Friday, September 26, 2008

Inquiry as a disposition

Students at Opunake Primary School dig deeply into life in Captain Scott's Antarctic hut as part of their in depth inquiry learning project about Antarctica.

The following blog is taken from a video presentation given by Canadian Sharon Friesen. Well worth spending five minutes to listen for yourself.

The biggest myth, Canadian educator Sharon Freisen says, is that inquiry is not just something you do, it is a disposition that underpins all teaching. Inquiry is a vital means of ensuring students develop deep understanding of what they study. Far too much of what is called inquiry, Sharon says, is shallow teaching.

This is certainly the case of much of what I see when I visit New Zealand classrooms. Unfortunately in our classrooms all too often there is simply not the time left after literacy and numeracy demands are taken care of. An inquiry disposition needs to be central to all learning.

Inquiry, Sharon outlines, involves a number of processes.

It is about students and teachers bringing their experiences to the learning situation.

The it is adding information to the mix

From this creating knowledge.

All in order to develop deep understanding.

This fits well with the New Zealand Curriculum of seeing students as 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'. I would add to this phrase 'and their own judges'. It also links to the thinking of the creative New Zealand teachers of the 60s and 70s, before the imposition of standardized curriculums and accountability pressures.

Inquiry learning, Sharon continues, is about teaching and learning for deep understanding.It is knowledge, learner, and assessment centred teaching. In many New Zealand classrooms, if inquiry teaching is to be seen, it all too often centres around 'how to learn' processes and seems to downplay an appreciation of valuing deep understanding. Both, of course, are required.

Sharon makes the point that having an 'inquiry disposition' applies as much to teachers as the students. It is all about 'keeping the spirit of inquiry awake'.Teachers, she says, need to challenge themselves as well as their students. Once again this is in the spirit of the New Zealand Curriculum. Unless teachers model inquiry processes in their actions they cannot cultivate it in their students.

Sharon makes the very important point that you 'need something worthy of inquiry' to engage students. The topics students involve themselves in need to be worthwhile to avoid inquiry becoming 'trivial'.

Sharon reminds us that a time when the spirit of inquiry was fully awake was the Renaissance. At this time of awakening everything was questioned at a fundamental level. We are, she states, exactly at the same point again with the development of new information technology. In the Renaissance the inventions of the telescope, the microscope, the printing press, and navigational tools all inspired a total rethinking.

The spirit of inquiry is at centre stage again. It is important that schools do not trivialize this challenge. What is required , she says,is major transformational shift. Inquiry must permeate all aspects of our teaching and learning if students are to understand themselves and their world.

The end product of an inquiry should not only result in deep understanding but in new questions to explore. Inquiry is a continual disposition to question everything. It is about going deeply into what is to be learnt. To be truly engaged, Sharon concludes, is 'hard fun'.

Sharon's challenge aligns well with the spirit of our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

All we need now are for our schools to become 'communities of inquiry'.


Anonymous said...

The ideas you share from Sharon Friesen are so true. Where has the emphasis on inquiry gone in our classrooms and why is what is to be found is so shallow?
The video clip is excellent. All teachers should spend five minutes looking at it and then thinking of it implications

Bruce said...

Developing classrooms, and schools, as 'communities of inquiry' ought to be the vision for education in the 21stC.

As the NZC says, we need to see 'students as seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'. They need to be skilled questioners, inquirers, researchers explorers and and creators. This is the true literacy of the future.

Inquiry has been lost because of an over emphasis on literacy and numeracy.