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GT Best Practices: Inquiry Based Learning

May 1, 2011

by Joan Bush

All too often, we speak and hear of “Best Practices” of gifted education without truly understanding what that means.  As a result, each of our Campus Reps has undertaken the challenge to evaluate and research the “Best Practices” (as based on the book, Best Practices of Gifted Education by Robinson, Shore and Enersen).  The following article is part of our 15 part series, GT Best Practices.

Joan Bush is the campus rep at CHS, 2009-2011.


Inquiry-based learning is a student-centered instructional style that allows students to explore and use their own questions to guide their learning. The teacher sets parameters for inquiry-based assignments and serves as a facilitator to “coach” students through the process.


  • Science experiments – Students state a hypothesis and carry out a procedure to see if the hypothesis holds.
  • Debate – Students research a topic and prepare to debate either side of an issue.
  • Project-based learning – Students research a topic that culminates with some type of product (presentation, poster, drama, puppet show, PowerPoint, etc.).
  • Problem-based learning – Students solve a real-world problem or case study by using various resources and attempting to seek answers to a problem.


  • There is limited research that is specific to gifted and talented learners. Most is for the general population at large but has implications for gifted/talented learners.
  • Research on the Renzulli Type III Enrichment Triad Model (which relies on inquiry-based instruction) revealed that “highly able” students enjoyed having curricular options and produced some remarkable products. However, Type III activities were rare.
  • A key finding from the general population research is that inquiry-based learning provides natural differentiation, which allows students to have some choice in what they explore/produce and permits them to work at their own levels.
  • Research in the general population also shows that teachers and students need to be trained on how to conduct independent research, which includes critically evaluating sources, defining problems, determining priorities, analyzing and synthesizing information, and so forth.


  • Students are more engaged when they get to be more active and have choices in their learning.
  • Students develop higher order thinking skills by learning to develop higher-order questions and by determining how to analyze and synthesize information from various sources. They also become more “critical” in determining which sources are “good” sources of information.
  • Students are able to see how new information fits with what they already know and grow new, synthesized information that they will continue to build on.
  • Teachers can embed inquiry-based learning into any subject area.


  • Some classes may lack necessary equipment (technology, materials for projects, etc.) to do certain activities.
  • Inquiry-based activities take more time.
  • Teachers may lack training and/or be uncomfortable with inquiry-based learning.
  • Students may lack skills and proper attitudes to effectively complete inquiry-based assignments.

Bottom line for gifted/talented students:

  • Inquiry-based learning provides natural differentiation for students by allowing them to work at their own level and by giving them choices in the process. The result is often higher student engagement and increased depth of learning. For optimal learning, teachers and students need to be trained on how to effectively conduct inquiry-based learning activities.
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