Inquiry-Empowered Learning Culture

In the three previous Chapter 3: Inquiry Learning posts, I have shared ideas about developing a school-wide inquiry process, using inquiry learning as a way to engage students’ curiosity, experimentation, and creativity, and diverse creative expressions of learning. What would be the result if students, educators, and administrators enacted these three big ideas of inquiry learning?Shared Processes
A shared process provides a guaranteed, viable framework for student success. Students can master an information-seeking process and then adapt and expand upon it as they advance through grade levels and in various aspects of the curriculum. A common process leads to shared vocabulary and understandings that help every educator in the building communicate with and support all students in the building in achieving their learning goals.

A shared process can only be realized in a positive school climate and a collaborative learning culture. A framework that promotes in-depth learning will by necessity require changes in other aspects of the learning environment. Bell schedules may need to change. Student and educator responsibilities may need to change. Assessment and evaluation may need to change. Trusting relationships, professional respect, and the ability to navigate challenges and change are essential features of such a learning community.

Student-led Questioning and Diverse Expressions
Trust is also essential if educators support the agency of empowered students who guide their own learning process. Student-led questioning is one of the essential differences between inquiry and traditional research. When educators guide inquiry by providing students with sufficient background and helping them build connections between prior and new knowledge, they create a space in which students’ curiosity, experimentation, and creativity can thrive.

Trust is also necessary in an inquiry environment that supports students as creators. Educators who give up control and share power with students in the classroom and library provide an essential piece of the inquiry learning puzzle. They support students with menus of options or give students free rein to create new knowledge in diverse and unique ways. These expressions of learning are meaningful to students and cement their ownership in both the process and products of their discoveries.

School-wide Philosophy
Inquire is one of the shared foundations in the new AASL standards (2018). When students AND educators inquire, they practice a growth/innovator’s/inquiry mindset. They open their minds to new information, ideas, and perspectives. They use formative assessments to grow and develop as curious, creative, experimenting learners. Educators support students with timely, specific feedback to propel students forward on their learning journey, giving them encouragement to take missteps and to learn from them. The same is true for inquiring educators. They seek, give, and receive real-time feedback from one another through coteaching; they expect to be engaged as learners who are in a constant quest to improve instruction.

When a school or district adopts an inquiry learning framework they are also adopting a philosophy. If you haven’t yet tuned in or want to be inspired again, please listen to Priscille Dando’s podcast interview Episode 3: Inquiry Learning, in which she shares how school librarians are leading and guiding inquiry learning to achieve district goals for students and educators.

A Recipe for Inquiry Learning
Figure 3.1 on page 38 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership offers a “Recipe for Inquiry Learning.” It is “taken out of the book” of future ready educators and students. The ingredients are curiosity, connections, motivation, content knowledge, literacies, skills, and dispositions. The directions can be applied to any inquiry process, but all steps require sufficient time for maximum results. You can download the recipe from the ALA Editions Web Extras.

Inquiry learning is student ready/future ready learning. It is the pathway to helping students develop literacies, skills, and dispositions that will serve them throughout their lives.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What behaviors indicate to you that students and educators are empowered in your school?
  2. How can inquiry learning lead to empowerment for the entire school community?

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.

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