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Levels of Inquiry

When considering inquiry activities in schools, consider the experiences and skills of your students. There are four levels of inquiry (Callison).

Controlled. In a controlled inquiry, the teacher and/or media specialist chooses the topic and identifies materials that students will use to address their questions. Students are often involved with specific exercises and activities to meet particular learning outcomes such as retelling stories, evaluating sources, or comparing approaches. Students often have a specific product such as a Venn diagram, paragraph, or poster.

According to Barbara Stripling in Curriculum Connections through the Library (2003, p. 4), "educators have long recognized the value of assigning research projects... (however) the process was controlled and rather linear - the students knew where they would end up before they started. Because the research process was so prescribed, students learned to fill in the blanks as a mental exercise with little real engagement. Consequently, classroom teachers and librarians constantly battled plagiarism and the "report" syndrome,a nd students puzzled over what teachers wanted if not a report."

Guided. In a guided inquiry, student have more flexibility in their resources and activities however they are expected to create a prescribed final product such as a report or presentation.

Modeled. In a modeled inquiry, students act as apprentice to a coach such as a media specialist or classroom teacher. The student has flexibility in terms of topic selection, process, and product. The educators and students work side-by-side engaging in meaningful work. The instructional specialist may have mini-lessons ready for the teachable moment as young people experience specific learning needs such as the need to create a concept map or build a bibliography.

Free. In a free inquiry, students work independently. They explore meaningful questions, examine multiple perspectives, draw conclusions, and choose their own approach for information dissemination. Keep in mind that free inquiry can occur in any learning environment. The key is developing an authentic learning environment where questions spring naturally from the class discussions and meaningful content.

What are your experiences with inquiry?
Have you been involved with controlled, guided, modeled, or free inquiry projects as a student or teacher?
How did you feel about each experience?


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