Inquiry-Based Learning: Content Vs. Coverage- SOL #14

SOLS button 2013

Here’s another installment of sharing from “The Art of Teaching Literacy” workshop in Hong Kong. I attended one of Stephanie Harvey’s sessions entitled “Inquiry-Based Learning: Content Vs. Coverage” and learned quite a bit! As a literacy coach at a PYP school, I think a lot about teaching through inquiry, especially teaching reading and writing through inquiry. Here are my notes from the session.

Comprehension is Core!

  • Students need strategies for comprehension in order to inquire.
  • Students need to learn how to collaborate in order to inquire.
  • Students are born thinkers. They come to us already doing it.
  • We need to teach them ABOUT their thinking.
  • We want to know what the text makes them think about, rather than just have them retell the story.
  • Live a curious life- keep a wonder/research notebook to model inquiry
  • One question leads to another and another…inquiry is never-ending
  • “About 75% of reading for EAL learners should be nonfiction.” Stephanie Harvey
    • We teach kids:
      • to be aware of their thinking
      • to think strategically and above all…
      • to recognize the power of their thinking- they have power to do a lot; don’t marginalize their thinking
      • to have a sense of agency- read Choice Words & Opening Minds by Peter Johnston- Stephanie says these are great reads!
      • learning is a consequence of thinking
      • that we use comprehension strategies so we can acquire and use knowledge
      • that we can turn information into knowledge by thinking about it
      • Information in—> then thinking—> and out comes knowledge! Without thinking, it’s information in, information out. Empower them to realize they have to do the thinking on their own in order to gain knowledge; gives sense of agency.
        • “Today’s new knowledge is tomorrow’s background knowledge.”
        • Use a common language about literacy and strategies.
        • Comprehension is at the CORE!- use inquiry in ALL subject areas, not just language arts
        • “The more worksheets the kids fill out, the lower the students achieve.” Zero studies link worksheets to high achievement! They require no thinking and they don’t allow for differentiation.
        • Alternatives: Think Sheets, graphic organizers, diagrams, post its; there should be nothing there until kids work on it. Kids are working out their thinking when they do this type of work. You know what they’ve learned and what they haven’t when you’ve read their Think Sheets, so it’s an authentic assessment.


Inquiry Circles in Primary Grades: Kids Want to Know!

  • Collaboration- research says you should have 3-5 students per collaboration group (3 up to 1st, 4-5 in 2nd and up), 6 is too many
  • “Wisdom begins in wonder.” ~Socrates
  • Inquiry should permeate the day, not be in just a few projects.
  • Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey & Daniels- Great Book!
  • Powerful Learning by Linda Darling-Hammond- highly recommended by Stephanie
  • Why is the Sky Blue? By Sally Grindley & Susan Varley- great book to teach kids about inquiry
  • Stephanie likes books that have a title as a question.


Inquiry Approach Vs. Coverage Approach:

  • Cover- synonym is “bury”
  • Schools should fit kids, not the other way around.
  • Inquiry circles- don’t require kids to be on the same level, unlike Literature Circles

Small Group Inquiry Model– not linear, cyclical, can go between phases

  • Immerse- Flood them with texts, maps, online sources, images, DVDs, etc on topic.
  • Investigate- Begin to have enough information to ask good questions. You can’t ask a good question about something you don’t know about.
  • Coalesce- Pull together information to synthesize and address what you’ve learned.
  • Go Public- Presenting information

Four Types of Inquiry Circles:

  • Mini-Inquiry– takes a student question to investigate a student’s question; Rationale- authentic, relevant, answers questions fast, teaches research process, prepares students for more in depth inquiry, engaging, honor students’ thinking
  • Curriculum Inquiry– linked to subject or Unit of Inquiry
  • Literature Circle Inquiry– takes a regular literature circle, and then the students ask questions about the books, and then those morph into mini-inquiry circles
  • Open Inquiry– kids studying something they are fascinated in that doesn’t have anything to do with what they’re learning; if you only do it once/year, do it early in the year; research and reading standards can be taught easily


Inquiry in Pre-K/Kindergarten:

  • All about images (large photo calendars offer one of the best opportunities to find great images; use last year’s calendars for cheap)
  • Students ask questions about images
  • Collaborative-model how to work together/how not to work together
  • Give prompts to inquire
  • Responding to images by drawing and writing
  • Confer to find out what they wonder and think
  • Differentiate through responses and text levels, not the instruction
  • Don’t answer questions, always have them turn and talk first
  • Art is synergistic!
    • Highly engaged in art in class
    • Not just in art
    • Teachers don’t do it, they facilitate students’ work
    • Use the content to learn how to inquire, research, and answer questions
    • Essential questions are transferrable
    • It naturally reoccurs creating opportunities to transfer to other situations and subjects
    • Provokes deep thought, lively discussion, new understanding
    • Sparks meaningful connections


Four Phases of Inquiry:

  • Immersion– Learners construct knowledge as they go; Visual word walls help students make connections and gain understanding with the words’ meanings (use google images)
  • Investigate– When we learn something new, our thinking changes; Our questions lead to a line of thinking.
  • Coalesce– Response- “I learned, I wonder, Wow!”; Use literature to synthesize ideas; Begin to infer the big ideas
  • Take Public– Demonstrate understanding; Come to care about the subject; Share with others; Put learning into action; Audience interacts by writing new learning and questions based on their classmates’ presentations

2 thoughts on “Inquiry-Based Learning: Content Vs. Coverage- SOL #14

  1. Pingback: Workshop Sharing- Conferences that Nudge Writers Forward- SOL #17 | my heart is happiest when i travel. read. write. connect.

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