Inquiry-Based Learning

Teaching & Learning Through Inquiry

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Inquiry-based learning is an approach to learning that emphasizes the student’s role in the learning process. Rather than the teacher telling students what they need to know, students are encouraged to explore the material, ask questions, and share ideas.

Inquiry-based learning experiences use different approaches to learning, including small-group discussion, guided learning, play, problem-based learning, collaboration, experimentation, and explicit teaching. This allows them to build knowledge through exploration, experience, and discussion.

Inquiry is purposeful and authentic. The inquiry process builds capacity through student agency where voice, choice and ownership feature strongly.

Source: Grade Power |
Also see: Tools & Strategies that Promote Inquiry-Based Learning

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Runtime: 6:31 - May 26, 2014

The Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

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Enhances Learning Experiences for Children

  • Sitting in a classroom taking notes isn’t always the most effective (or fun) way to learn. Rather than memorizing facts from the teacher, inquiry-based learning enhances the learning process by letting students explore topics themselves.

Teaches Skills Needed for All Areas of Learning

  • As students explore a topic, they build critical thinking and communication skills. The cognitive skills that students develop can be used to improve comprehension in every subject, as well as in day-to-day life.

Fosters Curiosity in Students

  • An inquiry-based learning approach lets students share their own ideas and questions about a topic. This helps foster more curiosity about the material and teaches skills students can use to continue exploring topics they are interested in.

Deepens Students’ Understanding of Topics

  • Rather than simply memorizing facts, students make their own connections about what they are learning. This allows them to gain a better understanding of a topic than they would get by just memorizing and recalling facts.

Allows Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning

  • Students have the opportunity to explore a topic, giving them more of a sense of ownership over their learning. Instead of the teacher telling them what they should know, students are able to learn in a way that works for them by giving them more voice and choice.

Increases Engagement with the Material

  • As a form of active learning, this approach encourages students to fully engage in the learning process. By allowing students more voice and choice to explore topics, make their own connections, and ask questions, they are able to learn more effectively.

Creates a Love of Learning

  • Inquiry-based learning is designed to teach students a love of learning. When students are able to engage with the material in their own way, not only are they able to gain a deeper understanding—they are able to develop a passion for exploration and learning.

Source: Grade Power

What Is Inquiry-Based Learning

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Source: Prodigy Website

Features of Inquiry

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Source: Kath Murdoch

Making the Case for Inquiry

Run Time 35:57 - Dec 2022 - Source:Toddle
Whether you are an administrator, teacher, or parent, understanding why inquiry works is an important part of advocating for the needs of your students and school. Join Kimberly Mitchell, as she makes a case for inquiry and leads a discussion around what inquiry is and why it is a leading pedagogy.
Get a quick snapshot of all the cases Kimberly offers here.

Inquiry Is... Posters

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Creator: Traci Salter CWBS 2010

Four Types of Student Inquiry

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Source: Blog - Thinking Pathways

Stop! Before You Go Further, Listen to this Podcast by Kath Murdoch to Learn About the Power of Inquiry

The Importance of Differentiating Instruction & Assessment

It is critical to incorporate differentiation and assessment strategies during collaborative planning and teaching for implicit and explicit opportunities for all students to develop inquiry skills both inside and outside the programme of inquiry. Learn more about Differentiating Instruction and Assessment.

Designing a Journey of Inquiry: Kath Murdoch

Model For Designing a Journey of Inquiry

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Source: Kathy Murdoch Website

A Sample Overview of an Inquiry Journey

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Source: Kathy Murdoch Website

What Makes a Good Inquiry Unit?

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Source: Kath Murdoch

Strategies to Use During Inquiry

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Source: Kath Murdoch

Kath Murdoch's Inquiry Cycle

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Source: Making Good Humans Blog

Promoting The Yearn to Learn

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Source: Think in Colour Website

Busting Some Myths About 'The Inquiry Cycle'

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A Blog Post by Kathy Murdoch

Source: Kath Murdoch Web Site - March 25, 2013

I once read an interview with a hero of my early teaching days – Donald Graves. He was asked about the way people had misinterpreted his ‘process writing’ model and replied that sometimes he wished he’d never written it down! Years later I understand the frustration behind that sentiment. It’s hard to do justice to the complexities and nuances of inquiry in writing. So much gets lost. Something that is rich, layered and multidimensional can come across as flat, linear and recipe-like. Over the years, I have published several books that share a ‘cycle of inquiry’ and the kinds of learning engagements that we might design within a cycle. I have seen hundreds of interpretations of this idea in classrooms. Many have been gratifying and exciting. Teachers who really ‘get’ the intention, understand the complexity and invite their students into the learning have blown me away with what they have done. And I have also seen (and heard) many bewildering versions or iterations of the cycle that are such a long way off the original conceptualization and intent! Ironically, I have seen slavish adherence to a cycle actually impede rather than enhance inquiry.

So Why Even ‘Have’ Such a Cycle?

Articulating a model or framework for the process of inquiry is a helpful way to support and guide our practice. The intention of the ‘cycle’ is to guide the teacher’s (and learner’s) thinking beyond simply coming up with ‘activities’ and towards a more thoughtful process that assists students to move from the known to the new. The need to ‘name’ some kind of process was first revealed to me as a young teacher by my fabulous mentors Marilyn Woolley and Keith Pigdon. They helped me move beyond thematic planning and into a more rigorous way of thinking about how to guide learning. Once I understood constructivism - it made sense to me to describe what was such a natural process of building understanding over time. My job as a teacher was to help design experiences for learners that would support the brain’s best inclinations to wonder, look for patterns, seek new information, link to prior learning and transfer. While it has changed over time, the cycle I now use owes much to Woolley and Pigdon’s visionary work.

Here are some of the more common misconceptions about ‘the cycle’ and my response to them. I hope it is as useful to read as it has been to write!!

Misconception 1: Inquiry is all about ‘the cycle’. We DO the cycle….therefore, we DO inquiry.

Simply using an inquiry cycle does not make us inquiry teachers. As I have written before, inquiry is a ‘way of being’ in the classroom. Yes, there are planning frameworks that can support the ways in which we design learning experiences for and with students but this is only part of the inquiry story. An inquiry teacher knows how to question students in ways that enhance and deepen thinking, how to offer choice and honour voice, how to seize an unexpected moment for investigation and how to embed learning in purposeful context It’s a pedagogy – not just a planning framework.

Misconception 2: The cycle is a recipe. We need to follow the stages in sequence for it to ‘work out’ in the end.

Nope. It’s a flexible framework. Not a recipe. Essentially, inquiry cycles provide labels for a process that is common to many disciplines. Most people agree that inquiry: involves time to establish your current thinking, your needs and questions, some ‘hunting and gathering’ of information/ideas/ data, some sorting organizing and meaning making and some kind of creation/application/transfer/use. And most agree that this process is cyclical in nature. New discoveries lead to new questions and so on. But this process is much neater on paper than it is in practice. True inquiry is often messy and recursive. We gather and sort then realize we have new questions so we return to some more gathering. In the cycle I use, I place great emphasis on the role of ‘tuning in’ to students’ thinking to establish pathways for investigation. While it often sits at the ‘start’ of the process – I return to ‘tuning in’ regularly. These are phases more than they are stages, elements more than they are steps. There is nothing contained, neat or particularly orderly about a lot of inquiry BUT having a relatively simple iteration of it in the form of this cycle can help us think more clearly and actually better manage the messiness without getting overwhelmed!

Misconception 3: All inquiries go through the same phases over a similar time frame.

Much as it would be convenient, no two inquiries are the same. Although most journeys will contain elements of this cycle, starting points, emphases and time frames vary from context to context and depend on the group of students, their age level and what they bring to the journey in the first place. I have seen some beautiful inquiry journeys travelled within an hour. I have seen some that last a year. I have seen some that really don’t involve much ‘action’ but are highly worthwhile and engaging and others that are really all about the action.

Misconception 4: Using a ‘cycle’ as a guide, we can plan a complete unit of inquiry for students

I think this is the most troubling use of the cycle I see. The cycle should INFORM planning, guide it but it doesn’t mean we can create the whole thing before we start. When I use a planner with the elements of the cycle in it – I see that planner as a guide throughout the process – not as a template to be filled in one sitting. The cycle is emergent….how kids ‘sort out’ the ideas information depends on what they gather – and that is not something we can determine in detail. The cycle unfolds.

Misconception 5: The cycle is for teachers.

Students benefit from having some ‘meta-language’ to attach to processes they use as inquirers. Some kind of framework should be developed for and WITH students that helps everyone gain a shared language. Making this visible to students helps them think about how journeys of inquiry are both similar and different. It is really useful to display the cycle but only if it is referred to, analysed, played with and critiqued!

Misconception 6: The cycle only applies to ‘units of inquiry’ in disciplines like science and social studies.

I see many examples of this cycle in action in a range of disciplines and contexts. Some ‘tweaking’ is needed at times to best fit the nature of the discipline but it is interesting to explore this kind of transfer. Check out for example – the great work done on about inquiry-based PE or Bruce Ferrington’s application of the cycle to math inquiry -

Misconception 7: It’s my way or the highway or ‘there is only one cycle’….

There are many versions of a ‘cycle of inquiry’. The fact that there ARE many versions is healthy and affirming. I love the different emphases, language and uses of these cycles and think that, together, they help offer us lots to consider as we continue to clarify this intriguing process in our own minds. Explore various cycles. Look for patterns…where do they all agree? Find one that works for you and your students. Create your own – but be consistent. Shared language across a school has great benefits.

A cycle of inquiry helps us plan and teach with intention. When it is understood, it pushes us beyond simply coming up with ‘activities’ and challenges us to think about how skills and concepts can be developed and deepened over time. It gives us some shared ‘meta’ language to use with students and colleagues

How do YOU use a cycle of inquiry to inform your work as an inquiry teacher?

…Just wondering….

The Go-To Book For Teaching Inquiry-Based Learning

Customers outside Australia and New Zealand are able to purchase through the Follett IB store
The Power of Inquiry, by Kath Murdoch, is an inspiring and comprehensive guide to the implementation of quality inquiry practices in the contemporary classroom. Organised around ten essential questions, each chapter provides both a theoretical and practical overview of the elements that combine to create learning environments rich in purpose and passion.

The Go-To Book for Teaching Personal Inquiry

Getting Personal with Inquiry Learning: Guiding Learners' Explorations of Personal Passions, Interests and Questionsby: Kath Murdoch offers educators a compelling argument for providing young people with opportunities to pursue their interests at school and provides a myriad of practical strategies to make this effective and manageable. Rich with classroom examples, templates to guide planning and accompanied by advice from a range of highly respected educators from around the world, this book beautifully connects theory and practice—achieving depth and accessibility.

Kath Murdoch's Website is Full of Useful Information about Inquiry

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Personal Inquiry:

Supporting Learners to Find and Follow their Passions

Run Time: 45:53 - Oct 2022
Kath Murdoch walks you through what personal inquiry is and how to implement it. Definately worth a watch.
Source: Rethinking Education Conference 2022
Bonus: Check out this video where Kath chats about personal inquiry anmd her book Getting Personal with Inquiry learning

Sowing the Seeds For A Great Year of Inquiry: 10 Tips For Term 1

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A Blog Post by Kathy Murdoch

Source: Kath Murdoch Website Site - January 28, 2015

The school year has just begun here in Australia. It’s a time of great anticipation, resolution and excitement – I love the sense of possibility that accompanies this time. For many of us – having had a break – it is also a time of adjustment. In a sense, we return to our ‘teacher selves’ and with that, is an opportunity to think about that identity: how DO we see ourselves as teachers and how does this impact on the way we teach? I remember hearing Ken Robinson (in a lesser- known talk) once describe teachers as gardeners. This is always a metaphor that has appealed to me. I like the nurturing connotation, the link to nature, the need to tend and care, the combination of planned and unexpected and, of course, the symbol of growth.

Over the last few days, I have been working with teachers in various schools, as they prepare to meet their students and begin a new year. The gardening metaphor has come to mind many times. When it comes to inquiry – there is so much we can do (and indeed should do) to ‘prepare the soil’ and plant the seeds for a healthy, rich, vibrant year of investigation. When we meet our students at the beginning of the year, we are in a unique position to establish the culture that will best nurture our inquiry-learning garden. So I have been reflecting on some of the key things to attend to in order to prepare the way for inquiry. Here are 10 tips for term 1...

  • Make relationship building your priority. Inquiry works best in classrooms where students feel safe to take risks, share thinking, wonder aloud and challenge themselves. Inquiry teachers also need to KNOW their students – as people and as learners, in order to guide them most effectively. Respectful, warm and connected relationships are the key to a strong inquiry classroom. Collaborative games and simply having some fun together go a long way to creating the kind of atmosphere in which intellectual risk taking can thrive!

How will you foster strong relationships in your classroom from day one?

  • Find out what your students are interested in, passionate about and ‘good at’. Whether they are 5 years old or in the final year of school – your students come to you with experience, expertise, passions and wonderings. An inquiry classroom makes the most of the individual strengths and interests each student brings. Begin a wonderwall, inquiry diary, wonder journal......Ask students to write you a letter/blog post or tweet about why you are so lucky to have them in your class this year!

How will you find out about your students’ interests?

  • Involve students in setting up the physical learning space. Ask them: ‘how can we use this space so we can do our best learning? This will tell you a lot about the students’ ideas about learning itself and may prompt some useful inquiry into the relationships between the environment and how we learn.

How will you ensure the classroom is ‘owned’ by the students? How will you involve them in creating the learning space?

  • Work on nurturing a culture of curiosity. Bring in fascinating objects, start a ‘cabinet of curiosity’, institute a quirky ‘question of the day’, share some awe-inspiring YouTube clips. Commit to sharing your own ‘awe and wonderment’ about the world. Be a model of curiosity.

How will you ensure that curiosity thrives in your classroom?

  • Consider ways in which you can re-structure some of your ‘beginning of the year’ events or activities so they are inquiries in themselves. For example – instead of planning all the activities that help young children get to know their school…make it an inquiry. “How can we learn about our school?”. Invite children to suggest WHAT they want to know about the school –and how they could find out! The same can be done with getting to know each other. Avoid the usual gimmicky activities and set this as an inquiry challenge: How could we find out more about each other? What do we want to know? How could we gather this information? How could we share it? Why is it important? Have students design their own ‘getting to know your tasks’. The class agreement can also be created through a process of inquiry.

How can you make some of your beginning of the year ‘activities’ more inquiry-based?

  • Share learning intentions as questions. As I have written about previously on this blog, when we frame learning intentions as questions we open up more scope for investigation and discovery. Try this technique early in the year. Creating an inquiry culture is all about using, valuing and reflecting on questions.

How will you use questions to drive learning?

  • Start speaking ‘learnish’ . This is one of my favourite terms used by Guy Claxton. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to find out what your students think about learning and how they see themselves as learners. Ask them to share their thinking about learning with you. Commit to being more conscious of your own language. Grow a classroom discourse that is learning-centred.

How will you help students learn and use the language of learning?

  • Yield to an unexpected moment. When I interviewed children at the end of 2014 about their learning as inquirers, many of them remembered the inquiries that had emerged unexpectedly more than they remembered the inquiries that were more planned ahead! Teachers, too, regularly tell me that some of their strongest, most authentic teaching happens in response to an unexpected moment, problem, event or challenge. School programming is tighter than it has ever been. I am not suggesting we abandon plans and frameworks – far from it - BUT I am suggesting we make a conscious decision to remain open to the unexpected moments that await us in 2015. Ironically, the more you know your curriculum and the clearer you are about where you are headed….the more comfortable you are about taking the road less travelled!

How will you make room for the unexpected?

  • Get connected!!! Inquiry teachers and learners are connected – to each other, to the community and to the world beyond their local community. When we set up mechanisms through which we can connect students to the world, we offer SO much more scope for research, collaborative investigations, access to expertise, authentic learning and real communication skills. Class twitter accounts, blogs and connecting with other schools via Skype or FaceTime are highly engaging and allow the classroom to no longer be defined by four walls. If you, as a teacher, have not yet, for example, subscribed to a blog, opened a twitter account, explored some educational apps…it’s time!

How will you get connected?

  • Commit to being an inquirer. Be the inquirer you want to see. Make sure YOU are experiencing some kind of inquiry this year – it may be professional or personal. Share your learning experiences with your students. Use language that shows them you are a learner too – you wonder, speculate, investigate, re-think, reflect and remain ardently curious. For many of us, our identity as a teacher is tightly bound to control and authority. Becoming an inquiry teacher – and nurturing inquiry learners – challenges us to re-think our ways of seeing and being. Your own inquiry disposition can be a powerful ‘fertilizer’ as you sow the seeds for a wonder-full year of learning with your students.

How will you prepare the way for inquiry to grow in your classroom this year? Just wondering....

How will you nurture your own inquiring mind?

The Future of Teaching & Learning

[Kath Murdoch & Guy Claxton]

Run Time: 1:28:44 - May 3, 2021
  • Inquiry is a stance to be curious, wonder, question, sceptical.
  • Inquiry is a way of being.
  • Inquiry is NOT a subject.
  • Inquiry is NOT something you do on Thursday afternoon.
  • Inquiry is NOT inquiry time.

Benefits of Inquiry-Based Learning

[Kath Murdoch]

Run Time: 7:21 - Sep 1, 2017
  • Inquiry learning is all about knowing what to do when we don't know.
  • How can an inquiry-based learning environment be designed?
  • How can schools encourage inquiry-based learning?
  • What are the benefits of inquiry-based learning?

Types of Inquiry

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Source: Kath Murdock 2018

The Power of Ummm...

Run Time: 18:37 - Nov 10, 2014
  • What if classrooms were laboratories where wonder thrives?
  • What if it was more exciting in a classroom to not know something than it was to know something?
  • What if classrooms were places where children know their questions would be heard?"