Towards more open enquiry

See 'try it' for a diagram of the map of progression

The aim of Enquiring Minds is to progressively allow students to take full responsibility for the content, processes and outcomes of their learning. As we have suggested, this requires significant changes in teaching and learning, and developing these approaches will take time. The diagram in the 'try it' section provides a map of progression that shows students becoming increasingly independent learners. This diagram provides a guide to the sorts of activities likely to support students’ capacity for undertaking enquiry, and an indication of the types of skills and dispositions they might demonstrate.

The diagram begins with activities and tasks structured by teachers and proceeds through a stage of negotiation, in which students develop increasing confidence and responsibility for deciding on the content and form of their learning.

The final stage is one of open enquiry in which students take full responsibility for defining, planning and completing the enquiry. It is at this stage that an Enquiring Minds approach is in evidence.

Some students are likely to be sufficiently confident and motivated to work on a self-initiated idea for an open enquiry project much sooner than others. Additionally, there will be times when children and teachers will need to move between structured, negotiated and open enquiries at the same time.

This diagram has been developed from the experiences of the schools involved in the Enquiring Minds project. What happened in these schools is described below. There are almost certainly other ways to develop an enquiry approach.

Suggested model of progression:

Term 1, from September through to Christmas, focuses on structured enquiries, with the teacher responsible for developing a carefully-structured series of activities around ideas of research and knowledge creation. This may involve students interrogating ideas about the world they live in, such as the role of television, the media and new technologies in changing the ways we live, how the built environment is produced, how and why schools operate the way they do, how people’s views on children have changed, how and why fashions shift, and so on.

These should be short, focused enquiries, with the processes of enquiry made clear to students as methods to adopt when addressing any question or problem. At this stage, it may also be useful to ensure that students are developing some appropriate skills in information gathering and management, as well as their confidence in communicating to their peers and to different sorts of groups of people. Throughout, students should compile interesting questions, ideas and problems so that these can be used later.

Term 2, which runs from Christmas to Easter, should focus on supported enquiries, during which the teacher will encourage students to identify (possibly from the last term’s work) problems and issues that they want to address in more detail. (Alternatively, students may have other interests they want to pursue.) At this stage, teachers will have to work very closely with students to ensure that they are able to follow the process of enquiry. For example, it may be useful to draft a series of worksheets that take students through each stage of enquiry, from identifying the problem through to communicating their findings. This might be in the form of a project workbook, with space for students to add to it relevant information and detail.

Supported enquiries will require teachers to be detailed in their assessment of what students are doing. At all stages, students will need to be consulted about what they are doing, demonstrate progress, and be able to present some form of outcome (even if this is in the form of notes or collections of various files or objects). Teachers will need to have ongoing conversations with students about how they are progressing, and provide constructive feedback and advice which is concrete enough for students to act on.

Term 3 goes through to the summer holidays. It focuses on students carrying out open enquiries. By now, students should be defining their own problems and questions, and teachers should be taking a much more reactive role. Students will still need plenty of monitoring and assistance, of course, but by now should be able to identify the stages in an effective process of enquiry and be able to carry out their own systematic project. Students will by now be showing signs of becoming critical when it comes to knowledge, and able to ask questions about common-sense and widely-held assumptions. They should be asking why and how things are the way they are, and should recognise when they have collected information that either answers a question or (dis)proves the validity of an idea. They should be able to appreciate and recognise that different people have different ideas about things. In cases where students have elected to do an enquiry cycle that is more practical, they may be carrying out their own design work, supplementing this with evidence that they have interrogated a range of ideas behind their designs and taken account of these.

By the end of the year, students should be beginning to feel confident as researchers and knowledge creators, able to support their ideas with evidence of how they have interrogated them and what has emerged. At this stage, communicating what they have learned is also important, and this may include communicating with internal or external groups or individuals.

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