What is inquiry?

Sometimes I think we forget what inquiry really is. We talk about “levels of inquiry” and give equal time to practices that are not really inquiry. We talk about open ended inquiry as if it were an ideal to aspire to, instead of a reality to choose whenever possible.  People say, “we need to prepare them for college” as if students were vessels that must be full to some minimum line before they can advance.

Inquiry is letting students’ questions guide their learning.  It really is that simple.  If there isn’t room in the classroom for students to explore their questions, then there isn’t inquiry.

Inquiry is engaging for students of all ages because it naturally meets them where their interests and prior knowledge intersect.  We teachers then must give them access to the skills and associated knowledge that they need to move forward productively.

Inquiry is not just for science!  Students need to have the opportunity to pursue their questions at least part of the time in all classes.  Inquiry is a great way to integrate science at the elementary school level, even for a teacher who feels uncomfortable with their science content knowledge. By modeling curiosity and acting as the “inquirer-in-chief,” any teacher can inspire inquiry.

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4 Responses to What is inquiry?

  1. whatedsaid says:

    Your last point makes me wonder… if the teacher isn’t curious himself, can he model inquiry? Can he provoke student thinking and questioning? Can he inspire students to be curious? Can there be true inquiry?….


    • Tyler says:

      Ed –

      I would say absolutely not. Kids are pretty good at picking up false emotion; false excitement.

      I think the teacher’s genuine interest in the questions the students are asking is critical. It may be just as important a the teacher’s interest in the content.


  2. Jessica says:

    I find that the units of inquiry related to concepts that I am not all too familiar with, are the ones where most of the inquiry happens, where students engage with me in learning and around me.

    Being curious instead of “just modeling” it, which should always be possible, even if your content and concept understanding is fabulous.


    • Tyler says:


      This is so very true. That’s a big part of why I think it’s important for teachers to rethink what they do each year. If we teach the same thing every year, we will get bored with it. If we are bored, I guarantee our students are!

      This is also why I believe that over-planning kills engagement! If I pick out all of the stuff that I think is interesting or important, where is the room for the students’ curiosity?


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