The characteristics of inquiry-based learning is a constructivist approach where the overall goal is for children to make meaning. While teachers may guide the inquiry to various degrees (externally facilitated) and set parameters for a classroom inquiry, true inquiry is internally motivated.

Inquiry based learning is an umbrella term that incorporates many current learning approaches (including project-based learning, design thinking) and may take various forms, depending on the topic, resources, ages and abilities of children and other variables. However, the following are characteristics that serve as hallmarks of inquiry-based learning:

  • equal emphasis on process (communicating, reflecting, collaborating, analysing, etc) and content.
  • genuine curiosity, wonderment and questioning (by teachers AND children) are central
  • student ‘voice’ is evident – elements of the curriculum / learning are negotiated, and student questions are taken seriously and addressed
  • prior knowledge is ascertained and built upon – formative assessment and subsequent planning is essential
  • significant concepts and essential questions are identified which unify knowledge and understandings
  • children are actively involved in constructing understandings through hands-on experiences, research, processing and communicating their understandings in many ways
  • learning takes place in a social context – children learn from each other, together with others, and from those outside of the classroom context
  • there is an assumption that understandings are temporal and are constantly reviewed and refined based on new learning and questions – therefore inquiry is ‘recursive’ in nature
  • reflection, metacognition and depth of thought are valued and planned for assessment is ongoing and clear criteria link performances / products to rigorous curriculum goals
  • learning leads to action – informing / sharing with others, implementing change, advocacy or taking up further questions or learning.

Further reading:

Kath Murdoch

Victoria University

Our enthusiastic Empowering Futures committee team are attending the Kath Murdoch Professional Learning course later this year. Erica Graca has inspired staff with her recent outstanding presentation to staff with an example of her 2017 inquiry project: Shoes for refugees.