Learning and teaching using an inquiry approach in times of crisis

This resource provides an inquiry model for teachers to support student learning through and about crisis. It encourages students to become actively involved in their own learning and take responsibility for their learning. The resource is appropriate for use with 14–19-year-old learners but can be adapted for younger students.

What is an inquiry approach?

An inquiry approach is designed to empower educators to be teachers of learners as well as teachers of content. Talking about, learning about or experiencing a crisis is not easy. An inquiry approach allows teachers to create meaningful learning experiences, giving students the time and space to engage in greater critical and creative thinking.

There are many different representations of an inquiry cycle. The inquiry cycle below can be adapted by teachers as deemed appropriate. The stages of inquiry are not always linear, they can be iterative and overlap. An important element of inquiry learning is that at each stage of the inquiry process students should respond to their own reflections and the reflections of others.

The inquiry model

Focus

Real-world examples related to crisis framed by course concepts, content or contexts

Explore

Diverse sources relevant to the real-world example and subject lens through which it is being studied

Investigate

Investigate the impacts and implications on people and communities at a local and/or global level

Reflect

On what you have learnt; what perspectives might be missing; what skills you have developed; further areas of inquiry

Share

What you have discovered with others and listen to what they have discovered

 

Learning through crisis and learning about crisis: questions and considerations

Focus

Focus

Real-world examples related to crisis framed by course concepts, content or contexts

The important first step in the inquiry process is to clearly establish what you want to know; this will ensure that the inquiry is meaningful.

  • Bring into focus what you want to find out through a well-worded research question, hypothesis or compelling inquiry question. 
  • Inquiry can be student-driven, with guidance from educators, and should be open-ended, thought-provoking and worthy of consideration from different perspectives. 
  • Crisis is often associated with problems that do not have easy solutions and may require an interdisciplinary approach to understand the situation; students can move beyond recall, description and summary and develop conceptual understanding. 
  • Conceptual understanding of a crisis involves critical thinking, using processes such as classification, generalization, and representation. The use of concepts which are familiar to the student can help them internalize and transfer what they are seeing and hearing, allowing them to develop meaningful inquiry questions. 
  • An inquiry question can be abstract. For example, “the outcomes of decisions made during a crisis cannot all be foreseen so what is better, “not getting it wrong or getting it right? Or they can be more concrete. For example, “what will the economic impact be on a country that opens its borders to refugees?” 
  • Crisis exposes students to controversial issues, but these can be sensitively explored through objective, multi-perspective investigation and inclusive reflection.

Explore

Explore

Diverse sources relevant to the real-world example and subject lens through which it is being studied

Exploring a crisis through inquiry allows students to thoughtfully consider significant world issues and to critically examine their own ideas and experiences. Students should consider:

  • Establishing the validity and reliability of sources of information is the key to a productive investigation that leads to successful outcomes. Sources of information may be well-established and well-recognized. However, during times of crisis there may be an explosion of available sources – some will be valid (for example, articles in peer-reviewed academic journals), some will be opinion (blogs or newspaper editorials), and some may be erroneous (fake news). It is therefore important that the student considers the origin and purpose of each source, the meaning and methods used, and how a source can be validated and best used. In this way, sources of information can be identified that are relevant to the inquiry, provide a balance of claims and perspectives, and support in-depth understanding.
  • Consider a ‘hivemind’ approach - people sharing their knowledge or opinions with one another, perhaps from different disciplines, to produce ‘collective intelligence’.
    Ask questions such as: ‘Is a small group representative of the whole?’ ‘Have any voices been ignored?’  ‘Has any data been ignored?’ 
  • When students are exploring data similar considerations arise. Again, students should consider the origin and purpose of the data, and the completeness of the dataset. If summary statistics or graphs are provided by the source, are the conclusions valid and reasonable?

In crisis-related inquiry, referencing sources is important for several reasons:

  • to demonstrate the student’s awareness of existing literature and debate around the crisis
  • to acknowledge the intellectual property of others
  • to help others locate and validate the sources for future use.

It is in the exploration stage that students can reflect on how their knowledge of the crisis has developed as they engage with an issue which may have local and global significance. Approaching the uncertainty surrounding a crisis with forethought and determination allows them to develop resourcefulness and resilience in the face of challenge and change.

Investigate

Investigate

The impacts and implications on people and communities at a local and/or global level

The investigation stage follows the exploration stage and allows a sharper focus to be applied to begin to evaluate the impacts and implications of the crisis on the individual or the community at a local or global level. Students should consider:

  • Who is affected by the crisis?
    Crises often have intentional impacts that can have unintentional implications.
  • What are the different relationships between the individuals and communities affected? What claims do they make, what are the different roles they play, and what are their responsibilities?
  • Crises often have negative impacts and implications for people and their communities, but there may also be unforeseen positive impacts and implications.
  • Are the impacts of a crisis long or short term? Crisis impact can often have a ripple-effect across many more people and communities than are primarily affected (primary and secondary effect).
  • Can data be used to make observations or to make predictions? The ways in which individuals and communities behave can be modelled if data is available and has been captured. This allows predictions to be made as to future behaviours or interactions.

It is at this stage that students can reflect upon what is meant by the “open-minded” attribute of the Learner Profile.

Reflect

Reflect

On what you have learnt; what perspectives might be missing; what skills you have developed; further areas of inquiry

Students should reflect at each stage of the inquiry cycle. However, at the end further reflection can offer greater insight into new understanding and ideas they may now have about the crisis by:

  • identifying any emerging themes they have observed, how these might relate to other crises, and how these might develop in the future
  • critically and creatively think about their analysis of the crisis and whether responsible action is appropriate to address this complex situation
  • exercising informed initiative to make reasoned, ethical decisions.

Share

Share

What you have discovered with others and listen to what they have discovered

Students communicating what has been learned is an essential part of the process of inquiry. They should:

  • consider the purpose of sharing their findings and use forms of presentation appropriate to the audience. Thinking about the multiple sources of information surrounding a crisis, students should be encouraged to convey their ideas and evidence in an organized way with coherent use of media
  • confidently and creatively communicate their findings, taking care to listen to the perspectives of other individuals or groups.