Inquiry and IBL pedagogies

Mascil is founded on the view that inquiry learning brings benefits but that both teachers and students find this approach challenging. One of the mascil partners, Suzanne Kapelari, talks in this video about her understanding of IBL.

An important aspect related to teaching using inquiry based learning is a shared understanding of what we mean by ‘inquiry’. The Eurydice report Science Education in Europe: National Policies, Practices and Research (Eurydice, 2011) explores the notion of inquiry learning in some detail, stating that:

“A model to deal with different forms of inquiry approaches is proposed by Bell et al. (2005). They describe a model that includes four inquiry categories which vary according to the amount of information provided to the student. The first category, ‘confirmation inquiry’, is the most strongly teacher-directed in which the student is provided with the most information, the other levels are known as ‘structured inquiry’, ‘guided inquiry’, and ‘open inquiry’. At the ‘confirmation’ level, students know the expected outcome; at the other end of this scale (‘open inquiry’), students formulate questions, choose methods and propose solutions themselves.” (p. 70).

However, in the same report there is also reference to Barrow (2006), who states that

“Inquiry is a huge area of research, and yet it is still without any consensus about what constitutes inquiry” (p.105).

In terms of learning, the inquiry-based approach is about engaging students’ curiosity in problems in the world and the ideas that surround them.  In the workplace, this might mean observing and posing questions about situations. If their questions are too complex, they may try to simplify or model the situation. They may then try to answer their questions by collecting and analyzing data, making representations and by developing connections to their existing knowledge. They then try to interpret their findings, checking that they are accurate and sensible, before sharing their findings with others.


This process is often missing in the school classroom because the teacher often points out what must be observed, provides the questions, demonstrates the methods to be used and checks the results. Students are merely asked to follow the instructions.

This domain provides tools to provoke:

  • thinking about inquiry learning on an abstract level
  • experiences of what it feels like to work on tasks designed for inquiry learning
  • reflections on the changing roles that are necessary for students to share this experience in the classroom.

There are three issues to be explored:

For each of these issues there are several professional questions to be addressed and a range of tools. We suggest you work through some or all the tools and consider research questions related to the use of effective inquiry approaches. For example, the group might want to explore the differences in their students’ responses in terms of engagement and achievement when using inquiry tasks compared to more traditional tasks. On the other hand, they may want to look at something more specific, such as the language students use when engaged with an inquiry task.