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  • Writer's pictureLidia

Inquiry Skills, Strategies & Tools!

When we begin the inquiry process with our students, there is a lot of pre-teaching of skills, strategies, and tools that needs to happen. Taking the time with your students to teach them these skills, strategies, and tools is essential in order to prepare them for the wild ride that inquiry-based learning can be. Before kicking off the inquiry process in your classroom, these are some of the most essential skills and strategies you will practice.

In the inquiry classroom, you have to be adaptable, open minded, creative, a critical thinker, ready to problem solve, reflective, flexible, and so much more. All of these are SKILLS you and your students need in order to be forward-thinking 21st century inquirers. Not only are these skills important in the classroom, but your students need to be able to contribute to the global community. By teaching skills and strategies, your students will be able to take charge of their own learning by making their own decisions, without you there holding their hands. Below is a tree diagram that will hopefully help to explain the importance of skills, strategies, and tool development.

When we explicitly teach skills, strategies, and tools to our students, it will lead us to our overall goal, which in this case is creating a toolbelt that will support us through the inquiry process.

What is the difference between a Skill and a Strategy?

When we speak about skills and strategies in school, many educators often use these words interchangeably. They are often seen as synonymous, but in fact, they are very different. Teaching the essential skills and strategies allows teachers to interact with the students in an authentic way while taking on the role of facilitator. Understanding this difference is important when beginning the inquiry process in your classroom. When students continuously practice skills, they are then able to pull from it as they need while moving through the inquiry process. By teaching your students skills and strategies you are giving the students the toolbelt they need in order to succeed.

It can definitely be confusing to see the difference between the two, but basically, SKILLS tend to refer to the abilities required to execute a plan or action. Skills are what we want our students to be able to do independently during the inquiry process. These skills are transferable to all areas of learning and even everyday life. Some skills students will need while beginning the inquiry journey include:

★Developing questions

★Critical Thinking, Investigation & exploration

★Research & Comprehension

★Collect and analyze data and information

★Reporting findings

★Reflection(Self, peer and teacher)

★Collaboration, etc.

Strategies on the other hand, is the teaching instruction methods presented in order to acquire and HOW students will accomplish the skills. Strategies and tools go hand in hand because the tools that we create are reflective and are set up to mirror different learning strategies that various types of learners will use. The goal of these is to be student-centred and student-selected. We, as teachers, want our students to select, explore, create and use the strategies and tools that work for them.

So how does this relate to Inquiry-based learning?
“Inquiry-based learning is a dynamic and emergent process that builds on students’ natural curiosity about the world in which they live” – Natural Curiosity, 2018

When you are first beginning the inquiry journey with your students, you will most likely be starting with a very STRUCTURED INQUIRY. In a structured inquiry, the teacher is able to pose a question to their students and guide the learners together. The teacher is able to use chosen provocations that will allow students to engage, explore, reflect, and wonder based on an essential question that was initially posed by the teacher. But in order for that to happen, we need to teach SKILLS, STRATEGIES, and TOOLS.

To the left is a table I created that shares some skills that promote inquiry-based learning and thinking. These skills are alongside various teaching strategies and examples of tools that can be used to practice the skills/strategies listed.

There are many other skills, strategies, and tools that could be added to this list, but these are my INQUIRY SKILLS, STRATEGIES, & TOOLS ESSENTIALS!

How do I teach the skills?

I have created a teacher guide, "INQUIRY Skills, Strategies, and Tools! - Teacher Guide," that will help you think up some ways to explicitly teach various Skills.

As I mentioned above, when you are teaching these skills, we use instructional strategies that are student-centered and allow them to grow their toolbelt authentically. As you look at the chart above, you might be thinking that these skills and strategies do not seem any different than those you would see in a classroom that does not practice inquiry-based learning. If you had that thought, you are correct, BUT the way in which these are presented is vastly different.

You cannot assume that your students already know how to ask questions, make observations, collect information, etc. You must teach them! I know it sounds silly, but we need our students to be experts at these skills or else it will make the inquiry process very difficult.

When I begin planning how I will teach a skill, and which activity I will do, I think to myself, "What instructional strategy will best suit the activity that I am presenting?" and "How do I create an activity that will value my student's passions and interests?" In "INQUIRY Skills, Strategies and Tools! - Teacher Guide," with each skill that is being presented, I share one to three activities that would be great to teach a particular skill. Each activity, allows you to pick the appropriate strategy for your students while keeping them at the centre of learning. If you are unsure how to start, that is okay! I have also included a list of prompts and thinking stems you and your students can use to get skill development going! Here is an example of an activity from the document that teaches observation and communication skills:

I will be adding to this resource as I come up with more activities that will help you teach SKILLS, STRATEGIES, and TOOLS!

Each time you teach a new skill or strategy you must also introduce students to a new TOOL. Tools are the methods students use to create, share, or display their learning. These tools vary from student to student. Students should always be able to choose the tool they would like to use when learning.

It is important to note that teachers should also explicitly teach all students how to use various tools so they are able to choose one that is best suited for them. I have created many digital graphic organizers that help with sharing learning during skill development and the inquiry process. They are linked in the photo above. They can be accessed as a bundle or as individual documents. They are a great starting point for teachers and students to begin developing and collecting various tools that work for them!

What is the inquiry goal?

The goal many inquiry teachers have is to move our students from a guided and structured inquiry to an open or free inquiry model at some point in the year. This is something that may not be attainable in every classroom. Which is totally okay! This is why we should create smaller, attainable, manageable goals and build on them as we go. So what is the goal at the beginning of our journey?

Create a toolbelt full of skills, strategies, and tools that will support us through the inquiry process! By doing so you will create a learning environment that values and celebrates...

Authentic voice and choice

If you want to know more about skills, strategies, and tools in the inquiry classroom, reach out!

- Lidia

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