Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning is an instructional method and form of active learning developed during the discovery learning movement of the 1960s. Inquiry learning emphasizes constructivist ideas of education. Students originate questions, search for information and learn on their own with the teacher’s guidance. Students may work in pairs or small groups to seek solutions while conducting investigations. Progress is assessed by how well students develop experimental and analytical skills rather than how much knowledge they possess. A spectrum of inquiry-based teaching methods has been articulated for science education (Herron 1971). While particularly relevant to science education, inquiry learning methods can be applied across the curriculum.

Guided inquiry provides a support structure for inquiry learning by focusing instructive interventions at each stage of the inquiry process. The teacher begins with a question, and a collaborative instructional team including teacher(s), school librarian(s) and other specialists enhance subject content, connecting it to the students’ world through thoughtful planning and adaptability. Guided inquiry extends the KWL (know, want to know, learn) framework and helps students move through an inquiry process of selection, exploration and formulation leading to deeper understanding of subject matter and skills transferable to other inquiry projects.

Evidence Base for Inquiry Learning and Guided Inquiry:
Articles and Websites

The Buck Institute for Education: This website has a focus on Project-Based Learning and provides a host of resources for educators along with research on inquiry-based learning strategies.

Herron, M.D. (1971). “The nature of scientific enquiry.” Educational Psychologist 79 (2): 171–212.

McAlpine, Lynn, Maguire, S. and Lee, M.D. “The Pedagogy Excellence Project: a Professor-Student Team Approach to Authentic Inquiry.” Teaching in Higher Education 10.3 (2005) 355-370. Summarizes a two-semester course-based project at McGill University where professors conduct action research with MBA students whose task was to research teaching and learning, and develop recommendations for the McGill faculty.

Ogle, D.S. (1986). “K-W-L Group Instructional Strategy.” In Teaching Reading as Thinking, edited by A. Palincscar, D. Ogle, B. Jones, and E. Carr. Teleconference Resource Guide. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: 11-17.

ReadWriteThink: .  The International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English website provides extensive resources for classroom teachers, professional development, after school providers, parents & community members. Excellent navigation allows site searches by grade level, resource type, learning objectives, or themes. Lesson plans on the site are aligned with state standards and 21st century learning outcomes.

Rhodes, Terrel, ed. 2010. Assessing Outcomes and Improving Achievement: Tips and Tools for Using Rubrics. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Rubrics from the VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) project are available on the following topics: inquiry & analysis, critical thinking, creative thinking, written communication, oral communication, reading, quantitative literacy, information literacy, teamwork, problem-solving, civic knowledge & engagement (local & global), intercultural knowledge & competence, ethical reasoning, foundations & skills for lifelong learning, integrative & applied learning. See for the online version.

Rutgers School of Communication and Information:  The research themes include: dynamics of student learning and knowledge construction, school library programs, inquiry-based learning, reading and literacy.

Swanson, Mary Catherine The AVID Classroom: a System of Academic and Social Supports for Low-Achieving Students. 1993: EDRS. ED 368 832. The report discusses the origins and early replication of AVID-Advancement Via Individual Determination—a program that places previously low-achieving students in college prep classes. AVID classes emphasize the writing process, inquiry methods, and collaborative groups along with explicit instruction in ‘college knowledge,’ and social scaffolds supporting student placement.

Todd, R. et. al. (2005). “Impact of School Libraries on Student Learning.” Institute of Museum and Library Services Leadership Grant Project Report. Available:

Barell, John. (2006) Problem-Based Learning: An Inquiry Approach, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Burke, Jim. (2010). What’s the Big Idea?: Question-Driven Units to Motivate Reading, Writing, and Thinking. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kuhlthau, Carol C. et. al. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Leskes, Andrea and Ross Miller (2006). Purposeful Pathways: Helping Students Achieve Key Learning Outcomes. Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. This publication describes how colleges and high schools can work together to design powerful and sequential learning—‘purposeful pathways’—for integrative learning, inquiry learning, global learning, and civic learning outcomes.

Wilhelm, Jeffrey. (2007) Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry (Theory and Practice) New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.