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Assessing Inquiry-Based Learning

Derek Devine Derek Devine   |   24/10/2019

In an inquiry-based learning environment, assessment is an ongoing process. Although the final outcome of learning is important, the process of getting there is just as important – and this is where an inquiry-based approach comes into play. Throughout the process of inquiry, students show teachers different skills and it’s these which are assessed.

When students are given many ways to showcase their knowledge, teachers are given more opportunities to see where they are at in their learning. There are many ways teachers can retrieve assessment information, such as:

  • Observations
  • Discussions
  • Group tasks
  • Demonstrations
  • Projects
  • Peer and self-assessments
  • Self-reflection
  • Exams/projects

There are various formative and summative assessment methods and teachers need to factor in planning for these different types of assessment when designing inquiry activities.

In addition to formative and summative methods though, assessment can also be pooled into three areas:

  • Assessment for learning
  • Assessment as learning
  • Assessment of learning

Aligning with formative instruction, assessment for learning and assessment as learning go hand in hand, as they are designed to help the teacher adjust their instruction to better teach students the learning knowledge they need to succeed in their education.

However, summative assessment is more closely linked to assessment of learning as it involves assessing students’ work at a particular point in time and providing feedback through a scoring system.

Both of these assessment types result in valuable data, whether that’s quantitative or qualitative. This is valuable for teaching as it helps inform instruction and understand how students are progressing. We’re going to touch on this as we explore the assessment types below.

Formative Assessment in Inquiry-Based Learning

Firstly, during inquiry, teachers should be observing and listening as a formative assessment method. You could set your students the task of formulating their own questions to explore a certain topic. Throughout this process, the teacher can monitor discussions in order to see whether students are going in the right direction – is the question they come up with open-ended? Does it have many arguments? Is it relevant to the topic?

Data comes from this type of assessment because the teacher needs to decide, through the qualitative data they gain, whether students are ready to move on, or whether they need extra help to form a question. Observing and listening means the teacher is capturing vital diagnostic assessment evidence.

During inquiry-based learning, students may have a question to explore. Or, when they have come up with their own question, they must locate information which is relevant – they may work on their own or in groups. However, again, qualitative data plays a part because by having a conversation with students during the research stage, teachers can observe, listen and give feedback to make sure they know which students are on the right track and which students are not.

With this in mind, students also need to be able to assess their own work, which is where self-reflection comes in, and this is an important formative assessment tool. As self-assessment aims to encourage students to become reliable, independent assessors of their own work, teachers should ask students to regularly assess their learning and see where they may need help or where they are doing well. The teacher, at this stage, is showing that assessment is powerful.

One way you can ask students to self-reflect on their work is to answer three questions in a journal daily:

  1. What have I done today to help me with my work?
  2. What have I learned to help me deliver my work?
  3. What have I found difficult?

You can ask students to look back at this log and see their progress. This is another way of formatively assessing and developing their metacognitive skills. It’s also a way for teachers to see how students have arrived at a certain outcome.

You should be able to see that, throughout the inquiry process, formative assessment can fall into three categories: those being observations through presentations for instance, conversations of lesson content and products to help with inquiry-based learning.

We know that through formative assessment, it can often be a challenge to collect data and then make sense of it to find the insights you need so we’ve developed our own data-driven instruction pack for support on this.

Summative Assessment in Inquiry-Based Learning

When students have demonstrated their inquiry and completed projects they have done, they should share their findings and work with teachers – this is the assessment of learning part – and could be the exhibition in the PYP for instance. This is where summative assessment comes in to play and where students can demonstrate their “final outcome”. There are various ways students can show this, for instance, through presentations, seminars, or other means students wish to show their findings.

  • Looking at both sides of the argument
  • Quality of work
  • Clarity of conclusion

Data comes from this as we usually have set criterion to attain it in a quantitative way. Often though, we end up with lots of scores, so how can we interpret that in the right way? To help with this, use our data-driven instruction pack.

Inquiry-based learning offers an opportunity for learners of all ages to have an engaging learning experience where they lead their progress. Rather than being something a teacher sets, students can immerse themselves in work that really is their own and these suggestions for inquiry-based learning  demonstrate its immense value for teachers and students alike. It’s this backward design that we’ve touched on here, where assessment takes place at the start to achieve the outcome, which makes inquiry-based learning and assessment important, and gives teachers the power and the data they need to adjust their instruction or help students succeed.

If you’re an IB school and are looking for free resources, guidance, top tips and more, take a look at our whole IB information area which is frequently updated with new content. It’s a great resource for data and assessment tips too!

Derek Devine

International Business Development Manager

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