Getting started

See 'try it' for a diagram of steps to getting started

In this section we suggest some of the starting points for developing Enquiring Minds in schools. Making the shift to an Enquiring Minds approach requires time, energy and resources, and this means that schools interested in developing Enquiring Minds will start from different places and develop the approach in line with their own existing curriculum plans. For us, the bottom line is that enquiry involves student-led activity, where responsibility for defining the content, methods of working and ownership of the products of enquiry lies with students. In what follows, we describe how a school might gradually ‘scale-up’ its enquiry-based teaching and learning activities - from initial low-risk work within subjects through to more ambitious whole-school arrangements where students are responsible for defining the direction of their learning for a high proportion of the time.

The first three steps are preparation for enquiry-based teaching. They involve teachers and subject departments developing enquiry approaches within existing curriculum arrangements. We are aware that some schools are already experimenting with these approaches and that there are existing traditions of enquiry teaching within school subjects. The limits of these approaches is that, set within existing curriculum models, there are significant barriers to allowing students to initiate and define the content of enquiry.

Steps 4 and 5 are Enquiring Minds in practice. The defining features of the more ambitious steps (4 and 5) are that students have control over the content and methods of enquiry, and that the curriculum is organised to allow this to happen. It is at this point that students and teachers are co-producers of knowledge.

Preparation for Enquiry-based teaching and learning

In Step 1, teachers operate in their own subject areas but allow students to define an area of that subject that they want to look into further, probably from a selection of themes the teacher feels adequately prepared for in advance.

In Step 2 a whole department of teachers work together to develop a wider range of possible activities and themes for students to pursue.

Step 3 involves different departments operating together in order to reinforce the ways in which different subjects look at different sorts of knowledge. Increasingly at this level of implementation students should be able to define ideas for projects that teachers then work to link together through subjects.

Enquiring Minds in practice

Steps 4 and 5 are what Enquiring Minds looks like when ambitiously implemented across school.

Step 4 is characterised by students having timetabled space to carry out enquiries that are not especially tied to any single subject (although a range of subject knowledge may inform them along the way, where appropriate).

Step 5 involves the entire school. A large proportion of teaching and learning at this stage takes place in the context of a school which recognises and values students’ existing knowledge and experience, and engineers large parts of its curriculum around them.

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