“Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.” – Alice in Wonderland
For a long time in education, much of the focus has been on answers. But as Alice’s journey through Wonderland has shown- the focus, should be on the questions. There is a great moment in Lewis Carroll’s novel when Alice meets the Caterpillar. The Caterpillar asks, “Who are you?” Alice, stumbling to find an answer, replies that she doesn’t know. The Caterpillar follows with the all important response that many teachers ask their students: “Explain yourself!” Thus this sets Alice on the most important part of her journey- seeking her own identity, something so many students are looking to find during their high school careers.
This is the focus of inquiry learning. Moving the students into the role of Alice. Asking questions, attempting to answer those questions, and explaining what they found, regardless of whether the outcome is good or bad. Moving them to the role of seeker:
In order to accomplish this, the role of the teacher must change. Dr. Nellie Deutsh states, “Inquiry transforms the teacher from a provider of information to a facilitator, or coach. This facilitator, or coach, then guides students on a lifelong quest to learn about learning.” We hear it all the time- “creating lifelong learners.” It’s become a mantra on so many school walls. But how many actually teach what they preach? Students need to learn HOW to learn. And what to DO with these new found skills. So how do we get it started? With a question of course:
Powerful questions breed student exploration. Just as the Caterpillar asked Alice who she was and got her to question herself, we should do the same with our students. But oftentimes students are reluctant to ask questions… or just don’t know how. One way to get them to ask questions is to utilize the question formulation technique (QFT).
I read about this model of questioning in various online blogs and articles. Once adapted, it became a great tool in my arsenal and a tremendous skill builder for my students. The QFT model teaches students HOW to question. How to ask multiple questions, how to decipher between open-ended and close-ended questions, how to improve and prioritize questions, and how to discuss and reflect on their questioning. These are all important skills that often get overlooked and pushed to the wayside. You can read about the QFT model here in more depth, but I am going to give you an overview of the process.
Step 1: You begin by having a “question focus”. This can be a question of your own, a statement, a picture, a video, etc. Something that can spark questions and get students involved in higher order thinking. Don’t let them create questions during this step. Let them take in the question you posed to the class in its entirety, or let them watch the video and let it stew. We want them really thinking about the question focus and understanding any of its hidden connotations.
Step 2: You give your students time to produce questions. This works really well by putting your students in groups and letting them go at it. Give them an allotted amount of time and then let them go to work. No questions are bad questions. Get them asking as many questions as they can and writing these questions down directly as they are stated. No fixing questions here and we don’t want them stopping to answer any of these questions. We just want them to generate the biggest list of questions that they can as a group.
Step 3: You want them to understand open and closed questions at this step. This is a great spot for a mini lesson or teaching in the moment. Have your students go through this list and mark whether each question is open or closed. Again, they aren’t answering these question – because we are kicking answers to the curb here. We are only focused on the questions. After they mark each question, have them pick a few (3?) open-ended questions and change them to closed or vice-versa. This goes a long way in helping them truly decipher between the two.
Step 4: This is an important step! You want them to prioritize their questions. Have them select their (3?) most important questions and rate them 1-3, with 1 being the most important question. This is the only time where question answering may/should take place. As they begin to debate and question each other, they may seek answers to the questions in order to justify whether it really is important. This is ok! Let them go at it.
Step 5: Share! Go around the room and have them share questions they created, questions they changed, how many questions they came up with, and which they placed extra emphasis on. This is a great point to involve your students in the next steps to follow. What should they do with these questions? Get creative with your students and involve them in the learning process and mapping of their education.
Step 6: You want them to reflect on this process. What did they learn? What did they take away? Pose an essential question of your own to wrap up the day’s learning. From here we can move forward with designing an inquiry-based lesson or unit. But…
Inquiry-based learning is not the product of some worksheet. Student curiosity LEADS the learning. Blooms Taxonomy is a great model to
use as a guide to create inquiry-based lessons/units and engage them in the learning process. Blooms… builds inquiry. Here, I’ve taken the basic model of Blooms and connected it with an order for creating an inquiry-based unit. By starting with basic content, the teacher can teach the students about a topic. From there, the teacher can model (structured inquiry) –> allow the students hands-on time while facilitating (guided inquiry)–> and finally give the students time to do it all on their own while seeking their own answers (open inquiry). Blooms breeds creation. But the questions posed should drive your unit and breed student exploration.
TechedUpTeacher had a great post, found here, where he talks about flipping Blooms around and changing the order for different tasks. Here’s another read on a similar take to revamping and changing Blooms. The point here- is to make Blooms work for you. Lean into the idea of allowing the learning to move in different directions. Let the lessons go anywhere. Spark creativity and inquiry by moving Blooms around to better engage your students and get them questioning. Then let the students question on their own terms and generate their own thoughts. One of the best things I did was to throw out study guides in my classroom and bring in Active Reading Inventories. After utilizing the QFT model above, students generated their own questions after reading the first few chapters of a book and sought answers to these questions through their reading of the novel. Then, they showed their exploration through any means necessary.
It was a powerful learning experience and inquiry can help you build these into your curriculum. In the end, student learning becomes a process. Students want to know more than just the answers. They want to know HOW to ask questions. They want to know about things THEY are interested in. They will walk away with something better than just answers. They will walk away being able to create evidence of their own learning- channeling that inquiry into opportunities to explore and wonder. Just as they did when they were little kids.