High Ability Learners

Bellevue Public Schools, February 2016

Students Become Their Own Teachers?

One of the challenges for teachers is to truly differentiate curriculum for advanced learners in the mainstream classroom. Inquiry based learning, or problem based learning, provides a naturally differentiated curriculum within the classroom because it is learner-centered and it creates autonomous learning opportunities.

Common features of inquiry based learning include higher order thinking and processing skills, building learning experiences around major issues and themes, and real-world contexts. This method of teaching and learning responds to the needs of gifted learners as well as many of the diverse learners in each classroom.

As you begin planning for inquiry based projects, keep in mind that students do not automatically know the required skills to learn effectively in this type of environment. Critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, the ability to apply knowledge, the ability to use technology productively, and metacognition skills are all necessary for successful learning in the inquiry based environment. Prior to releasing the reigns on inquiry based learning, teachers much structure and scaffold this model of learning. Hattie (2009) argued, if the conception of the teacher as s facilitator translates to leaving students to learn only on their own or from their peers, this faulty notion negatively impacts student achievement.

However, done effectively, Hattie (2009) also suggests, "the biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their teaching, and when students become their own teachers."

Read more below on how to create systems to support inquiry learning.

Inquiry-Based Learning: Developing Student-Driven Questions

Systems Supporting Inquiry Learning


One of the most critical process support systems is project management. Following a structure for inquiry based learning assists teachers and students. Here is a five-step model:

1. launch 2. plan 3. research/work 4. create/critique 5. share

Each step requires the teacher to lead and then gradually release once the students have developed the collaboration skills to autonomously go through the steps.


As a starting point the classroom needs:

  • furniture arrangements to accommodate teams of three
  • a station for students to access hands-on resources and technology
  • a workshop space for the teacher to meet with a small group


Inquiry based learning thrives with community partnerships for designing relevant challenges, accessing expert resources, sharing with authentic audiences, and collaborating on a vision for learning. Invite parents, community partners, and business leaders to be involved.

The HAL Gals

Amber Dembowski, @amberdembowski

Megan Kinen, @kinenHAL

Molly Koehler

Dawn Ediger

Laura Swanson