• Dr. John Tharp

Using Inquiry Method to Increase Online Student Engagement During Covid-19

Updated: Aug 14


The traditional K-12 school model has drastically changed due to the pandemic. As the fall approaches, state and school district leaders have agonized over the best way to re-engage students in a safe manner. The delivery method of instruction continues to evolve as school districts settle on a few options based on the guidance of health officials:

  • 100% online education for students

  • Hybrid in-person learning

  • Full 5-day in-person learning with mitigation strategies (i.e. social distancing, masks, etc.)

All of these instructional options were developed while trying to balance the academic and social emotional needs of students with safety of staff and students to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.


At least half of students in the United States will learn some if not all of their grade level content standards online; consequently, teachers and schools have been preparing for this eventuality. With this reality of a constant flux of in-person and virtual learning, a looming challenge remains for teachers: how to actively engage students to master the skills and content of the standards.

Student motivation is a critical factor in student success and teachers have spent countless hours prior to the pandemic mastering techniques to activate student engagement in their learning. A foundational text on student engagement, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, was published in 1969, with the goal to teach educators how to excite students about their learning, gain self-confidence and develop the thinking skills necessary to differentiate between fact and opinion.

This is where the Inquiry Method becomes a major component of lesson planning. Since education is going to be online for the foreseeable future, the goal of each virtual lesson must be centered on increasing student skill level to read, write and think critically in order to build students' competence and confidence in their learning. The Inquiry Method is a student-centered method of instruction focused on asking questions so students conduct guided research, analyze their findings and teachers may assess student understanding. Take a look at my sample inquiry lesson that I developed for online education based on the work of Postman and Weingartner.


Using the Inquiry-Based Learning Method to Make Value Judgments in Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education


Example of the Inquiry Method in a Lesso
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Download • 81KB

Teaching a Discovery Lesson - Covid-19,
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Download • 1.13MB
Example of the Inquiry Method in a Lesso
Download • 81KB

Teaching a Discovery Lesson - Covid-19,
Download • 1.13MB

Teachers know their curriculum and the knowledge and skills that they are expected to teach as well as the assessments that determine if students did or did not learn what they were supposed to. When eighty-percent or more of students pass an assessment, a teacher believes that successful teaching and learning occurred. Unfortunately, that eighty-percent threshold is not often reached and some students and classes even fall well below that proficiency mark.

If a teacher can get students excited about their learning, personally invested and engaged in a lesson and actively thinking and learning with guidance from the teacher, then successful learning occurs. When students are not particularly motivated or the struggle to learn the concept or skill is too difficult, then learning is unlikely. The genius of the Inquiry Method is that it is based on what students know and are able to do cognitively and builds off that foundation.

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