What is inquiry learning? could be the question I have asked myself the most during my 5 years of teaching an inquiry approach. Its the question everyone asks, and one which I feel obliged to try to answer.

wordlepyp.PNGInquiry learning is the process by which children develop their understanding of the world based on the asking and subsequent answering of important, relevant questions.

Which brings me full circle. By trying to define in words what inquiry is, I am being an inquirer.
I am exploring, wondering and questioning, making connections between my previous and current learning, collecting data and reporting findings.
I am clarifying my existing ideas and reappraising my perceptions, deepening my understanding through the application of a concept.
I am researching and seeking information, taking and defending a position and I hope to solve this problem in a variety of ways. This, for those familiar with the PYP, is the IB's articulation of what inquiry could look like (IBO, 2007, p29).

In order to try and share my understanding, I am demonstrating my learning. My previous experiences, and cultural norms mean that written language is my preferred method of doing this. My penchantfor technology has also encouraged me to create a wiki/website. I can only imagine my despair, should I have been compelled to share my understanding in an interpretive dance.

Of course, more enlightened thinkers have attempted to define inquiry learning. In 'Focus on Inquiry' Jeni Wilson and Lesley Wing Jan describe inquiry learning as 'students forming their own questions about a topic and having time to explore the answers' (2003, p10) and an 'active thinking and learning process' (2009, p10). Kathy Short defined inquiry as a 'collaborative process of connecting to and reaching beyond current understandings to explore tensions significant to learners' (2009, p12). Coffman stated that inquiry 'involves any activity that encourages students to think, ask questions, explore information and then present possible solutions or ideas' (2009, p5). Kuhlthau, Caspari & Maniotes described inquiry learning specifically as when students are 'involved in every stage of the learning process, from selecting what to investigate, to formulating a focussed perspective, to presenting their learning in the final product" (2007, p5). While the International Baccalaureate Organisation's key document, 'Making the PYP Happen' defines inquiry as a 'process initiated by the students or the teacher that moves the students forward from their current level of understanding to a new and deeper level of understanding' (2007, p29).

On reflection, my definition of inquiry learning seems to hold its own with these other definitions. The ability to articulate thoughts through language would indicate a good understanding. Indeed, the father of social constructivism, Lev Vygotsky would possibly agree, he said 'the most significant moment in the course of intellectual development occurs when speech and practical activity, two previously completely independent lines of development, converge' (1978, p24).

Consructivist theory, such as those put forward by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky laid the foundations for the inquiry learning approach and the PYP we see today. For further information on the foundations of inquiry, please see the relevant sections.


IBO (2007) Making the PYP Happen: A curriculum framework for International Primary Education.
International Baccalaureate Organisation: Cardiff, UK.

Wilson, J. & Wing Jan, L. (2003) Focus on Inquiry.
Curriculum Corporation: Carlton, Australia

Wilson, J. & Wing Jan, L. (2009) Focus on Inquiry. (2nd Edition)
Curriculum Corporation: Carlton, Australia

Kuhlthau, A. C., Caspari, A. K. & Maniotes, L. K. (2007) Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century.
Libraries Unlimited: Westport, CT, USA.

Coffman, T. (2009) Engaging Students Through Inquiry-Oriented Learning and Technology.
Rowman and Littlefield: Lanham, Maryland, USA.

Murdoch, K. & Wilson, J. (2008) Creating a Learner-Centred Primary Classroom: Learner-Centred Strategic Learning.
Routledge: Abingdon, UK

Short, K. G. (2009) Inquiry as a Stance on Curriculum. In S. Davidson & S Carber (Eds.) Taking the PYP Forward:
The Future of the IB Primary Years Programme. John Catt Educational: Wodbridge, UK.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. in M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds.) Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA.