Inquiry in the Classroom

My reading this week was Chapter 7 from Wilhelm’s Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry, about inquiry strategies that could be used to keep students engaged with course material. Though most of the examples relate to math and science, they can easily be applied to social sciences or English. One strategy—known as QAR (Question-Answer Relationship)— frames questions in four stages. QAR begins with questions for which answers can be found “right there” in the text. The next level of questioning is called “think and search” and asks students to find patterns or connections in the text and think analytically about them. Next, students are asked “author and me” questions where they apply their own knowledge and experience to fill in information that cannot be found in the text. The final QAR stage is “on my own,” in which students consider real-world applications of principles or concepts from the text.

A QAR-driven lesson on “The Pardoner’s Tale” from the Canterbury Tales, would begin by asking students to explicate the text, guided by questions like “What do the three young men ask the innkeeper?” and “What do they set off to do when they leave the inn?” “Think and search” questions might include “What types of things does the Pardoner say about the three men? What do these details say about his attitude toward them?” Students could research and answer “author and me” questions dealing with the historical context, in particular the relevance of the black plague to the events in the story. Finally, students would answer “on my own” questions about the ethical dilemmas described in the text and applied to contemporary contexts; for example, they might be asked to write a story or essay about something that started with the best of intentions but ended up failing because of greed.


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