When students explore topics that interest and excite them, all kinds of learning takes place. This process of inquiry forms the heart of project-based learning. With a motivation to learn, students not only engage in multiple academic disciplines—they become proficient, critical thinkers.
In a world as challenged as ours is right now, we need all the critical thinkers we can find.
In a project-based learning environment, student inquiry usually takes place in teams and focuses on creating something new or solving a problem together. At a time when so many students are stuck at home, fostering student inquiry using video platforms such as Zoom can provide young people with much-needed outlets for socialization.
Not only that—inquiry-driven learning can take the pressure off teachers (and now parents) to be experts in every topic. Instead, students discover the answers for themselves. They learn how to learn.
Many resources exist to develop student inquiry skills. Here, we have collected a few. These tools are suitable for after-school professionals as well as parents who suddenly find themselves with children home all day.
Question Formulation Technique. Guiding student inquiry starts with asking the right questions. To help hone your questioning acumen, consider using the Question Formulation Technique, a five-step process developed by the Right Question Institute:
1. Design a question focus.
2. Produce your questions:
• Ask as many questions as you can.
• Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer the questions.
• Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
• Change any statement into a question.
3. Improve your questions:
• Categorize the questions as closed- or open-ended.
• Name the advantages and disadvantages of each type of question.
• Change questions from one type to another.
• Prioritize your questions.
• Develop an action plan or discuss next steps.
Visit the Right Question Institute’s website for further details, tools, and videos to help you use this technique with youth.
Chalk Talk. Developed by the National School Reform Faculty and the Foxfire Fund, Chalk Talk offers a silent way to reflect, generate ideas, check on learning, develop projects, or solve problems. Done in complete silence, this technique provides space for everyone to be heard.
Asking Questions to Improve Learning. This article by Washington University in St. Louis provides strategies to help you develop questions and facilitate powerful discussions.
Dignity of Children now offers a complete solution to foster inquiry and productively engage students during this time of school closures. Ideas Empowered by Youth provides four ready-to-use modules—Health and Wellness, Climate Change, Financial Wellness, and Entrepreneurship—that can be delivered online by teachers, after-school professionals, and parents home-schooling their children.
Whatever the method used, by fostering inquiry skills, we give our young people the capacity to solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Let’s look to them to lead the way.