What Inquiry Isn’t

I begin this year of teaching by thinking about my own journey of what inquiry actually means to me and my teaching . Im still amazed by the power of authentic inquiry. Inquiry in my grade 1 class is sometimes loud, messy sometimes chaotic looking.  I started with thinking about what inquiry is not. Maybe you’ll see similarities, perhaps many differences.


Inquiry is not a bunch of activities. A list of activities mapped out on a unit planner or in an appendix is not inquiry. I believe it’s fine to have an idea in mind about what you might do in a unit but this needs to be learner driven.  We need to have key engagements that articulate explicitly the big understandings of the unit. This also needs to be subject to change as the unit moves forward and the learners gain an understanding for the conceptual understandings and follow their own inquiries.

Inquiry is not ‘planned’. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t plan for provocations linked to our concepts and related concepts etc. I mean that we need to make sure we don’t plan out the entire inquiry cycle for students from Tuning in to Making Conclusions. I believe that we need to let the learners drive this with teacher support.

The Inquiry Cycle is not something that all learners go through at the same time, pace. We all know that we don’t learn the same. Teachers need to let go and not come into the unit with pre conceived ideas about what the unit is ‘about’ (Im talking topics here)  so that by any deviation from the teacher’s idea is deemed ‘not what Im looking for’. Let the learners work towards the understanding. They may be out there but give them time to work their way back. Guide them.

Inquiry doesn’t follow a timetable. Accept that inquiry happens throughout the day. This last one seems so obvious but its worth repeating. Have you ever been in the middle of something with the kids and then you get a question about a teacher question or idea from earlier in the day or even a few days ago? The first reaction amy be ‘Um..we aren’t talking about that right now’ (because were doing other important stuff). How do you support this? Sometimes you really cant stop in the middle of what you’re doing but something simple as writing the question or idea down to come back to is good. I send my kids to the iPad to verbally record their idea so we don’t lose it.  This has worked very well and we can come back to it. Because its recorded the child is often very excited to show and share later on and expand on the idea. Inquiry isn’t neatly packaged or scheduled. Down the path_9123558701_m

Okay so maybe you’re saying ‘so what’  this is pretty obvious right? This year Im trying to keep things simple. I wont cal it a resolution or even a goal its just something I want to be more aware of in 2014. Review some of the ‘easy’ basic things in my own teaching and learning. Scrutinise the way I do things in order to do things better and be a better teacher. I also believe that reducing the amount of so called planning time and increasing the amount of time for deep reflection is the key.  My journey continues.



About Jason Graham

I am a Digital Literacy Coach in Indonesia. I am from Vancouver but now call Melbourne home. I have lived in Indonesia for over twenty years and enjoy sports and travel. I enjoy making stuff, photography and learning with and from others.
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14 Responses to What Inquiry Isn’t

  1. Missy K says:

    Hi Jason,

    Great article and very helpful as I start my first year tiptoeing in inquiry in middle school. While some of your points hit home and some are different in elementary vs middle school, the one that confuses me as I plan is your third point. I am struggling with balancing having an enduring/big understanding with not planning everything in advance. How can I make sure my students work towards the enduring understanding while also allowing for freedom and student-led lessons? Any ideas on this or resources that help you would be great. Thanks!


    • Jason Graham says:

      Hi Missy
      I think the big idea can be applied to ES or MS, the tricky part is how kids are assessed. I assume in secondary there are ‘tests’ which likely test content knowledge. I certainly think provocations need to be very well thought out and for MS kids maybe even develop a framework WITH them, its important that they understand what the purpose of it all is. I think then this keeps it focused but open for differentiated abilities, inquiries..


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  3. Lindy Buckley (@LindyBuckley1) says:

    Hi Jay,
    Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is easy to overplan. You aren’t the only one trying to do that less! It’s on our list too!


  4. Pingback: The Wildness in Inquiry | Inquire Within

  5. Claire says:

    I enjoyed this post very much Jason. It is very timely for me as I begin planning for 2014 with my Year 5/6 class. I realised last year that the most powerful inquiries were actually coming out of learning experiences that were being lead by the children and have touched on it here – http://declairingit.blogspot.co.nz/2014/01/use-inquiry-to-empower-student-voice.html . Inquiry had become a huge subject area in my class that was more and more teacher lead. Thanks for affirmation that the next path is the correct one for my journey! 🙂


    • Jason Graham says:

      Great post. Action is so important that can be so powerful when its are student initiated. I used to have ‘inquiry time’ in my class until I realised that its always (or can be) inquiry time. I think it always was but it took a while for me to notice it and bring it all to the surface and ‘uncover’ the inquiry. Both for the kids and myself.


  6. kathmurdoch says:

    Hear Hear Jason! Thanks for a great post. I think I am gradually seeing a shift in the concept of what ‘planning’ is….it’s not about generating a bunch of activities for the next 6 weeks – but rather about stepping back, seeing the (integrated) big picture and then allowing inquiry to evolve toward that. And it’s so much more satisfying!


    • Janie says:

      Hi Kath and Jason,
      love reading both of your blogs on inquiry learning/ teaching! My question would be how do you plan a unit of inquiry or prepare yourself to do a unit inquiry if you are not on class full-time. For example I have graduated and will be looking at casual teaching until something permanent comes up. However I remember at uni when I done the whole integrated programming unit it was all about a 5 week plan and mapping out activities and strategies. I found this quiet hard to understand and relate to as I thought it was about children’s learning and supporting their inquiry journey.


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