Flipping the Inquiry Ratio

In the past five years as an MYP teacher, and the past few as MYP Coordinator visiting other teachers’ classrooms, I’ve noticed that even though the MYP is a curriculum framework designed to support student-led inquiry, for the most part curriculum units seem to follow a 80%/20% rule. For the first 80% of a unit, the teacher uses various strategies to have students inquire into a teacher-generated unit question, with only the final 20% used for a truly student-driven inquiry-based summative assessment. As described by graingered two posts ago, “we define the list of what kids should know, and then we make up questions to teach to the lists” which tends to result in “artificial inquiry” instead of truly getting to the essence of “limitless inquiry.”

In my Grade 10 Humanities class this year, we’re trying something new. We’re flipping the ratio described above so that we start with 20% of laying the foundations of content, just enough to get the students intrigued and enthusiastic. Then we leave the remaining 80% for them to generate their own paths of inquiry, where they set the number of assessments, the types of assessments, the due dates and even the assessment criteria that will apply. The unit is focusing on the concepts of ideologies, government and effect. We went through 5 classes of learning about various political ideologies and brainstorming their effects on individuals and communities around the world. Now they have 20 classes to apply those concepts and the inquiry statement to whatever content they choose.

So far the results have been very intriguing, and the level of engagement has sky-rocketed. This used to be the “Nazism, Fascism and Communism” unit, which only tended to appeal to a certain number of male students. Now those boys can really delve into whatever ideologies they choose, while all the other students come up with what they’re interested in. They’ve truly impressed me a number of advanced inquiry statements that I never could have dreamed of – “How has conservatism affected the rights of LGBT people globally?” “How has Confucianism affected the governments of East Asia throughout history?” “How does Islamic feminism compare with Western feminism?”

The student-driven inquiry (80%) part of this unit is just beginning so I’m curious (and a bit nervous) to see how it all plays out. As Brian (my partner in this inquiry experiment) mentioned in his post a few days ago, it can be somewhat daunting to give up control to the students when it comes to setting the assessment parameters. 

For now I can definitely feel a more palpable buzz to the classroom than I have in previous years.  One of my students said the other day that Humanities has become her favourite class. When I asked why, she said it was because she got to teach herself what she always wanted to learn about.

About darrylanderson

MYP Coordinator and MYP Humanities teacher. Currently passionate about developing concept-based inquiry skills in the Humanities classroom.
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6 Responses to Flipping the Inquiry Ratio

  1. Marina says:

    “One of my students said the other day that Humanities has become her favourite class. When I asked why, she said it was because she got to teach herself what she always wanted to learn about.”
    Love that last bit.
    Keep us updated.


  2. tasha cowdy says:

    I love it! An inspired and brave move! I agree, it can be daunting giving up control, but I often wonder how much of what we as teachers control do the students actually apply once they leave the classroom? I think the transferable and applicable learning often comes out of the student controlled teaching and learning. I look forward to hearing how it goes.


  3. brianneises says:

    Darryl welcome to the blogging world! Excited to keep getting our thoughts and ideas out there for others to give feedback on.


  4. jonfrederickapp says:

    Great post! Thanks for having me along for this pilot within a pilot!


  5. lanafleiszig says:

    Darryl I love what you are doing. I’m a primary teacher in a PYP school and it’s so reassuring to hear that true inquiry CAN take place in the secondary school! Many of our secondary teachers often proclaim that it’s not possible due to time and curriculum constraints. My response is similar to your “flipping the ratio” idea. As Stefannia Giamminuti (Reggio Emilia) says “You need somewhere, some knowledge, where you can plant your feet so that you can fly”. 20 percent creating that platform and then 80 percent letting them fly. I look so forward to hearing more about how it goes. Thanks for sharing and giving me a glimmer of hope!


  6. Pingback: How my students responded to open inquiry | Inquire Within

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