Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Equipping Teachers: A Protocol to Guide and Improve Inquiry-Based Instruction

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Equipping Teachers: A Protocol to Guide and Improve Inquiry-Based Instruction

Article excerpt


Many teachers have uttered the following statement, or at least something similar: "I do not know exactly how to define inquiry, but I know it when I see it." This intuitive understanding may work for onlookers, but something greater is needed from those who lead instruction in our classrooms. For many years, publications such as the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) and The Science Teacher (TST) have encouraged teachers to focus science classes more heavily on inquiry-based instructional practice. The challenge becomes more than just increasing the amount of time spent on inquiry--we also need to improve the quality of inquiry within science classrooms.

One way to improve our teaching practice is to use a benchmark assessment to obtain a solid point of reference that honestly reflects what we do in the classroom, and then to design a developmental plan to raise the level of performance. Electronic Quality of Inquiry Protocol (EQUIP) is helpful in providing both a benchmark and a guide to improving the quality of inquiry implemented in our classrooms.

EQUIP overview

A survey completed in 2007 found that K-12 math and science teachers reported spending an average 39% of their time on inquiry-based instruction (Marshall, Horton, and Smart In Press). Further observations suggested that the inquiry being implemented was often of poor quality. However, our research team had difficulty verifying this claim without a valid

measure of inquiry instruction. To address this need, we created EQUIP. Two years of development and testing have resulted in a reliable, valid measurement tool to assess inquiry instruction.

Good teachers should use many different instructional methods throughout the day, week, and year. Consequently, EQUIP is not designed for all situations; it specifically focuses on the factors associated with the quality of inquiry-based instruction, not with other methods used in the classroom. The development of the protocol was supported by several existing instruments (Horizon Research 2002; Llewellyn 2005, 2007; Sampson 2004; Sawada et al. 2000).

EQUIP considers five specific factors (see "Factors and indicators breakdown," p. 53) that support inquiry-based teaching and learning:

* Time Usage * Instruction * Discourse * Assessment * Curriculum

Indicators associated with each factor are first evaluated, and then a holistic score for each factor is determined based on the level of inquiry (see "Factors and indicators breakdown"). Although not necessarily the mean of the independent indicator scores, the holistic scores reflect the essence of the lesson relative to that component.

Once the benchmark measurement has been established, teachers or teams are then able to chart growth and target areas where improvement is desired. This helps to move from the "I know it when I see it" view to an understanding of the specific aspects of a lesson that make inquiry effective. This knowledge can provide a foundation for developing a plan that will ultimately improve inquiry-based instruction and student learning.

There are several ways to use the EQUIP instrument:

* Teachers can use it to reflect upon a lesson (most convenient but least valuable and most subjective).

* Teachers can videotape a lesson and then go back and complete the protocol either alone or with peers during a replay of the lesson.

* Teachers can complete the instrument while observing another's class.

* An instructional coach or curriculum coordinator can use it to guide conversations with a teacher or team of teachers.

Providing a benchmark

To begin, the EQUIP instrument is used to review the objectives and standards for a given lesson to make sure they are clear, explicit, and well aligned with the instructional plan. Then, analysis is initiated within each of the five factors to determine the level of inquiry demonstrated--from Preinquiry (Level 1) to Developing Inquiry (Level 2) to Proficient Inquiry (Level 3) to Exemplary Inquiry (Level 4)--for a specific lesson on a given day and time. …

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