PYP Definition

Inquiry, as the leading pedagogical approach of the PYP, is recognized as allowing students to be actively involved in their own learning and to take responsibility for that learning. Inquiry allows each student’s understanding of the world to develop in a manner and at a rate that is unique to that learner. Inquiry, interpreted in the broadest sense, is the process initiated by the student or the teacher that moves the student from his or her current level of understanding to a new and deeper level of understanding. Inquiry takes place at the knowing/not knowing intersection (Wells Lindfors 1999) and can take many forms, including:

· exploring, wondering and questioning
· experimenting and playing with possibilities
· making connections between previous learning and current learning
· making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
· collecting data and reporting findings
· clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
· deepening understanding through the application of a concept
· making and testing theories
· researching and seeking information
· taking and defending a position
· solving problems in a variety of ways.

Inquiry involves an active engagement with the environment in an effort to make sense of the world, and consequent reflection on the connections between the experiences encountered and the information gathered. Inquiry involves the synthesis, analysis and manipulation of knowledge, whether through play or through more formally structured learning. In the PYP, the lively, animated process of inquiry appears differently within different age ranges. The developmental range evident in a group of 5-year-olds can often be from 3 to 8 years. This demands that the teacher be a thoughtful participant in, and monitor of, the ongoing exploration and investigations that the students engage in or initiate. In particular, the teachers of the younger students need to be mindful of the role of the learning environment when presenting stimuli to the students, for them to wonder at, and be curious about, and to stimulate purposeful play.

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Forms of Inquiry

Many different forms of inquiry are recognized, based on students’ curiosity and on their wanting and needing to know more about the world. They are most successful when students’ questions and inquiries are genuine and have real significance in helping them progress to new levels of knowledge and understanding. The most insightful inquiries, ones most likely to move the students’ understanding further, come from existing knowledge. The structure of the learning environment, including the home, the classroom, the school and the community, and the behaviour modelled by others in that environment, particularly by the parent and the teacher, will lay down the knowledge foundation that will nurture meaningful participation and inquiry on the part of the students. An explicit expectation of the PYP is that successful inquiry will lead to action, initiated by the student as a result of the learning process. This action may extend the student’s own learning, or it may have a wider social impact, and will clearly look different within each age range, and from one age range to the next. (Check the contents tab for more on ACTION) Wiki on inquiry

Inquiry Process Models

John Dewey

Dewey's philosophy that education begins with the curiosity of the learner led to his development of a "spiral of inquiry" that includes:
  • Asking Questions
  • Investigating solutions
  • Creating new knowledge as we gather information
  • Discussing our discoveries and experiences
  • Reflecting on our new-found knowledge


Each step leads to the next inspiring new questions, investigations and opportunities for authentic "teachable moments"

Postman & Weingartner

Inquiry education is a student-centered method of education focused on asking questions. Students are encouraged to ask questions which are meaningful to them, and which do not necessarily have easy answers; teachers are encouraged to avoid giving answers when this is possible, and in any case to avoid giving direct answers in favor of asking more questions. The method was advocated by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

The inquiry method is motivated by Postman and Weingartner's recognition that good learners and sound reasoners center their attention and activity on the dynamic process of inquiry itself, not merely on the end product of static knowledge. They write that certain characteristics are common to all good learners (Postman and Weingartner, 31–33), saying that all good learners have:
  • Self-confidence in their learning ability
  • Pleasure in problem solving
  • A keen sense of relevance
  • Reliance on their own judgment over other people's or society's
  • No fear of being wrong
  • No haste in answering
  • Flexibility in point of view
  • Respect for facts, and the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion
  • No need for final answers to all questions, and comfort in not knowing an answer to difficult questions rather than settling for a simplistic answer
In an attempt to instill students with these qualities and behaviors, a teacher adhering to the inquiry method in pedagogy must behave very differently from a traditional teacher. Postman and Weingartner suggest that inquiry teachers have the following characteristics (pp. 34–37):
  • They avoid telling students what they "ought to know".
  • They talk to students mostly by questioning, and especially by asking divergent questions.
  • They do not accept short, simple answers to questions.
  • They encourage students to interact directly with one another, and avoid judging what is said in student interactions.
  • They do not summarize students' discussion.
  • They do not plan the exact direction of their lessons in advance, and allow it to develop in response to students' interests.
  • Their lessons pose problems to students.
  • They gauge their success by change in students' inquiry behaviors (with the above characteristics of "good learners" as a goal).

Kath Murdoch

Learning, using the inquiry approach, can have many starting points and be implemented in many ways (see Murdoch, 1992, Murdoch & Wilson, 2004). It involves students forming their own questions about a topic and having time to explore the answers. The students are both problem posers and problem solvers within inquiry learning. Inquiry Learning encourages learners to examine the complexity of the world and form concepts and generalizations instead of being told simple answers to complex problems.

The inquiry approach to learning is based on the belief that students are powerful learners who must be actively engaged in the process of investigating, processing, organising, synthesising, refining and extending their knowledge within a topic. In other words this process is highly influenced by the theory of constructivism (see
Bruner, 1986, Fosnot, 1996).

In a nutshell, the inquiry process involves:
  • planned, direct and vicarious experiences that provide opportunities for students to pose questions and gather information.
  • activities that help students organise new information and use skills in a way that assist them to form concepts and generalizations about their world
  • opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learnt
  • applying the knowledge, skills and values to other contexts.

Stage of Unit
Also known as:
  • Prior
  • Knowledge
  • Preparing to
  • find out
To engage students in the topic
To gauge student interest and attitudes
To find out what students believe (understandings and
To provide opportunities for students to share what they
already know and believe
To introduce/clarify language
To identify gaps in their knowledge and misconceptions
To assist with teacher planning of the unit
Posing questions
Listing known experi
Picture chats
Developing hypothes
making predictions
Planning research
Simulation games
Using multi-media
  • Also known as:
  • • Direct
  • experiences
  • • Shared
  • Experience
To take students beyond what they already know
To challenge students’ ideas, beliefs and values
To enable the student to use skills (e.g. thinking,
communication, cooperation, research skills) and
knowledge to collect new information
Guest speakers
Also known as:
  • Processing
the Shared
To sort out, organise, represent and present information from the finding out stage of the unit.
To provide opportunities for the students to use their
preferred ways of learning to demonstrate their learning (knowledge, skills, values)
Creating and organising data, foreg, making graphs,
Grouping, labelling
Values clarification
Computer simulations
Role play
Artistic representations
Video production
Also known as:
  • Extending
  • the Unit
  • Related/eperiences
To extend/broaden the unit if appropriate
To allow students to investigate areas of personal interest
To use their preferred learning style
To present another perspective on or dimension to the topic
Revisiting earlier questions
Contract work
Individual or group interest mini-research projects
Learning centre tasks
Community projects
Also known as:
  • Thinking about the Unit
  • Making connections
  • Drawing
To provide opportunities for the students to think about their learning –how they learnt what they learnt and why
To identify changes in skills, knowledge and values
To draw conclusions and make connections between ideas
Self, peer and group assessment
Comparing tuning in ideas with current ideas
Writing generalisations
Journals (visual and written)
Also known as
  • Taking Action
To identify what the students have learnt and the implications for personal actions
To enable students to make choices and apply their ideas
To relate their learning to real life situations
Publicising findings, eg, through newsletters
Contacting relevant organisations
Making a personal action plan
Public performance



Kathy Short


Kathy G. Short has focused her work on global literature, literature circles, curriculum as inquiry, and collaborative learning environments for teachers and children. She is a professor in the program of Language, Reading and Culture at the University of Arizona and has worked extensively with teachers to develop curriculum that actively involves students as readers and inquirers.

"We believe that curriculum involves putting into action a system of beliefs (Short &Burke, 1 990). Therefore, when we engage in inquiry about curriculum, we examine our beliefs as well as our actions in the classroom. In thinking about the changes in curriculum that we and other educators have made over the last 10 years, we realized that some of them involve changes in practice within the same paradigm of beliefs while others involve changes in practices and beliefs that move us into a new paradigm. Sometimes we use our current beliefs to develop further our teaching practices and the learning environments we are creating with students. Other times, we question our beliefs and make difficult changes in both our beliefs and our actions."


The perspective of curriculum as inquiry involves theoretical and practical shifts in how educators view teaching and learning within school contexts. As educators examine their beliefs and actions, they take control of their learning and work with their students in creating more democratic learning environments. Within these environments, students have the time to explore and find the questions that are most significant in their lives as inquirers.

We get to figure out what we know and what we want to do. We
are trusted to learn, to talk, and to share. We are expected to ask
more questions and find out more.
AMBER age 10, Gloria Kauffman's classroom