Stage 2: Defining and responding
While the first stage of the enquiry cycle is about making visible and finding out about students’ existing knowledge and interests, the second stage is concerned with shaping, defining and focusing an idea or question or subject and making plans to research it further. Students need to be supported to work out what they already know about their area of enquiry and what they don’t know, so as to develop a framework for further enquiry.
The teacher’s role is crucial at this stage. If students have identified things they are interested in and would like to know more about, the teacher has the job of ensuring that students can advance their enquiries in meaningful ways. This will require the teacher to assess their own existing knowledge and understanding of the topic, undertake some preliminary research to identify important themes and questions, and locate resources (people/experts, information resources, methods of testing ideas) that may be useful for students. In this way teachers are adapting and responding to students’ interests.
This does not mean that the teacher is doing the work for the student. Instead, the teacher is using their knowledge and expertise about learning to help students conduct enquiry. A focus on teacher-student dialogue is important at this stage, as teachers encourage and provoke students to pursue their interests. This may involve asking questions such as: What can you find out quickly? What is left unanswered? What direction do you want to go? What aspects are most interesting? What are the key areas to focus on? Are there different perspectives? Who might be able to help you or who might think differently about this?
At this stage, it may be valuable to encourage students to find out everything they can on a topic, to categorise and differentiate the information they’ve got, and then to develop and prioritise further questions.
Some of the things teachers and students might be doing at this stage include:
- finding out what’s already known about the problem/area of interest
- evaluating information and resources in existence
- identifying who and what can help understand the issue/problem
- testing out existing ideas/solutions – developing new ones
- clarifying gaps in knowledge and opportunities for action
- conducting empirical research to inform idea/strategy
- reflecting on progress and planning next stage.
During this stage of enquiry it is important for students to do some of the following in order to refine their enquiry to a ‘researchable question’ or area:
match, select, summarise, breakdown
give examples, infer, select, differentiate
distinguish, discriminate, reject, relate
separate, divide, categorise, compare
justify, predict, discuss, combine
compile, organise, plan, re-arrange, re-organise