I am very interested in this conversation about inquiry at the elementary level. I do think it’s important to help students, even at the primary level, understand the underlying process. I would, of course, teach it through an appropriate real-life example, like the process of choosing a pet. I agree that students can handle the names of the phases when they actually understand what it means to Connect or Construct. The way that inquiry is implemented in elementary school, especially the primary grades, is by necessity quite different from the upper grades where the librarian has more time with the students and many more opportunities to work with teachers on designing full inquiry experiences.
I have thought of a couple of ways that I would approach the challenge of implementing inquiry in the elementary grades. First, I would decide the priority skills that I wanted to teach for each grade in order to focus and limit the number of skills I planned to teach. That is why the ESIFC has explicitly highlighted priority skills. In consultation with your teachers, you can decide what inquiry skills are most important for the students at your school. Priority skills will certainly include thinking skills, but also probably include social and emotional competencies, like being able to identify personal interests and feelings. Inquiry is propelled when students are motivated by their own experiences and personal connections.
These skills can be taught separately from a full inquiry experience. I think a powerful way to teach them to younger students is through picture books and stories. If we want students to be able to tell the difference between fact and opinion, for example, we might read a story with both and talk through the criteria to tell the difference as we identify both facts and opinions in the story. I would be explicit with the students that they are learning how to be inquirers even while we are reading stories together. I would use graphic organizers to give students a chance to practice differentiating between fact and opinion (and to give me a chance to assess their success at learning the skill).
When we do have a chance to guide students through an entire inquiry experience, we can expect students to use the skills they have already learned (with support as needed) and scaffold the skills we have not yet taught (like providing the best sources for students to use, rather than expecting them to select their own resources for this project).
I feel comfortable at this cumulative approach to inquiry because I would have developed a continuum of priority skills with the teachers at my school. We would all know what we need to teach for students to develop as inquirers and we would have the comfort of knowing that the important skills will build over time.
I am very interested in your further thoughts about implementing inquiry at the elementary level.