Inquiry based learning is a pedagogical approach centered around deep questions. The questions may arise from student curiosity, they may arise out of other studies, or they may be posed by the teacher to explore overarching concepts. Most of the other approaches on this site are forms of Inquiry based learning.
Why is it important to have in the classroom?
Inquiry leads to deeper learning and understanding than traditional methods of teaching. Without context, students are not prepared to accept and remember new information. The question-based approach of Inquiry models provides students with that context and supports both better understanding and recall.
Of course, not all curriculum is well suited for Inquiry practices – it is best used for the big concepts and questions. To use it for things like learning the multiplication table would not be a particularly practical use of time.
How does it support intrinsic motivation and ownership?
Students have a significant amount of choice in Inquiry models, from participating in generating questions to choosing which questions to pursue. As a result, the work has more meaning for them than decontextualized information transmitted by lecture. The iterative and reflective nature of the process allows students to recognize and observe how their skills and mastery are growing. These are the key ingredients for the intrinsic motivation that leads to student ownership of their work.
What does it look like in practice?
Inquiry is an iterative process, with questions leading to research, research leading to practice, and practice leading to review and reflection. Often in schools a teacher will offer a question designed to lead to the exploration of an overarching concept, students will add their own questions before diving into research where new questions may emerge. Generally students will create some sort of artifact that is then presented and reviewed. Although this may be the end of the process in most schools, students need to understand that it is actually just the beginning – an opportunity to refine and iterate on their project.
Note that students may enter this iterative process at any point – an Inquiry project may result from questions arising during research or creation or reflection, for instance.