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How do I get started using inquiry-based learning?
What are some challenges I might face?
How do I assess students' progress?
How can inquiry-based learning involve parents and the community?
How can technology be used with inquiry-based learning?

How do I assess students' progress?

Student outcomes from an inquiry-learning experience should focus on:

1. the development of information-processing and problem-solving skills (from observation and inference to synthesis and evaluation);

2. the nurturing of habits of mind (from beliefs and opinion to respect for data and demand for verification);

3. applying these attributes to learning content; and

4. making sure the content is learned in a conceptual context of how the natural and human-designed worlds are organized, interrelate, communicate, and change.

Thus, the focus of assessment of inquiry learning should be on the following:

  • The degree to which the processing of learning skills has been developed.

  • The degree to which the habits of mind, or "ground rules" of disciplines, have been nurtured.

  • The degree to which students have developed the content knowledge, set in a context of broad understanding.

imageIt is extremely important that there be feedback from students to the teacher regarding the degree to which the above objectives have been achieved. This feedback enables the teacher to make important changes in teaching and learning methods. Through this feedback process, teachers begin to realize that all methods of learning are not equally effective. The approach to learning is not "one size fits all," and important modifications can and should be made depending on what each teacher finds helpful with particular students.

The feedback from the teacher to the learner is very important as well. The learner becomes more informed about what he knows, what skills he has, what conceptual understandings he has, and what nurtured habits of mind he possesses. He knows what specifics he needs to work on in order to achieve success. As he progresses with achieving these attributes, he develops more confidence in his ability to continue to learn.

Feedback shared with parents is very important in helping them understand the progress of their children and in making them more aware of the important and useful outcomes of inquiry learning. (These outcomes will probably be new to most parents because their education experience likely had a different focus.) Patience in explaining and answering questions about inquiry outcomes is extremely important.

Effective inquiry teachers are constantly assessing students. As they facilitate inquiry learning, they are monitoring the progress of the learner. Learning and assessing learning outcomes go hand-in-hand. Effective teachers are alert to the needs of particular students and the needs of the whole class. If there is an individual need, the teacher will work one-on-one with the student. If the whole class is experiencing a similar problem, the teacher will likely do whole-class mediation of the weakness. The important point is that assessing can dictate important instructional changes.


Garnetta Chain, a third-grade teacher in New Brunswick, N.J., describes how she helps students who seem to be having difficulty during an inquiry exploration.
Some teachers use one-on-one assessment of students following the end of a study unit or a learning activity. While one-on-one assessment is time consuming and laborious, it can be a very effective way to learn what the student knows.

Individual assessment can reveal the student's perception of the following:

  • How the student views her individual effort.
  • How well she participated in class.
  • The quality of her work.
  • How satisfied the student is with her work.
  • Things that she found difficult to figure out.
  • Things she found interesting and enjoyable.
  • How she might improve her performance.
  • How she viewed her work compared to that of an expert.
  • How her skills, knowledge, and habits of mind improved.
  • What she viewed as important about the unit of study.

Perhaps one of the best ways to really assess student learning from inquiry learning is through a narrative assessment. This narrative becomes an important report for the student, the family, and the teacher. It is very important to see how integrated the process of inquiry learning and the assessment of inquiry learning are -- and narrative provides a way for students to demonstrate not only what they know but also how it relates to their other knowledge, their ways of seeing the world, and the ways they assess and analyze ideas.

Workshop: Inquiry-based Learning
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