A Brief Rant About Inquiry Projects

As I write this I am still at school.  We’re going to see an 8 o’clock movie, so instead of going home in between I stayed to conquer my pile of marking.  It didn’t quite get conquered but I did manage to make some new signs for the classroom, update the calendar in the staff room, and go for coffee with a co-worker.  After 3 pm I’m just not very effective.  Anyway, it’s almost seven and I’m giving up on work for the day.

In my class we’re in the middle of a social studies inquiry project, and it might just be the end of me.  My grade 6’s have to research Canada’s involvement in a global issue.  Let’s take a minute to discuss how ambitious the grade 6 curriculum is, keeping in mind that these kids are eleven going on twelve and today I had to ask them not to throw salami at each other.

Just listen to the absurdity of the first expectation:

“Students will explain the importance of international cooperation in addressing global issues, and evaluate the effectiveness of selected actions by Canada and Canadian citizens in the interntional arena.”

Really?   Really?  Have the people who write this stuff ever met an eleven-year-old?  I’m pretty sure that some of them think Ontario is a country.

To make it worse, we have to do it in French because we’re an Immersion program.  I learned the hard way, however, NOT to force them to research in French in my first year of grade six.  So we have been researching in English, and next week I’m going to have the daunting task of guiding them in translating it to French, even though they’ve all taken notes in complex government website jargon that they barely understand in English.  I might need to pre-book a mental health day.

Even in English, I still feel like I’m single-handedly doing twenty-five inquiry projects.  The idea in inquiry is that the students guide their own research questions and pursue them independently.  Yeah, ok.  We managed to get to that point (sort of).  And their information needs to be current and relevant so books are no good, therefore I have to let them loose in the world of Google.  Chaos ensues.  Each class, I have a line-up of Chromebook-clutching children who have no idea how to sift through web sites and decide what information is relevant. Today a student who is researching terrorism in Afghanistan wrote down, “They are making attacks on the Canadian troops because they want the President to know how bad it is to take the troops out of Canada.”

Um… what?

The same student also wrote, “Canada sent its first element of Canadian soldiers secretly in October 2001 from joint task force 2, and contingents of regular troops arrived in January of 2002.”  Leaving the blatant plagiarism aside I asked the student, “Do you know what this means exactly?” and without shame or hesitation she said, “Nope!”


It’s not that I don’t believe in the theoretical value of inquiry projects.  In an ideal world, it gives the students control over their learning and autonomy in their decision making.  It fosters motivation by letting them pursue their interests.  Yeah, it’s really great on paper.  Or in a class of five.  Kind of like differentiated instruction. (Don’t get me started.)  But in the classroom, it’s another nightmare for the teacher, disguised as “individualized learning” so the Ministry of Ed can boast how our system caters to each student.

I wish the higher-ups who come up with these lofty ideas would actually try them out on a classroom of living and breathing tweens. Then they’d realize that maybe these ideas are not all that realistic for a group of people who can’t even locate a pencil half of the time.











11 thoughts on “A Brief Rant About Inquiry Projects

  1. Hahaha – I laughed my way through this, even though I know how sad it truly is. I am a second year teacher, teaching second grade but I can imagine the exhaustion and frustration you are feeling pretty well. Our math curriculum is all about students “investigating” and coming to great number sense epiphanies while exploring numbers using math tools while playing math based games. It is all fine and good, but then give them a standardized test with pencil and paper that is written by non-teacher folk, and they are like deer in the headlights.
    Good luck and book that mental health day! 🙂


      1. Don’t even mention the dreaded EQAO! My students refer to as as I’m sure many others across the province do as Evil Questions Attacking Ontario. Most days I’m inclined to agree.


  2. I think you should seek the help of an Instructional Coach if possible. I think this can be a great unit and, as a teacher of French Immersion with 15 years of experience, it can be done in French. It sounds to me that your students need lessons in thinking skills and research. There are also lots of different kinds of inquiry with various levels of support provided by teachers. Perhaps they need a more guided approach with support with some French texts that go with their inquiries either through Guided or Shared reading. OESSTA just release some amazing resources to support inquiry learning. Also, I think researching in French is easier than translating from English to French. I’m not saying that inquiry is easy – particularly in Immersion. But it can be done, and well.


    1. I know that there are a lot of options out there that I will one day find, but for right now I’m just writing an honest piece about my current sentiments. It’s mostly for humour. I’ve been teaching FI for 8 years and I’ve concluded that too often we ask the students to interpret materials that are way beyond their level of proficiency. It’s the tracking down of the appropriate resources that needs to be done and that I haven’t had or made time for yet. At least by having them research in English they have the world at their fingertips and are making some really neat discoveries. I think there’s a lot of value in teaching how to properly translate from English to French because it’s an often overlooked skill.


  3. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. In this day and age, I feel students are much more socially minded. I see students in my schools joining “Me to We” clubs and caring for other kids and issues in the world more than I did back in the day! I enjoyed reading the blog none the less! It’s important to voice the good? The bad and even the ugly! Best wishes.


  4. So true! I’m the planning time teacher for French Immersion classes in my school. I cover art and social studies fir grades 2-6, all split classes. We have almost no resources, and the ones we do have the kids can’t read/understand. You definitely hit the nail on the head with this post!


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