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Defining inquiry-based education begs the question: "How can you define such a multi-faceted educational approach?" Indeed, there are as many interpretations of Dewey's vision as there are teachers. From constructivism, problem-solving approaches, project-based learning, and many other variations on the theme. Inquiry as a learner-centered process is core. Below are some of the definitions that we have found so far. Please feel free to add to this "list."

Definitions of Inquiry

All learning begins with the learner. What children know and what they want to learn are not just constraints on what can be taught; they are the very foundation for learning. Dewey's description of the four primary interests of the child are still appropriate starting points:
  • the child's instinctive desire to find things out
  • in conversation, the propensity children have to communicate
  • in construction, their delight in making things
  • in their gifts of artistic expression.

We may say that these are the natural resources, the uninvested capital, "upon the exercise of which depends the active growth of the child."
But, as Dewey recognized, schooling is not just about the individual. It is the coming together of the child's interests with those of the society. The disciplines we study in school represent centuries of collective thought as well as the interests of the larger community in maintaining itself by communicating its knowledge and values to the next generation.

Dr. Chip Bruce, Professor of Education and Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, Urbana.
"For students, this method of learning ends the listen-to-learn paradigm of the classroom and gives them a real and authentic goal challenges to overcome. For the teacher, inquiry-based education ends their paradigm of talking to teach and recasts them in the role of a colleague and mentor engaged in the same quest as the other younger learners around."

"Inquiry is an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural or material world, that leads to asking questions and making discoveries in the search for new understandings."

Inquiry education is where structure meets fluidity, where we can create opportunities for students to be engaged in active learning based on their own questions. (From a small group discussion on "Inquiry in Action" at The Inquiry Page Workshop on Feb 21, 2001.

International Reading AssociationAssessment Standards
The process of inquiry begins with a genuine question, that is, a question that motivates the questioner to persist in seeking the answers. Authentic questions are rarely well formulated or structured at the outset. Rather, structure emerges through the process of inquiry. Inquiry is not merely a matter of asking and answering questions. It is a way of engaging the world and other people. Communication and social relationships play an important role in inquiry as questioners seek the advice and expertise of peers and more knowledgeable others, share their findings, reflect upon the results of the inquiry, and take up new questions that arise.
In a traditional view of classroom learning, teachers deliver information.
They ask the children questions to which they already know the answers, and the students are to show they know the correct answers as well. This approach has not been very successful at helping all students become the critical, creative, and socially responsible citizens our society needs. In an inquiry classroom, on the other hand, students and teachers have a different relationship. Teacher and peers are resources for helping students answer their own questions. The community relationships are different. Instruction is based on engaging in sustained examination of personally significant topics.