Are you Inquiry Literate?

This post is directly inspired by the article “Inquiry Literacy: A Proposal for a Neologism” by Shore, Birlean, Walker and Ritchie. 


One word serves as both societal game-changer and educational catchall. Once the domain of reading and writing, literacy now serves as the one word that sums up basically all understanding and communication about almost anything and everything. Critical literacy, computer literacy, cultural literacy – there’s a lot of literacy to go around. Regardless of the type of literacy, most would agree that until you are “literate”, in whatever sense you are referring to, it can be hard to impart that type of literacy upon another. It would, for example, be difficult for a teacher to instruct her students on reading, if she could in fact, not read.

With that in mind, I would like to point out the importance of Inquiry Literacy for teachers who are attempting to cultivate an inquiry learning environment. We have many teachers, both new and veteran, at my school who are always trying to better wrap their head around inquiry. A common sentiment I hear is, “I want to use inquiry, but I am just not sure how!”. Inquiry usually gets the bum wrap of being difficult to implement. I have a hard time agreeing with this, considering inquiry is essentially the natural process of human curiosity. What is needed then is an inquiry into the process of inquiry in order to make ourselves more Inquiry Literate – is that meta enough for you?

Shore, Birlean, Walker and Ritchie, in their article “Inquiry Literacy: A Proposal for a Neologism”, suggest that Inquiry Literacy is “the individual’s capacity to critically understand and use the language, symbols, and skills of inquiry, and to reflect on their meaning and usage during and after the activity”.

Using this as a jumping off point, let’s take a look at how you can develop your Inquiry Literacy.

   1. Chose and use an inquiry framework: Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.24.15 PM

We have adopted Kath Murdoch’s Inquiry Cycle as a means to ensure a common framework for inquiry at our school. This is by no means the only framework for inquiry, but it does provide our teachers with a common language and effective questions to assist them in utilizing an inquiry based approach in their classroom.

    2.  Use the framework to guide your unit/lesson planning:

Once you have found a framework that you like, don’t just read and discard it. Use it as a template for planning the scope and sequence of your units and lessons. By explicitly using the framework of the inquiry cycle in their unit and lesson plans, our teachers are thinking using the language and processes of inquiry.

3.  Use the language of inquiry with your students: 

Often, our teachers will ask, “Should I be using these words with my students?”. My answer is emphatically, “Yes!”. Shore et al. argue that in order to effectively inquire, “students need language, symbols, and skills of inquiry”. By bringing the language of inquiry to life within our classrooms, we solidify our understanding of this language, not to mention our students can begin consciously interacting with this language and developing their own Inquiry Literacy.

4. Consciously reflect on your own personal inquiries:  

Reflect on your own experiences as an inquirer. What processes did you go through when you watched that YouTube video on “How to Boil Eggs Perfectly“? What questions did you ask when you trying to figure out whether it’s better to buy or lease your new car? How did you feel when you were travelling and experiencing the sights and sounds of different culture? By making the inquiry process conscious in your mind and reflecting upon your own journey as an inquirer you will be better able to develop Inquiry Literacy within yourself and better able to understand the processes your students are undertaking in their inquiries.

Do you consider yourself Inquiry Literate? If so, what steps have you taken to develop this literacy? 


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