Supporting Student Learning in Stages 2 & 3 of the Inquiry-Based Learning Process
Asking questions and searching for answers is a fundamental part of being human. A young child curiosity knows no bounds. Whether it’s “why?” or “what’s that?” they constantly look for answers from the trusted adults in their lives. As children mature, however, an important shift takes place whereby instead of always looking to adults to lead their learning, they begin to become responsible for determining a valid approach and authentic solutions. “At some point, it’s even more powerful if we turn that learning over to them,” says Joanne Walsh, Ophea’s Secondary Health and Physical Education (H&PE) Curriculum Consultant. In the education system, this is where Inquiry-Based Learning comes into play.
Inquiry is a formal process with three main stages: 1. Launching, 2. Facilitating and 3. Making Sense of Inquiry. In October of 2016 we published an article called Great Learning Begins with Great Questions. It looked deeply into the launching stage of the inquiry-based learning approach as it relates to H&PE. In this companion article we’ll discuss the last two stages: “Facilitating” and “Making Sense of Inquiry.” We’ll also look at how, with support from educators, the skills students gain through these stages can help lead to a lifetime of healthy, active living.
Why is inquiry-based learning a powerful approach to teaching H&PE?
Inquiry can be used in all subject areas, and H&PE teachers have been helping students to ask and answer questionsfor years; however, the publication of the 2015 H&PE Curriculum (Grades 1–12) marked the first time that the inquiry-based learning process was formally written into the H&PE curriculum.
“Inquiry fits really well into the H&PE curriculum, which is very skill based to begin with,” explains Deb Lawlor, Curriculum Consultant Health & Phys Ed 9–12 and Contemporary Studies 7–12 in the Intermediate/Secondary Student Success Department of the Ottawa Catholic School Board. “Students are exploring how their bodies move, which game strategies work best in different situations and considering how their actions impact their health or physical activity.”
Inquiry also goes a long way toward teaching the Living Skills: the personal, interpersonal and critical and creative thinking skills which are woven throughout all H&PE curriculum expectations.Through inquiry, students learn the skills they need to acquire knowledge, set goals and monitor their own progress—all important personal skills. They also learn interpersonal skills, such as how to communicate effectively and work in a group. And, of course, critical and creative thinking skills are at the heart of inquiry, as students make connections, evaluate sources and solve problems.
Inquiry is more like a round-about than a one-way street
Before we look more closely at the second and third stages of inquiry, it’s important to note that, although inquiry-based learning is a process, it doesn’t have to be linear. In fact, it rarely is.
“In the beginning teachers need to structure and model the process so that students build their confidence and competency in the skills necessary to carry out an inquiry on their own,” explains Rebecca Richardson, Instructional Program Leader, Secondary Health and Physical Education and Safety, with the School Programs Department for the Halton District School Board. For example, this may mean that a teacher gives students the question, or provides a list of sources for them to investigate and evaluate, allowing them to begin at a later stage of the process or to proceed with more support.
Furthermore, as students progress and more responsibility is released to them, educators can encourage them to reflect on their work, and to circle back to an earlier stage to gather more information, to re-organize the information they’ve gathered or even to re-work the original question if needed.
Stage 2: Facilitating
After students have arrived at (or been assigned) an effective inquiry question (Great Learning Begins with Great Questions) the next stage, “Facilitating” will see them working through two components: “Gather & Organize” and “Interpret and Analyse.”
Gather & Organize:
We live in an information-rich age, but not all sources are created equal. As students gather information from various sources, they’ll need to think critically about how, where, when and why it was published.
“If we’re investigating a health question, we might come up with some government or public health sites, or we might look at someone’s blog,” says Walsh. “The blog isn’t necessarily a bad source, but we need to look at who wrote it and their level of expertise.”
Meanwhile, in the Active Living strand, students could be gathering data about their personal fitness, or thinking about various strategies for game play. As this information is gathered, students are guided in how to organize it. Teaching students how to effectively organize their information sets them up for success when it is time to interpret and analyze the information. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is the use of a graphic organizer. “You might create headings like flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance,” says Walsh. “As students gather information they can jot it down under those headings.”
Interpret & Analyse:
Once the information has been collected and organized, educators guide students in taking a critical look at it. “Teachers can facilitate by asking questions when students get stuck,” explains Lawlor. “Do you have enough evidence? Where did you find that source? What are the connections between the various sources?” These types of simple questions can lead to big discoveries.
According to Walsh, it’s important to encourage students to take their time with this component. “It’s where we can build their critical thinking skills,” she says. “They need to really think about what this information means in the context of their own life, and make connections to what they want, know and believe.”
Stage 3: Making Sense of Inquiry
Once students have gathered and organized their information, it’s time to draw meaning from it and to share their new-found wisdom with others. This stage consists of two components: “Evaluate and Draw Conclusions” and “Communicate.”
Evaluate and Draw Conclusions:
“As they evaluate and draw conclusions, students are developing the skills to synthesize information and results so they can make an informed judgement or set a goal,” explains Lawlor. This involves making connections between the evidence they’ve gathered and their own experiences and considering what impact their answers, goals or plans might have on themselves and others around them.
At this stage, teachers can once again support the learning by asking guiding questions. For example: Has your position changed now that you know more? What conclusions have you drawn?
Next, it’s time for students to express their learning, findings or opinions in a way that answers the original inquiry question and meets the needs of the audience they’ll be presenting to. This audience might include teachers, peers, students in a younger grade or community members, and the presentation may take a variety of formats.
“An example in Healthy Living could be creating a public service announcement for younger students around the impact of stress and strategies to support students in coping with stress,” says Richardson.
Students might also create a poster, record a podcast or video, put together a slide show, present to a large or small group or take a number of other approaches. At this stage, educators can guide the learning by helping students to identify the purpose of their communication. “They might be trying to inform their audience about the dangers of drug use, or to persuade them to make healthier food choices,” explains Lawlor.
Educators should also help students to consider the needs of their audience. “What do you have to think about including and/or not including based on who you’re addressing?” says Walsh.
Students reflect on their learning and progress throughout the inquiry process, but should also take time to pause at the end for deeper, more purposeful reflection. Educators can facilitate this by having students think about their initial question, what they learned, what they could have done differently and how they can apply this learning to other subjects and situations.
Assessing Students throughout the Inquiry Process:
As with all teaching strategies and in all subjects, assessing inquiry in H&PE begins with establishing the learning goals and success criteria to be used as the anchor for assessment. The most effective way to do this is by co-constructing the success criteria with students.
“You want to do assessment throughout the inquiry process—not just at the end,” points out Lawlor. “Have they gathered information from a variety of sources? Do they have appropriate graphic organizers? When they do a presentation, did they reach the audience? Did they persuade them? At each stage, students can reflect on and assess how they could have done things differently.”
Where can you turn for help?
“Ophea’s Inquiry-Based Learning in Healthy & Physical Education Guide is truly one stop shopping,” says Walsh. “As an educator, if I’m brand new to inquiry it’s got everything I need to get started.”
“Each component is explicitly deconstructed giving success criteria, tips for teachers, and tools to use,” adds Lawlor. The guide is available for free online in both English and French and supports both elementary and secondary educators. Lawlor also suggests that a wealth of information, tips and ideas can be found on Twitter when searching the hashtag #inquiry. “People have great stuff that they’re accessing and talking about online from all over the world,” she says.
Often, however, sound advice and support can be found even closer to home. “One of the greatest resources we have is each other,” says Walsh.“Teachers are creative by nature. When they start to talk with each other, that’s where their own learning happens too.”
Inquiry supports students in navigating an ever-changing world
Although asking questions and seeking answers comes naturally to young people, knowing which sources to trust, how to sift through an overwhelming amount of information and then draw and apply appropriate conclusions can be far from self-evident.
We will only be with our students a short time, but by teaching them to think critically and independently about their bodies, their health, their relationships, which physical activities bring them joy, and how to participate in them effectively, we can continue to have an impact on their well-being long after they’ve left our gyms and classrooms. “ We have a responsibility to support students in learning how to gather the information they need from credible sources and make sense of it for themselves, If we want them to leave us with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to lead a healthy, active life” concludes Walsh.