Successful pedagogies for inquiry and knowledge building


Students’ developmental trajectories

Growth in knowledge and skills

In 2011, Tack Ching Girls' Secondary School students won both the "Most Outstanding Knowledge Exploration Team" and "Most Open-Minded" awards for F.3-F.5. The students had started off thinking about inquiries from a single point of view, yet after a group discussion, began to consider different perspectives, enhancing the level of discussion. Through sharing their own knowledge with others, they were able to identify major points they had previously neglected, leading to a simultaneous growth in learning.

Initiation of discussion

In order to encourage students to learn about "Modern China" using real-life inquiries, Mr. Ho chose to focus on the most popular news story at the time, the Foxconn suicides. However, the students' knowledge of the issue had been rather superficial. They started a discussion on the Knowledge Forum surrounding the question, "Why did the Foxconn employees have to commit suicide?" Since the information they were receiving back then had been quite narrow, they could only name a few basic concepts, which were their own individual perspectives. At this point, some of the students' participation rates were quite low, and interaction between class members were also less than ideal.

In-depth discussion

Upon receiving richer information from the teacher, students' opinions and ideas became more diverse, presenting multiple perspectives, both positive and negative. Discussion now included considerations from a factory level, and even the community level. Students refined their original thoughts hoping to improve their views. Participation rates among students also increased significantly, demonstrating how the equality principle works in regards to knowledge. Although students cited sources, they were unable to elaborate. Many were able to consider the problems in question using different perspectives, but lacked in-depth analysis. Through peer evaluation of discussion notes, students understood what makes a good note, what limitations and weaknesses there may be, before continuing to make amendments and take inspiration from the best notes. The students then attempted to carry out in-depth analysis of the issue from a national perspective, and incorporated many related concepts. Their notes made good use of authoritative sources, thereby strengthening the persuasiveness of their arguments. Different scaffolds were utilized, creating a better framework for the discussion content. As a result of dealing with various views and evaluating them, students developed higher levels of thinking. After more than a month of discussion and several reviews, the Knowledge Forum produced fairly good results. Students went from exploring only the reasons behind the Foxconn suicides to considering the problems of migrant workers in China as well, and reached the conclusion that the Foxconn employees are indeed a microcosm of such workers.

Discussion outcomes

In the end, each group summarized what they had learned using various aspects (i.e. personal, social, factory management practice, civil rights). Students also had to share their group's summary in class. Through the discussion and summary phases, students gained a deeper understanding of Chinese migrant workers.


Additionally, students had to reflect on their Knowledge Forum activities. Not only did they learn more about the problems faced by the workers during discussion, but they developed better techniques in both discussion and the use of sources to support their arguments too. Apart from enhancing their views, some students pointed out that by sharing their own knowledge they are promoting simultaneous growth in learning within the class. There were also times when those who had always thought their ideas to be perfect began to realize how many points they had ignored after listening to their peers. Discussion and exchange therefore could be seen as beneficial to students due to how they promote broader thinking and the consideration of multiple perspectives, leading to better insights.

Extension of discussion

According to some students' summaries, it was thought that urban-rural differences in the Chinese system may be partly accountable for the Foxconn suicides. After much discussion in class, the students decided it was necessary to explore the issue in-depth, so they worked together to do so, fulfilling the KB principle of self-motivated learning.

Summary of experience

Firstly, following discussion and exploration of information surrounding the Foxconn suicides issue, students came up with the inquiry "Why did Foxconn employees have to commit suicide?" They started off with a few reasons, and were then able to improve these answers using different perspectives upon finding information from the Internet. Supplementary sources given in class enabled students to further explore the problem and develop even more ideas. Knowledge building encouraged collaboration, making knowledge more extensive. Students did not just cease discussion after summarizing their KF experience, but rather they kept going. From only considering the reasons behind the Foxconn suicide at the beginning to taking account of the Chinese migrant workers' problem, the students now believed the cause of the tragedy can be somewhat attributed to urban-rural differences in China. They began to explore these differences, allowing discussion to be furthered, and knowledge building to continue.

Personal growth

In the second year, Tim Wong’s students entered the Knowledge Building Award Scheme competition, and received "The Most Outstanding Knowledge Building Award". Tim’s students were able to explore the topic from multiple perspectives and further the discussion. At first, they had no interest in the given topic, thinking it was not worth exploring. Upon collecting more information and much discussion, a stronger understanding of the theme was developed. Indeed, the students gained much knowledge studying the “Hong Kong Kids” module. They learned more not only about the Chinese language, but also themselves, leading to change in attitudes.

Students’ initial perception

At the start, the students had a negative perception of the “Hong Kong kids” topic.

Conclusions after discussion

After much discussion, students reached several conclusions. Opinions had changed, indicating a deeper level of understanding toward the issue. Multiple perspectives were also integrated together.

Furthering discussion

Upon reaching conclusion, students wanted to extend discussion. Some questions still remained, and they hoped to understand more about the topic.

Thoughts Toward Studying “Hong Kong Kids”

Through learning this module, students realized that they too were “Hong Kong kids”. They would remind themselves that as “Hong Kong kids”, in order to do their part in the community, they should have more contact with the rest of the world rather than indulge in a world of computers and electronic games. They should have certain expectations of themselves, as they are the future pillars of the world. Moreover, students should start developing their ability to work independently from an early age so that they will be better prepared to contribute to society in the future.

Students also learned that many different views should be considered when tackling problems, as a more holistic approach can facilitate understanding of an issue.

It appears that students find this kind of activity enjoyable, especially when collaboration takes place, since everyone is contributing and the interaction encourages constant advancement in knowledge. Students would continuously search the Internet for information and references in hopes of answering their peers’ queries. Such type of learning is driven by the students themselves, not the teacher, thus this format is well-received.

The exploration activities in this case allowed students to understand that although information can easily be accessed on the Internet, they are often second- or third-hand sources that should be verified before usage, and the most relevant details are actually much harder to find. When searching for online resources, students found that the majority of information on “Hong Kong kids” was negative. Fortunately, the teacher had arranged special guests for the students to interview in order to provide them with a broader understanding of the topic.

Students were more inclined to pay attention to current events after studying this module. They learnt how to evaluate an issue properly, which is to first understand different perspectives on the matter before deciding on anything. The students additionally learned to use scaffolding on the Knowledge Forum, and using the scaffolds, came to realize how important it is to express their opinions. They felt that cooperative learning is very important, and being able to contribute to peer discussions is in fact quite satisfying.

Tim’s students’ sharing about their learning and growth in the theme-based learning module "Hong Kong Kids" on the presentation day of the KB Award Scheme competition was discussed in the above. Click here for Tim’s detailed pedagogies.