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District Library Guide: Inquiry

Planning for Inquiry & Teaching for Understanding

The Inquiry section of this libguide provides simple step by step instructions for planning a unit of inquiry starting with concepts from the Ministry Big Ideas through to Essential Questions and ideas for assessing understanding.  The section also directs you to numerous practical and theoretical resources written by leading authors in the field.  Please AskALibrarian if you have questions or need assistance.  The SD44 Secondary Teacher Librarians will answer your email the same day.

Inquiry Step 1: What is the concept?

When beginning a unit of inquiry, teachers need to determine which concept they want their students to develop an understanding of through the inquiry process.  This understanding can be called an enduring understanding.  It is the understanding that students take away from this unit and apply to future situations.  It is the understanding the students transfer.

Concepts are universal, timeless, abstract, and move students toward higher levels of thinking (Erickson, 2013). Concepts are broad ideas that transcend the perspectives and limits of any specific subject-area. A concept is something that can be taught in any discipline, no matter what the content includes.  Student access content to develop a broader understanding of a concept. 

Here are some examples of concepts, as they compare to topics.

To determine the concept from your unit, look to the Ministry Big ideas.  From the Big Ideas, decide what concept will frame the inquiry. Choose one concept per unit of inquiry.

Step 2: What is the essential question of the unit?

Now that we have identified the concept or enduring understanding that students will transfer, we need to pose an essential question.  This essential question helps direct the students' inquiry.  Essential questions point to the big ideas of a subject (Wiggins, 2015).  A good essential question has these characteristics: (from McTighe and Wiggins, 2013)

  1. Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.
  2. Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
  3. Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
  4. Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
  5. Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
  6. Requires support and justification, not just an answer.
  7. Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again

Step 3: How will students show their understanding?

Performance tasks are a great way for students to demonstrate their understanding of a concept.  A rich performance task or project serves as a meaningful learning activity as well as a basis for assessing how well students understand concepts and competencies as shown by their ability to apply their learning to an authentic situation (McTighe, 2016).  Check these resources for more info:

  1. Performance Task Characteristics
  2. Constructing a Task Scenario
  3. Performance Task Review
  4. Technology Tools for Performance Tasks and Projects
  5. What makes a rich performance task?