What is inquiry-based instruction and how is it related to the Primary Years Programme?
Inquiry-based instruction is a teaching technique that challenges students to observe, think, and question. This instructional approach advocates the development of a carefully structured classroom environment where students are taught how to pose their own thoughtful and significant questions about content they are working on. These questions are then used to generate learning within the school’s curriculum. This teacher-guided and student-centered approach is based on research that directly links student learning to the quality and quantity of student involvement in the educational program.
Using this method, teachers draw on the previous knowledge and experiences of their students to design lessons that invite wonder and inquiry. They provide background information and actively teach students to formulate meaningful inquiries. Teachers hold their students accountable by defining outcomes and expectations for these inquiries. They model and provide a framework as they guide students to conduct authentic investigations.
As a result of developing their own questions, learning becomes more meaningful and interesting for students. They develop a sense of ownership and control. Investigating the answers to their questions, students learn problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as content. They build self-directed learning skills and gradually develop the ability to transfer concepts to new questions.
Inquiry-based instruction can be viewed as complimenting traditional instruction in the sense that it extends and applies student learning. While not all schools that emphasize inquiry-based instruction are members of the International Baccalaureate Organization, this approach to learning is at the heart of the Primary Years Programme. Seeking to develop internationally minded thinkers for the twenty-first century, the PYP views inquiry-based instruction as an essential tool in teaching students how to learn.
How is inquiry-based instruction being implemented at Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson Elementary?
To further understanding and increased practice of inquiry-based instruction, both schools are currently engaged in professional development activities. Staff members are reading and discussing Why Are School Buses Always Yellow? (2007), written by inquiry expert John Barell. This collaborative experience is providing our teachers with a framework for introducing inquiry into their classrooms in an incremental and systematic manner. Teachers are also addressing ways of using the inquiry process to teach mandated content, while making learning a meaningful and lasting experience for students. Working together to apply the techniques suggested by Barell, teachers are further developing their own sense of inquiry.