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Inquiry and the 21st Century Nest

Go to Graphic Inquiry for the Dustbowl example.

Let's explore Callison's components of inquiry including questioning, exploring, assimilating, inferring, and reflecting. Consider how the AASL standards could be addressed within this framework.


Boy ThinkWhat is the question I’m trying to answer, the problem I’d liked to solve, or the key issue I need to resolve?

The questioning component includes AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners such as

Question BirdAs yourself, "how do I encourage students to ask deep questions rather than surface level questions?"

Generate a list of questions about Egyptian mummies. Then, look at photographs from Wikimedia Commons and refine the questions. What's the impact of the visuals on your ability to generate questions? How could audio, video, or animation be used in another situation?

A photo of a firefighter might help generate questions such as "Why does he have stripes on his coat", "Why is his helmet yellow.", or "Does he like or hate fires?"

Molly PitcherUse historical drawings and painting to stimulate questions about the American Revolution.

Sugaring TimeVisual stories are also an effective way to jumpstart an inquiry.

Question BirdBrainstorm books that jumpstart questioning related to a particular curriculum-related topic.

Explore news photos, cover stories, and front pages that could be used to generate questions or practice the process of questioning. Go to Newseum and Yahoo Photos for examples.

Question BirdContrast dueling images such as an animal in a cage and in the wild.
How could sets of images be used to encourage different perspectives?

Q TasksIn Q Tasks Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan provide questions to get students and teachers thinking about their questions and information to deepen the investigation. Below are som examples.

Question BirdExplore a set of photographs and use the questions above to deepen an investigation.


ExploreIn How To Use Your Eyes, James Elkins urges us to “stop and consider things that are absolutely ordinary, things so clearly meaningless that they never seemed worth a second thought. Once you start seeing them, the world – which can look so dull, so empty of interest - will gather before your eyes and become thick with meaning.” (p. xi)

The exploration component includes AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners such as

Encourage students to explore unusual aspects of a common topic. For instance "I’ve seen many images of WWII in Europe, but I never really thought about the war impacting Australia. I’m going
to refocus my inquiry."

Students often begin by exploring library and online resources. When guiding graphic inquiries remind students about the use of visual resources such as photo collections, atlas, artwork, and illustrated books. Consider the wide range of graphic resources that might provide different perspectives on a subject. For instance, use The Center for Cartoon Studies graphic histories on topics such as Satchel Paige and Houdini.

Provide opportunities for focused exploration. Encourage online nonfiction reading and systematic notetaking with tools such as Weather and Painting.

Elementary Suggestions

Middle/High School Suggestions

For other great sources of nonfiction reading, go to my online workshop Straight from the Horse's Mouth: Nonfiction, Technology and Information Fluent Thinkers.

Some students may need scaffolding for visual note taking. Use tools such as Microsoft PowerPoint to provide prompts, starters, and electronic worksheets for visual information organization.

Go to the Digital Dog Ate My Notes for lots of ideas on digital notetaking and research.

Exploring leads back to questioning. Questions may be refined, restated, or new queries may emerge. Encourage inquirers to be risk-takers. Ask:

Question BirdStudents often forget that inquiry is recursive rather than linear. How will you help students remember to address these questions?

Many students are looking for the quick answer. Encourage students to move from the shallow to the deep end of thinking through supporting cycles of questioning and exploring. In Info Tasks for Successful Learning, Koechlin and Zwann (2001) suggest evaluating the quality of student research questions by asking:
Focus - Does your question help to focus your research?
Interest - Are you excited about your question?
Knowledge - Will your question help you learn?
Processing - Will your question help you understand your topic better?


AssimilateThe assimilation component includes AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners such as

The process of assimilation involves reinforcing and confirming information that is known, altering thinking based on new information, or rejecting information that doesn’t match the student‘s belief system. In an inquiry, assimilation leads to consideration of new options and points of view. (Callison, 2006, p. 7)

As you explore, look for unique aspects of at least 3 pieces of evidence and make comparisons.

Question BirdExamine images that represent the different phases of mitosis. How are these images alike and different? What are the key elements that reflect each phase?

Help children build arguments. For instance, a child might conclude "I’ve been reading stories from around the world, examining old and new artwork, and learning about what’s real and make believe
about dragons. I found a website that said there are dragons in caves, but I didn’t believe it. The Komodo Dragon is the only real one."

The Trash or Treasure approach is effective in helping young people collect evidence and build arguments.

Question BirdMany variations of “Trash & Treasure exist. Share your favorite.

VillageApply the Ds of Evidence to a problem:

Question BirdSelect an image that represents the main idea of an investigation. Apply the Ds of Evidence to this image. Use a topic such as The Lost Colony as an example.

Although assimilation occurs deep within our brain, we can use visual activities to build these associations. Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (1997) identified six graphic organizers that correspond to six common information organization patterns:

Syrup production

Question BirdApply these patterns to an investigation of syrup production.


InferThe inference component includes AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners such as

Evidence is necessary to support a claim, justify change, or make an informed decision. Students must learn to identify, process, and judge evidence. This begins with looking for patterns of evidence. Ask:

Question BirdRethink an assignment.
Focus on the collecting evidence and building convincing arguments.

Arguments provide evidence to support a claim. To develop useful arguments, inquirers must evaluate evidence, examine different points of view, and determine the most logical approach or meaningful conclusion. Ask:

Question BirdDiscuss the different perspectives on how wildfires should be managed.
Use the questions above as a guide.

Deductive arguments apply general principles and theories to specific situations. This
is the most effective educational technique. Students are asked to explain their
hypotheses, experiments and conclusions.

Provide opportunities for students to try out their ideas and apply what they've learned to real-world problems. For example, children might apply the four principles of flight to predict which paper airplane will work best. Rather than simply reading about machines and write a report, children design and test an invention. Go to the Forces of Flight website.

Another approach is to ask students to turn facts into a visually convincing argument that can be shared. For example, show me why you think the penny should or shouldn't be discontinued. Or, show me that this computer game is or isn't an accurate reflection of history.

When designing persuasive messages, ask:

For instance, children may become "machine detectives." After collecting information at EdHeads about simple machines, their job is to collect evidence of simple machines by identifying and photographing them in the library.

In most academic situations, inquiry involves accumulating evidence that supports inferences that seem reasonable, logical, and persuasive. Students ask:

With each inquiry cycle, inquirers must revisit questions with an open mind.


ReflectThe reflection component includes AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners such as

After rounds of questioning and exploring, assimilating and inferring, ask students to revisit the questions and goals of their inquiry. How did the project evolve?

lemonsEncourage products that build in metacognitive aspects and opportunities for reflection. Examples:

Rather than just copying from Wikipedia, I thought about what a tourist would really want to know about the desert.

I’ve created both a family timeline and a Civil Right Movement timeline so we can talk about how each member of the family might have been impacted by what was happening nationally.

My exploration of music from the 1850s lead me to songs about fashion. I create a song in GarageBand that’s a parody of the fashion industry.

Inquiries may go in different directions depending on the questions. While some inquiries look for answers, others seek solutions. The goal may not be apparent in the first round of the cycle. By encouraging inquirers to reflect throughout the process, inquiry becomes a cycle building deep understandings. Ask:

Go to Graphic Inquiry for the Dustbowl example.

For a more in-depth exploration, read the graphic book Graphic Inquiry by Annette Lamb and Danny Callison available from Libraries Unlimited, 2010.

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