Parent Tips to Support Inquiry-Based Learning

Blog Post created by teachontarioteam on Jul 24, 2015

inquiry_based_learning_644x362.jpgTraditionally, classrooms in Ontario have followed the rote learning model, which is a technique based on repetition and memorization.


But recently, those classrooms are disappearing in favour of a more collaborative space, in which teachers are facilitators using a technique called inquiry-based teaching.


“Inquiry-based teaching is an approach to instruction that begins with exploring curriculum content and providing a framework for the students to ask their own questions which builds interest and curiosity,” says Louise Robitaille, an elementary teacher in Midland.


Encouraging students to be active learners, posing their own questions and problems and following through on those, rather than passive learners simply receiving information is believed to create greater student engagement and, in turn, create greater student achievement.


Inquiry-based learning is not a new idea. It is a teaching method born in the 1960s out of a response to the more traditional forms of teaching. It has steadily gained traction since then.


Ontario has adopted it as a way to reach learners that have traditionally fallen through the cracks of the rote learning model.


What does an inquiry-based classroom look like?

file5441262570484.jpgThe teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage” expounding knowledge for students to memorize. The inquiry-based approach encourages more "student voice and choice" in the learning. This isn’t to say that there is no role for rote learning, but rote learning cannot stand on its own.


“There is a minor role for rote learning in the classroom (as) certain skills require long term acquisition,” says Robitaille. “However, the focus should always be on expanding knowledge and skills and not on memorization. For example, memorizing history dates without learning the importance of the events is ineffective.”


In an inquiry-based classroom, a teacher will work with all of the learning styles found in his or her own classroom and design activities that students can collaborate on in small groups.


However, students may think in ways that are limited to their own experiences, and it is the teacher’s job to help kids notice what they might have missed. Teachers also build on spontaneous questions to allow for further thought and questions.


For example, if the classroom is discussing the life of the class goldfish, a child might ask: “If we take out all the plants, will the fish get sick?”


Instead of answering a question like that with a yes or no, the teacher may ask: “What do people think? It might help to first think about what sorts of roles plants carry out? Why are plants in the aquarium important?” These questions would lead students to learn more about aquatic life.


What can parents do at home?

iStock_000014262979Small.jpgRobitaille, with the help of Grade 4/5 teacher Pete Douglas, offers these tips:

  • Ask about what your child is learning in class.
  • Support and encourage interest and curiosity by following up with activities at home.
  • Encourage and practice good communication skills such as starting conversations and debates about current events.
  • Help your kids develop research skills online and from text.
  • Enjoy building projects together in the home.


For more information on inquiry-based learning:
  • Check out the Ontario Ministry of Education's resources.
  • Louise Robitaille runs a fantastic site on inquiry-based learning, showing examples of activities in the classroom, and useful tips. You can also follow her on Twitter @robitaille2011