students to design and/or produce solutions that meet the need or goal that framed and launched the inquiry. Phase 4 provides a lesson’s culminating evidence that informs future teaching and learning.
Another more-facilitated approach to teaching and learning – an approach in which students are doing more of the thinking, writing, and doing – is Argument Driven Inquiry. Commonly in use in our secondary science classrooms, Argument Driven Inquiry typically has eight stages. In Stage 1, the teacher presents a real-world scientific phenomenon and students (or, in some cases, the teacher) identify a question they’d like to examine and a task they may complete to figure out how things work or why things happen. At Stage 2, groups of students design their method for collecting data and gathering evidence. Stage 3 sees teams of students make initial claims (or arguments) based on evidence that they gathered and justified through logical reasoning. In Stage 4, teams share their initial claims and receive feedback from other teams who ask questions of the claims, evidence, and reasoning, before each team makes revisions to their initial arguments. Teams reflect upon their conclusions, making connections to other topics and to broader concepts during Stage 5. At Stage 6, each student reports their processes and results, employing the skills of the discipline, such as analysis, interpretation, modeling, argumentation, and constructing explanations. Within Stage 7, teams review the reports from students in their teams, allowing opportunities to read, evaluate, and critique an argumentative text and provide feedback to their peers. Finally, in Stage 8, each student revises revise and resubmits their report.
Another facilitated approach is Question Formulation Technique, a process that guides students to produce, improve, and prioritize their questions. Students 1) Design a question focus; 2) Produce a set of questions related to this focus; 3) Specifically craft both closed-ended and open-ended questions; 4) Prioritize their questions based on their quality and connection to the topic; 5) Plan for the steps that they will (or would) use to answer their questions; and 6) Reflect on the process and quality of their questions.
The new science frameworks and standards, referred to in many states and districts as the Next Generation Science Standards, do a terrific job of representing learning in which students do more of the thinking, writing, and doing. While not a new framework, this new approach involves the use of a 5E lesson design. Students are first Engaged, typically with a real-world phenomenon that contextualizes and motivates the learning. Next, students Explore a concept through hands-on or minds-on tasks. Then, students attempt to Explain their findings and emerging understandings with teachers providing guidance, clarifications, and vocabulary if and when necessary; students are the ones trying to make meaning and make sense. The next step requires the class to Elaborate: Students develop a more complete understanding of the concept, assign vocabulary and scientific ideas to their explanations, and apply new knowledge to daily lives and fresh contexts. Lastly, the students and teacher Evaluate progress toward and mastery of the learning targets related to the lesson’s concept and learning targets; these evaluations or checks for understanding occur during and toward the end of the learning experience and inform future teaching and learning.
Inquiry-based approaches, Argument Driven Inquiry, Question Formulation Technique, and the 5E lesson model are means to an end – the end is more active learning. While each approach is represented by a set of steps, the steps themselves should be viewed a simply guidance; it’s the common sense ideals described by the steps that matter.