Facilitating inquiry-based learning that works

Take time to master the skills

When I started teaching through inquiry, I used to feel frustrated whenever I had the urge to use direct traditional instructions. I wanted everything to be inquiry based, although I was not yet equipped and ready. I still remember the feeling of guilt I used to experience when I couldn’t design a fully inquiry-based lesson. I didn’t know that it will take time and wanted my students to find out on their own.

Don’t be afraid to mix your methods

After I reached my goal and became confident in using the inquiry approach, I started exploring different methods in teaching language and mathematics, some that required direct instructions at least through group discussions. I still believe that we shouldn’t chose the easy way of direct instructions, but it is not a taboo and still needs to be sometimes used. We should use everything that will promote the learning and attainment level.

The secret – formative assessment

Sometimes, insisting on not telling the students and letting them find out on their own, ends up that they don’t learn. The teacher designs inquiry based activities but might miss other aspects of the lesson that doesn’t serve the students well. It’s very common with teachers who are not experienced in the grade level they are teaching or who don’t use the students’ data to plan next steps in learning. We do start from the readiness of the students, but we have to make sure they learned the concept and mastered it before moving on.

I believe that on-going formative assessments work as a great rescue here. Collecting evidence for learning is a crucial element in the inquiry process as we need to keep on checking for understanding to evaluate the effectiveness of our lessons.

Still be ready to support different learners

As much as I will never go back to the structured way of teaching, I’ve learned that it was an important experience that taught me a lot about the learning, grade level requirements and expectations, especially in maths and language arts. I now know when to use direct instructions if needed, especially with students with low attainment level and who need more modelling to understand.

In the end, we need to be aware of the students’ progress and to plan learning experiences that will enhance their learning and increase their attainment level. Inquiry is used to increase the attainment and if attainment is not achieved then we need instant reflection on the process used.

A risk that’s worth the try

Inquiry is a process for teachers as well. It takes time to understand how it works and design useful experiences. That’s why it is crucial to start from where we know and take it one step at a time. This is an important advice that I will always cherish. Inquiry requires the students to do the thinking, find out and draw conclusions, but we are still the captains of the ship. We plan, assess and learn the best ways to facilitate the learning journey for our young learners. Inquiry means high level of attainment and we need to find the balance in the use of different tools in order to keep our students progressing while continuing checking for understanding.


Author: Engy Olama


Engy Olama holds a Master’s degree in International Education and she is an IB PYP certified teacher from the IBO. She is also a certified Positive Discipline Teacher and Parent Educator from the Positive Parenting Association in the US. She has more than 9 years of experience. She believes teaching is the best way to contribute to the society and influence the future. She enjoys teaching students, leading teams and teaching teachers. She believes in the concept-based learning and inquiry- based learning.  Her favourite teaching quote is “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.” (Nelson Mandela), this quote inspired her to start her teaching blog.



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