Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students
reviewed by Carlin Borsheim-Black - April 06, 2015
Title: Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students
Author(s): Teresa Coffman
Publisher: R&L Education,
ISBN: 1610488520, Pages: 168, Year: 2012
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Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students provides an introductory rationale for employing an inquiry-oriented approach across the curriculum, including ideas for specific activities across grade levels. This second edition is a revised version of the book previously published under the title Engaging Students through Inquiry-oriented Learning and Technology. Each chapter of this volume provides illustrative examples, chapter summaries, chapter reflections, and skill building activities that teachers, especially early career teachers or teachers unfamiliar with inquiry approaches, will find useful.
Chapters One through Three introduce readers to inquiry and connect it to creativity and information literacy. In the first chapter, Coffman defines an inquiry-oriented approach as a constructivist, student-centered approach to teaching and learning in which students interact with content by asking and answering big picture questions. In an inquiry-oriented approach, students must be able to go beyond learning facts to apply concepts to solving problems and producing original knowledge. In Chapter Two, Coffman argues that inquiry teaching and learning cultivate creative thinkers who can generate multiple answers to a question, consider multiple perspectives on an issue, or devise multiple solutions to a problem. In Chapter Three, Coffman argues that the inquiry process contributes to information literacy as students access, evaluate, and use various data sources and online and digital resources and technologies to answer inquiry questions. Essentially, Coffmans argument is rooted in the assumption that creative thinking and information literacy are essential for 21st century learners and workers.
While the introductory chapters present a rationale, the next several chapters offer concrete steps for designing inquiry projects, implementing inquiry-oriented activities, and developing assessments. Chapter Four briefly outlines strategies for tying big picture questions to standards and objectives. Chapters Five through Eight describe four types of inquiry-oriented learning activities: web quests, web inquiry activities, telecollaborative activities, and problem-based activities. Web quests are teacher-guided activities that provide students with carefully pre-selected online resources for answering an inquiry question. Web inquiry activities, by contrast, ask students to seek out credible resources on their own for answering inquiry questions. Telecollaborative activities, as the name suggests, enable students to collaborate on inquiry questions with students or experts outside their own classrooms. Problem-based activities engage students in collaborating to complete a task or project, such as creating a historical newspaper. Chapter Nine explains the importance of monitoring students understanding using formative and summative assessments throughout the inquiry process. Chapters Ten and Eleven delve more deeply into incorporating technology tools in both face-to-face and virtual classrooms.
One of the strengths of this book is its emphasis on a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. In this age of memes and sound bites, it can be tempting to boil issues down to their most basic parts, but Coffman argues that it is vitally important for 21st century thinkers to be able to grasp complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty. An inquiry-oriented approach encourages students to entertain more than one right answer, to deduce more than one way for solving a problem, and to consider more than one perspective on an issue. Coffman encourages teachers and students to embrace knowledge as messy, not easily categorized, and existing in gray areas. Coffman makes a constructivist approach thats realistic for teachers in this standardized and high stakes testing climate by tying the design of inquiry questions to standards/objectives and to assessments. She acknowledges that although the inquiry process is student-centered, teachers can ensure that students are on task and making progress through the thoughtful design of learning objectives, careful planning of learning activities, and continuous assessment throughout the process.
The book is chock-full of ideas from which teachers can draw as they imagine possibilities for their own classrooms. For example, a fifth-grade geometry class might learn about triangles by creating a map for a miniature town (p. 31). Students might learn to analyze the credibility of online resources by evaluating a weird news website and asking: Are these stories true? (p. 38). American students might debate with students from England about international political questions: Can a compromise be reached before the war begins? (p. 104).
Overall, Coffmans book provides a basic introduction to an inquiry approach, as well as many useful ideas for implementing an inquiry approach across grade levels and disciplines. This book would be especially valuable for teachers who are either new to teaching or new to inquiry.