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Parachuting or Truffle-Hunting: A Good Guide to Inquiry

Posted by Tom Morton
10 March 2014 - 2:30pm

Parachutist or a truffle-hunter? This is an often-quoted distinction between the historian who likes the grand view from above, and the type who prefers to keep the nose to the ground to unearth tasty treasures. The distinction can also apply to teachers' guides for teaching history. Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer's  IQ: A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning firmly favours the truffle-hunters and their many treats, but it also covers a wide horizon of key features of the inquiry landscape.

Some of the features are common to most guides on inquiry-based learning such as developing focus questions and gathering and analyzing sources. These are explained clearly with supporting "Reproducibles" (aka: Blackline Masters), case studies, examples, and lots of practical, thoughtful advice. A two page spread outlines the steps in the inquiry-based process with accompanying ideas for gathering evidence of learning, that is, a parachutist's view. The book is intended for teachers from grade 7 to 12 and the cases studies and examples are from history, geography and civics.

The guide also tackles the familiar challenges of inquiry-based learning. For example, it provides the criteria for good inquiry questions and ideas to encourage students' self-direction. Especially useful are the prompts for an inquiry journal, self-assessment and reflection.

Another frequent challenge for students is how to make sense of their evidence and information. IQ suggests asking them to identify patterns or trends in their data with questions such as these:

  • What is similar about this evidence?
  • Are there two or three points or arguments that are consistent across a number of pieces of evidence?
  • On closer inspection, what evidence is not a good fit? Why?

There are also treasures that distinguish IQ from other teacher guides. For example, the book includes guidance for building a classroom culture that supports inquiry, teaching vocabulary, and student self-assessment of their point of view about a topic and how that might impact their research. Small delights are scattered throughout such as the prompts for conversations with students or the advice to give students the gift of time, reducing the volume of tasks and providing more time for reflection.

The only gap in IQ is around co-operative learning. There is a helpful section on communication skills with two excellent "Reproducibles", an exit card on student discussion and entertaining quotes about listening. However, given the importance that the authors give to group work one would expect more on group formation and such key topics as how to structure individual accountability and positive interdependence.  

Overall, this is a superb guide for teachers – useful for those who are new to inquiry-based learning and those who are more experienced.