Inquiry Learning isn’t a ‘bolt on’

Headmaster - Nigel Lashbrook

At a time when exams are already underway (for IB Diploma students) or looming for others, it’s a good time to think about how, exactly, do we prepare students for their future, rather than just exams?

Students need to be prepared for their future by becoming better inquirers, consumers and creators of information. They should have the skills and attributes to ask and answer questions for themselves – not just the skills and attributes to answer exam questions to best effect.

We don’t treat inquiry learning as a ‘bolt on’ at Oakham, nor do we assume that pupils will simply pick up these skills along their learning journey – it requires a fundamentally different approach.  We’ve been on a journey for the last eight years, developing our approach to inquiry learning – FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning).  Simply understood, FOSIL is a model of the inquiry process and an evolving framework of specific and measurable skills that enable each of the stages in the inquiry process.

Our Head of Library, Darryl Toerien, initially developed FOSIL as a response to the need to better prepare Oakhamians for the IB Diploma’s Extended Essay and over the years FOSIL has been developed, honed and increasingly integrated into areas of Oakham’s curriculum – with more yet to come. For example in Computer Science, students learn the entire Computer Hardware schemes of work via FOSIL-based inquiries, such as Year 7 learning how to define a computer by researching and answering the question, ‘Is my brain a computer?’ Whilst Year 9 ask ‘Can we use technology to look after plants?’

Eight years down the line and FOSIL is neither ‘finished’, nor gradable (aphetically or numerically). However, it has just passed a very memorable landmark. After openly sharing our knowledge and inquiry learning journey over many years with schools from across the country (indeed the world), we have founded and launched The FOSIL Group.  This is a new, free and completely open community for those working in the field of education, that encourages its members to collectively develop their understanding of learning through inquiry, and to collaborate on designing and sharing resources to support learning through inquiry.

As educators we cannot simply be concerned with only the learning of our own students. It is our collective responsibility to help others to learn, to pro-actively advance best practices in teaching and learning. I am incredibly proud of The FOSIL Group, as it facilitates the bringing together of ideas, perspectives and best practice from many different schools and related institutions across the UK and beyond.

Our children must be equipped to be able to ask questions, make inquiries for themselves and be discerning of the information that all too often is presented to them in a poorly researched, inaccurate, and sometimes harmful way. FOSIL is a powerful tool for doing this, and its development at Oakham has been a remarkable one, but I predict that its future in the hands of this vibrant community will be more remarkable still.

To read more about the newly launched FOSIL Group – please click here.  Or, please do visit www.fosil.org.uk to find out more about how you can join the conversation about inquiry learning and to learn more about how FOSIL can be used as a simple and logical way to guide students through the inquiry process.

A process that will better prepare students for their future than any exam they may face in coming weeks or months.