Authentic Inquiry

Authentic inquiry arises from children's curiosity and the questions they ask. Teachers need to be prepared to help children design studies that help to explore their questions without being particularly linear or result-oriented. The whole approach needs to be playful, but inquisitive. The adult agenda is to focus on getting results and having the children learn some "thing." Although children should be learning something, this adult agenda tends to backfire. We need to allow children to take enough control and enough ownership of the process to keep the projects energized. The degree to which they become results-oriented is really dependent upon them.

The whole idea is for adults (teachers) to observe the children and to be prepared to assist them as they progress through their inquiries. We can't preplan the inquiry, but we can help children think through the process. We can help them get through the obstacles.

Initially, inquiry may involve playing and exploring some phenomenon or object or set of phenomena or objects. As questions arise, you may encourage the kids to talk about possible explanations. Then, they may consider ways of finding answers… ways of collecting data through observations or experiments… depending upon the nature of the problems. As they collect data, they may encounter problems in the accuracy of their data and may need to rethink the way they are measuring or observing. After they have collected data, they need to figure out ways of analyzing and representing the data. And once, they have done this, they need to interpret their results and find ways of communicating what they have learned.

But, the whole processed needs to be controlled by the students…

In the following video, two girls explore balance during an event sponsored by elementary education students. In this particular activity, no specific prompts or directions were provided. The girls came in, were welcomed, and asked to jump in. This is an open-ended exploration and inquiry into balance and is quite intriguing.

Pay attention to and think about the following as you watch:

  • How is "play" related to "inquiry"?
  • Where is "motivation"? Or, what is it that is "motivating"?
  • What kind of thinking is taking place during these exploratory inquiries?
  • How do the girls deal with obstacles and mistakes?
  • What are they learning about "balance" and other concepts?

video ©2013 Jeffrey W. Bloom

The activities shown in this video are just the beginning stages of what can lead to a variety of different in depth inquiries and projects. Typically, the agenda is to preplan and control the direction and each step and stage in the sequence. From an authentic and emergent curriculum perspective, children (and older students) determine the direction and flow. Teachers' roles change to mentors, coaches, observers, instigators, and so forth. Teachers help students solve problems (which may include posing unforeseen problems), design inquiries (which does not mean designing the inquiries for them), think through the analysis and interpretive processes, and come up with ways to communicate their work to large audiences.

Index of Inquiry Pages on this Site


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©2015 Jeffrey W. Bloom

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