Heather Banchi and Randy Bell (2008) suggest that there are four levels of inquiry-based learning in science education: confirmation inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry and open inquiry. With confirmation inquiry, students are provided with the question and procedure (method), and the results are known in advance. Confirmation inquiry is useful when a teacher’s goal is to reinforce a previously introduced idea; to introduce students to the experience of conducting investigations; or to have students practice a specific inquiry skill, such as collecting and recording data.
In structured inquiry, the question and procedure are still provided by the teacher; however, students generate an explanation supported by the evidence they have collected.
In guided inquiry, the teacher provides students with only the research question, and students design the procedure (method) to test their question and the resulting explanations. Because this kind of inquiry is more involved than structured inquiry, it is most successful when students have had numerous opportunities to learn and practice different ways to plan experiments and record data.
At the fourth and highest level of inquiry, open inquiry, students have the purest opportunities to act like scientists, deriving questions, designing and carrying out investigations, and communicating their results. This level requires the most scientific reasoning and greatest cognitive demand from students.
Kuhn's definition of inquiry: efforts to coordinate hypothesis, observation and evidence through the study of controlled, cause and effect relationships (Kuhn, 2005). This definition highlights three key inquiry practices: 1) Coordinating hypothesis, observation and evidence; 2) Controlling variables; and 3) Studying cause and effect relationships.
Kuhn, D. (2005). Education for thinking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.