Inquiry Scaffold Tool

The Inquiry Scaffold Tool was developed by the ASELL for School – Victorian Node from working with teachers and students to re-design engaging science laboratory learning activities (LLAs) in lower secondary classes (years 7-10).  This work has also been extrapolated into a primary focus for year 3-6.

Some points to be considered in the Inquiry Scaffold Tool are as follows:

  • The tool offers a conception of the way that teachers provide students with inquiry scaffolding at different levels. Across the levels in the tool, the dimension of change is the degree of agency and responsibility accorded the student for making informed decisions and exhibiting independent inquiry skills. At the prescription level, the teacher strongly frames inquiry, and models the skills through direction;
  • The tool offers a way of thinking about the degree of scaffolding put around each skill, with support being reduced at each successive level;
  • Teachers should focus on one or two of the seven inquiry skills in each laboratory learning activity; and
  • Teaching inquiry skills necessitates direct teaching and skill learning prior to assessing the development of each skill.

Some ideas on the overall structure of the Inquiry Scaffold Tool.

Each outcome can be taken up through a practical activity in a developmental progression as described below:

Prescription: The student performs the skill strongly scaffolded by explicit instructions. This might involve a highly directive worksheet, or teacher instruction.

Confirmation: The student makes constrained choices within a set of instructions, or strongly guided class discussion. There is minimal room for variation.

Structured inquiry: The student interprets and modifies inquiry processes within an explicit framework.  This may involve prior class discussion.

Guided inquiry: The student is involved in substantial decision making and interpretation within a broad outline of suggestions of possible approaches.

Open inquiry: The student engages with a question or problem that they have posed and are invested in, and conducts an investigation with minimal guidance.

Some of the flexibility built into the Inquiry Scaffold Tool is as follows:

  • It would be understood that even if an inquiry was intended to develop the open inquiry level of a skill, in supporting individual students the teacher would provide guidance characteristic of the lower levels.  This tool therefore supports the application of individualised learning and differentiation.
  • If questions and planning occur at the higher levels then it is more likely that analysis, communication etc. will also occur at the higher levels.

Ways the Inquiry Scaffold Tool could be used include:

  • Used to plan a structured program supporting the development of individual inquiry skills;
  • To map the inquiry skill outcome for each practical activity and provide suggestions for differentiation of student learning;
  • To map all inquiry skill outcomes across a unit or year level, scaffolding the development of each skill; and
  • To map inquiry skills across all years, building student capacity towards the open investigations found in the senior secondary sciences.

Inquiry Scaffold Tool (Victorian Curriculum)

Inquiry Scaffold Tool (Australian Curriculum)

Adapting your Laboratory Learning Activities (LLAs) for Teaching Inquiry Skills

The ASELL for Schools – Victorian Node site provides many great Laboratory Learning Activities (LLAs) which promote the learning of inquiry skills. Each LLA highlights the skill that might be considered best suited in that activity and indicates how you can developmentally scaffold your students towards open inquiry.  

It is not about throwing out the experiments you already use – it is about adapting them more engaging and interactive for your students.

Start by analysing the current level of inquiry for each of your experiments. We recommend using the Inquiry Scaffold Tool for this task. 

Then, identify which inquiry skill is most appropriately addressed through the LLA.  Then identify where you would like to decrease the inquiry skill scaffolding, making it appropriate for both your context and the lesson’s intended learning outcomes. You may want to re-work these aspects of your experiment, attributing varied levels of student independence across the phases of the inquiry cycle.

Finally, test, trial and revise again. Making science activities appropriate for your context and students involves assessing their level and watching their reaction to a different dynamic in the classroom.

You are invited to use the Inquiry Scaffold Tool to:

  • plan inquiry skills teaching and learning;
  • map inquiry skills through activities;
  • map inquiry skills across units / years.

Adapting your teaching practice to ever-changing demands in the curriculum can be a daunting experience – we hope we can offer you the support you need to make this change in your classroom / school.