How to Help Students Drive Their Own Inquiry

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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This post was written with inspiration from the fabulous staff at Aveson Charter School in Altadena, CA

Driving questions guide research, action, and creation. Inspired by Essential Questions (see post from Jay McTighe), these are student-generated and are intended to optimize student ownership. Typically, the questions evolve over time. The journey often starts off with a generic, broad question and becomes more nuanced and complex as students drill down.

Here are two examples of essential questions (teacher designed) that generated a series of student questions as they continued to investigate:

Science:

Inspired by essential question: How do living things get energy

What is photosynthesis?→ How does photosynthesis work? → How do plants get energy from the sun in places where it rains a lot of the time? → Do plants look different in places that are dry and sunny versus places where it rains a lot?

History:

What caused the Civil War in the United States? → Was the Civil War really only about slavery? → What was the war’s legacy? Who did it really help, and who did it hurt? How has the United States progressed as a nation? → What core issues today in the United States show that the battle for equality is not over?

There is a different energy to this work, one in which the student has an increased level of ownership in both the inquiry and pursuit. At Aveson Charter Schools in Altadena, California, student-driven learning experiences are integral. It starts with their capacity to develop increasingly sophisticated driving questions.

 

Rubric on Levels of Questioning

4 – Advanced

3 – Proficient

2 – Developing

1 – Emerging

I can independently create an open-ended question that is provocative (exciting) and can arise in the real world.

I can create an open-ended question related to science or history with little support.

With much support, I can create a science- or history-related question.

I can create a question.

My Driving Question has a framing word, an entity/person, a challenge, and an audience/purpose.

My Driving Question has a framing word, an entity/person, a challenge, and an audience/purpose.

My Driving Question has a framing word, a challenge, and an audience/purpose.

My Driving Question has a framing word.

I can independently determine which type of question it is: Philosophical/ debatable, task/role-oriented, or evaluative/quantitative-oriented.

I can determine which type of question it is: Philosophical/debatable, task/role-oriented, or evaluative/quantitative-oriented.

I need help to determine which type of question it is: Philosophical/debatable, task/role-oriented, or evaluative/quantitative-oriented.

My Driving Question raises science- or history-related issues with a predetermined answer.

Source: Aveson Charter School, Altadena, California

Teacher-advisors at Aveson offer the following sentence frames to provide instructional support, communicate feedback, and collaborate with students to craft the action steps that will further investigation.

Student Frames for Developing Questions

Frames for Evaluative or Quantitative (Proving) Questions

In this type of question, you are trying to prove or defend something by evaluating or analyzing information or data.

  • What makes a good____________?
  • What are the ingredients for a successful__________?
  • What is the best way to__________?
  • Does _______ affect___________?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of _______?
  • What will happen if _______?
  • How many different ___________are there?
  • In what ways did ________ influence ________?

Frames for Philosophical or Debatable (Knowing) Questions

In this type of question, you are trying to address complexity by knowing the facts:

  • Is ___________ really important? Why?
  • What would ____________ be without______________?
  • Did _______________influence________________?
  • How are____________ and ____________ different?
  • Is there a relationship between _______and_______?

Frames for Role-Oriented or Plan of Action (Doing) Questions

In this type of question, you are taking on a role to solve a problem or conflict or to accomplish a project:

  • How do I as a [add role] [add action]?
  • If I [add role], then will [AU: I—? I also need to—?] [add another action)?
  • Will I be able to [add action] to change ___________________?
  • How would I as a [add role] create/develop/build a [add outcome—e.g., settlement, strong civilization, movement]?

Source: Aveson Charter School, Altadena, California.

For more insight into the learning happening in Aveson Charter school, check out their blog.

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