As I mentioned on Twitter, I was just having this conversation with someone the other day discussing the difference between Inquiry and inquiry. This conversation came from some frustration around the idea that if we want students to inquire, we must use Inquiry in the sense that we must design a formal inquiry experience that guides them into deeper learning. However, at times, we want to encourage students to simply inquire–or, be curious and ask questions–without the formal step-by-step process. When kids are little, they ask, “Why?” about everything, and while this is annoying, it’s also a way for them to get to know the world. My cousin’s two year-old inquires about the world tongue-first: he licks everything he touches to figure out what it is. Weird, but hey, he’s learning about his world through personalized, curiousity-driven, natural (if kinda gross) inquiry. On the other hand, students often expect education to come to them, and I think this is where capital ‘I’ Inquiry comes in: we design a learning experience that leads (shows?) them (how?) to inquire about a topic or their world. I do think it’s important for teachers to understand the difference between what I’ve called ‘natural inquiry’ and ‘capital “I” Inquiry’ because there are times where we want students to be naturally curious and bring an inquisitive disposition to learning activities and there’s times where we want students to participate in a structured Inquiry into a specific topic.

Whew. Alright, maybe what I’m really trying to get at is that ‘inquiry’ is more of a disposition students bring to learning and ‘Inquiry’ is a teaching strategy that teachers bring to the classroom. I think an understanding of the two–particularly how to engage students’ natural inquiry more regularly and how to build on natural inquiry through formal Inquiry–leads to more meaningful learning experiences.