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Inquiry Based Learning : Approaches in teaching and learning

Minakshi Balkrishna has a teaching and administrative experience for over 30 years. She has vast experience in teaching in international school in India and abroad, and has implemented the International Baccalaureate PYP programme. Her last tenure was at an international school as Executive Director.

She has attended workshops at Harvard Graduate School of Education for the Future of Learning programme. She has attended several workshops to get insights of teaching and learning and trickled it into her school domain. She is now an educational consultant for several schools and is also on the advisory committee ond board of some schools in Ahmedabad. She is pursuing her PhD in education and management from the Academy of Human Resource, Ahmedabad.


The value of inquiry or powerful questioning is now well-established and becoming even more relevant, given today's hyper-competitive, fast changing and complex environment. The National Education Policy 2020 encourages an Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) approach. This approach will help in motivating students and teachers responding to the diversity in the classrooms. As we explore IBL practices, research proves that it has positive effects on conceptual understanding of the big ideas, effective traits of confidence and interests, and helps in pursuing self-cognitive and social empowerment. In addition, there are results that indicate IBL approaches can benefit a greater range of students without negatively impacting traditionally high-achieving students, which addresses the 'excellence vs. equity debate'.

Actively promoting equity in classrooms helps remove barriers and the classroom thrives! Equity in the classroom means making sure every student has the resources and support they need to be successful. Factors like race, gender, religion and socio-economic factors do not hinder the potential of the student. Other than this, equality in the classroom ensures students get the same resources and support. However, this doesn't work in practice. Same learning engagement for all can negatively impact their ability to do well. Albert Einstein said, 'Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

The term 'inquiry-based working' refers to the involvement of teachers in various activities that incorporate research and the use of the findings in their teaching practice. The involvement of teachers in approaches in inquiry-based learning is considered important, because they are expected to be able to evaluate and innovate their own education to teach their pupils the competences that are important in a changing society.

Teachers are also expected to make decisions based on evidence. Meaning, they should use research findings and data such as learning outcomes or observational data to understand the student's understanding. To prepare students for IBL, schools develop teacher education programmes as well as professional development to enhance and hone teachers' skills.

From a pedagogical lens, IBL prioritises on student questions, ideas and analysis. From a student point-of-view, inquiry-based learning focusses on investigating open ended questions or inquiry-based teaching focusses on moving students beyond general problems. Largely, they must use curiosity into the realms evidence-based reasoning and of critical thinking and creative problem-solving to reach understanding. a conclusion, for which they must defend or present. From a teacher point-of-view, inquiry-based teaching focusses on moving students beyond general curiosity into the realms of critical thinking and understanding.

Students are encouraged to ask questions and are supported through the investigation process, understanding when to begin and how to structure an inquiry activity and using methods such as guided research, document analysis and question-and-answer sessions. There are inquiry activities like case studies, group projects, research projects, field work, and several unique exercises. Whichever activity teachers chose to use, it should allow students to develop unique strategies for solving open questions. In IBL, the student benefits to reach a higher level of thinking.

Curriculum content - whereas some see inquiry-based learning as a departure from the curriculum, you can use it to reinforce relevant content and improve understanding of core concepts. This is due to curiosity's effect on the brain. When a concept sparks curiosity. there is increased activity in the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory creation. When students show more curiosity than usual regarding a specific topic, they satisfy it by using their questions to introduce another course of action leading to further inquiry.

Exercises for the brain - Launching an inquiry activity triggers curiosity and prepares the brain for learning, allowing students to become more proficient at understanding and, remembering skills and concepts. Questions, videos, primary resources or even a picture is the easiest way to inspire curiosity as a surprise. This will help start class in a curiosity-sparking, intellectually stimulating way.

Deeper understanding of content - By delving into a concept through inquiry, students will understand how the idea was developed, why the rule or formula works and when they can properly apply the rule, idea or formula. This is because the process of asking open questions and solving them through original strategies, empowers students to take ownership of their learning. Barring hiccups, they should be able to build understanding of a concept through their own methods and thinking styles. The same principle applies to experiential learning, which puts students at the centre of the learning experience.

Mindset - Inquiry can help students see the intrinsic rewards of learning. It instils a different mindset. It shows students how rewarding the act of discovery is, and that theorising a new strategy or original conclusion is a reward. It is an 'aha' moment of joy. They grow to enjoy the learning process itself, as the ownership of learning and constructing their meaning is in the hands of the student.

Asking questions - Students can improve skills through Inquiry-based learning, many of which relate to initiative and self-empowerment. Students learn how to ask questions, investigate, discuss, collaborate, cooperate and reach their own conclusions.

All kinds of classrooms - Inquiry-based learning can also benefit almost any classroom. It can be adapted at the pace and content to suit the needs of student. Some who struggle to grasp content through traditional lessons, benefit as investigation methods are different. It can be used as a 'minds-on' activity, as a full lesson, unit or standalone project.

Differentiated instruction - IBL gives you a chance to use differentiated instruction strategies, appealing to the diverse learning styles of your students. Students can work by themselves, or as part of a small or large group. Inquiry itself, typically involves methods such as discussion and guided research. You can also provide content in form of text, audio, video and virtual, or physical manipulatives and educational aids.

NEP 2020 and Inquiry-Based Learning

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi said, "The effort now is to emphasize inquiry-based, discovery-based, discussion-based and analysis-based methods for children to learn. This will increase the urge to learn in children and also increase their participation in their class." Strategies for IBL includes an improved understanding of curriculum concepts and the development of transferable skills, and a greater appreciation for the learners' inherent rewards. This, in itself, should create a more engaged classroom. Let's inquire about that.

This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine December 2021 edition.


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