Inquiry Learning

The Most Effective Way of Assessing Inquiry-Based Learning

Everything you need to know to effectively assess IBL.

Inquiry-based learning is widely identified as a strategic priority in schools and educational systems around the world, and with good reason. Authentic inquiry is the very foundation of what learning is all about.

It begins with inspiring curiosity in learners, and culminates in the creation and communication of deep learning. 

We’ve outlined how to begin using inquiry-based learning in an earlier post, and we hear from teachers everywhere who are working successfully to develop the classroom conditions we’ve described. But how do we go about effectively assessing inquiry-based learning in the inquiry classroom? 

The great news is that assessment for, as, and of learning is woven through the inquiry classroom, in the key components of the Wabisabi Inquiry Cycle. From the early stages of planning, to the artifacts that learners create to communicate their understandings to their world, we connect our line of inquiry to the curriculum outcomes we are required to assess.  

We know that teachers love to see inquiry-based learning examples, so we have a premium Wabisabi Inquiry Unit to share with you. This one is called ‘Our Place’ and it will be our exemplar for guiding us right through the inquiry cycle. If you enjoy this unit and want to explore more of them, we can get them through the Wabisabi app.

Wabisabi IBL Unit—Our Place from RossCrockett3

Looking Back and Preparing Forward

Every learner has a unique perspective to bring to a shared line of inquiry, and the benefits of exploring these together are endless. Like the beginning point of any great journey, understanding where we are starting from will inform the decisions we make along the way. 

In our book, Mindful Assessment (2017), we describe assessment for learning, or diagnostic assessment as "looking back and preparing forward … to ascertain what learners are already capable of in order to best determine what needs to be taught" (p. 11).

The best diagnostic tool we’ve found, lies in the power and purpose of the Essential Question. Consider the question from our premium unit "Our Place".

Reflecting on the Global Concept of interconnectedness, learners are asked the question, "How do we affect each other?"

The question is simple, yet boundless and inclusive. It enables any learner to answer regardless of their ability level, cultural background, or world view. More importantly, it also has the potential to inspire curiosity and further questioning.

Listen to each and every learner to gain valuable understanding of each student’s current situation and prior knowledge, as well as their skills, processes, feelings, and attitudes. As you do so, you are engaging in a rich diagnostic assessment of the group of learners before you. This is a great opportunity to connect to student voice and engagement as you learn about what interests and inspires your learners. 

We’ve written a whole book called The Essential Guide to Essential Questions, where we show you how to create essential questions and use them effectively. (If you’d like a copy you can buy it now and take 10% off using the code #inquiryrocks.)

Know Where You Are Going Together

As we've said before, on this learning journey we must begin with the end in mind. In an inquiry classroom, we bring the curriculum to our line of inquiry and directly to our learners. 

"Our Place" is based on the Year 2 Achievement Standards of the Australian Curriculum. Here are a few of the standards it covers, from the Science, English and Humanities learning areas:

  • Describes how people in different places are connected to each other and identifies factors that influence these connections
  • Recognises that places have different meaning for different people and why the significant features of places should be preserved.
  • Identifies that certain materials and resources have different uses and describes examples of where science is used in people’s daily lives.
  • Creates texts, drawing on their own experiences, their imagination and information they have learnt.

  • These achievement standards provide the learning intentions for our unit of work, and are built into the line of inquiry we created for "Our Place":

    Learners are inspired to be curious about why places are important to people, and connect examples of how a place can mean different things to different people in order to communicate that everything is connected by creating a presentation to celebrate the special people, seasons, and changes in their place during the year.  

    By bringing the curriculum to the Wabisabi Inquiry Cycle at the planning stages, we approach the curriculum with the curiosity and engagement of our learners at the forefront of our thinking, while creating a map of the inquiry journey that keeps the learning intentions clear and visible the whole way. 

    By sharing these learning intentions with our learners, within the context of a line of inquiry, we share the answers to the questions "What are we learning?" and "Why are we learning this?" This paves the way for the next important question.

    Are We There Yet?

    Many of us can relate to this classic question driving on a road trip with bored and restless young passengers aboard. Wouldn’t it be great if they had the capacity to answer it themselves instead?

    We’ve made our learning intentions clear, so we know where we are going, so now it’s time to create some landmarks to aim for and stepping stones for our journey, in the form of success criteria. 

    At Wabisabi Learning, our goal is to drive learning to higher-order thinking, to cultivate the skills that learners need to thrive in the world beyond school. That’s why we build success criteria with our learners that connect the curriculum outcomes to levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy

    Here’s an example that we could use as a guide to create some success criteria with our learners for the "Our Place" unit. We’ve already listed the learning intentions above; now let’s consider what success might look like. Here are some ideas:

    assessing ibl

    Wabisabi IBL Unit—Our Place from RossCrockett3

    These are a few examples, and you and your learners can come up with many more. Once you’ve built some success criteria together, you are all able to keep track of the learning as you go.

    The great thing about using Bloom’s Taxonomy is that it provides a variety of entry points for a variety of leaners, a learning continuum for ongoing formative assessment, and potentially a rubric for a rich, summative task such as the stop-motion video we’ve referenced here. 

    Staying the Course

    After the Essential Question, herding questions are, quite simply, every other great question that you ask to drive learning towards the curricular outcomes you’ve already identified. They are essential to guiding the inquiry process and keeping your learners on track.

    As you unpack your Essential Question together, ask some herding questions to further understand what your learners need. Here are the herding questions we prepared for our unit:


    • How do living things affect us?
    • How do we and living things affect each other? 
    • How do we affect our environment? 
    • How does the environment affect us? 
    • Do we have a responsibility to care for our environment? Why?
    • Does our environment care for us? How?

    Connection to Place

    • Why are places important to people? 
    • What are the important places in your life? 
    • Do you feel you belong to the place where you live? 
    • What is a Welcome to Country? 


    • What are the seasons that we experience here?
    • How do we know when the season is changing?
    • Are seasons the same everywhere? 
    • What great things come with the seasons? 

    All of these questions drive the thinking and the learning directly to the Year 2 achievement standards of the Australian Curriculum. Furthermore, they invite learners to explore them and think deeply about them in the context of their own lives. The conversations you and your learners have as they explore these questions together provide the perfect opportunity for formative assessment, or assessment as learning.

    In this context, formative assessment can be formal or informal, spontaneous or scheduled. Here are some possibilities:

    • An impromptu question and answer between teacher and student, as the teacher moves around the classroom.
    • Student and teacher or peer-to-peer conferences that provide evaluation and feedback.
    • A conversation about the success criteria we all built together
    • The ongoing collection of evidence of learning through examples of work, photographs, or video maintained in a portfolio.

    The important thing about formative assessment is that it provides learners with an opportunity to reflect on their learning and to consider how they can improve. High quality feedback is a crucial component of the formative assessment process and is explained in detail in the article Giving Student Feedback: 7 Best Practices for Success.

    Arriving at Your Destination

    We must remember that learning is really an ongoing journey. Alongside the formative approach to assessing inquiry-based learning, summative assessments will also have a place. However, if we are going to include a summative assessment, our goal should be to make it a rich, culminating task that is the celebratory endpoint of the journey, like the stop-motion movie example in the "Our Place" exemplar. It is all of the questioning, exploring, and higher-order thinking that has got them there in the end. We’ve already collected the evidence of learning along the way.

    But what about the best resources for assessing inquiry-based learning? Fortunately, the Wabisabi app is the perfect tool for both planning inquiry units and collecting the evidence of learning, and providing formative feedback. Explore it now and get excited about inquiry-based learning like never before.

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