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Enquiry Tasks in Primary Schools

An enquiry task is often given to students in Grade 5 with almost no introduction to the topic. That’s the norm. Students are required, for instance, to research an animal within a biome, but very little knowledge of the biome itself. The task can be set in other vacuums.

And off they go to to their enquiry task, usually via the internet. The language used in most websites, even those for children, is like this:
“. . . zone is characterized by low precipitation, in different regions varying from highly seasonal to unpredictable to virtually absent…” and words like “evapotranspiration” and “unique characteristics”. 

The teachers need to do the enquiry themselves to see how unreasonable they can be about ‘enquiry learning’. Kids are learning very little from this method of teaching unless given a lot more support.

The objectives of a follow-up enquiry task need to be articulated in advance. For example:

Objective: Inform students in whole class learning of all
essential facts of Desert Biome and prepare students with specialized vocabulary to enable a successful enquiry task to follow.

So lots more support, in my view, equates with a written introduction to the topic with essential facts and related vocabulary. All essential facts, appropriate to their grade level, need to be given to the class as a whole. This can be done through a ten minute introduction through whole-class teaching over several lessons, or one full lesson with whole-class teaching with common materials.

This approach ensures that the teacher knows what has been taught and this forms the basis for enquiry learning to follow. Enquiry tasks cannot be left to replace the groundwork that needs to be done in the classroom with all students.

The objectives for the enquiry task need to be highly specific so the parameters are clearly defined and the search words that the students will use on the internet will lead them directly and specifically to the topic. For example:

Make use of the new words you learned in class. Research one animal of your choice. This animal inhabits the Desert Biome. Your account should explain to the reader why this animal lives in the Desert Biome and not in any other biome. Write an account of the animal’s appearance, food sources, predators and mating habits. Insert no more than two pictures into your account. This report will be shared and assessed.”

This link takes you to an earlier post that discusses some of these problems:


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