Big Ideas in Literacy
Inquiry Cycle in the English Classroom
Inquiry approaches to learning have moved far beyond the science classroom and into every content area. The basic inquiry cycle begins with the following:
- Student interests: To begin, teachers can introduce broad ideas or concepts through short video clips, news excerpts, or other engaging experiences. Teachers can model interest in the topic with emotionally engaging questions directed to students, such as, Do you believe that? Have ever seen such a thing? Where does that come from? Why do they do that? As students ask their own questions, they should be recorded for the whole class to observe and reflect upon. At this stage, the emphasis is on broad and excited conversation, speculation, and imagination. After the class has generated a significant amount of questions, the teacher helps students locate questions that reflect their interests in the concept or topic.
- Research: The next stage is to explore with students how they might go about answering their questions. It’s important for students to understand the broad range of possibilities for generating answers. They might talk to others, look at reference materials, go online, etc. At this stage, it is also helpful to demonstrate ways for students to manage the range of information they find in portfolios (online filing systems or other means).
- Compose: During the composing phase, students record their findings in some coherent form such as a written speech, website, or essay. They should also share and revise their composition as needed.
- Present: After sufficient time in composing and refining their findings, students share with the public or another audience with genuine interest in the topic.
- Generate more questions: Finally, after students have had time to reflect on how their audience responded to the presentation, new questions can be generated and summarized or explored through additional sources of information.
The basic inquiry process is similar for students of all ages. In the inquiry process, instruction is often about teaching students how to reflect on the self as a thinker and learner in school and society, and notice, formulate, and research topics and questions of interest. Instruction is about learning how to learn and understanding various cognitive processes (i.e., comparing information sequential thinking; cause and effect reasoning etc.,) that are enacted repeatedly and nuanced at various stages in this process. This information is shared directly with students as a class, and targeted information (need-to-know, mini-lessons or contextual information, mediation, etc.) is taught on an ongoing basis. Formative assessment is an ongoing part of the process. The assessments inform the teacher about what targeted information to teach, reteach, or mediate through other resources and experiences.
Reflect: Who asks the most questions in your class? How do you encourage students to generate authentic questions that reflect their personal interests about reading and writing?