Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inquiry based learning -an approach to personalised learning.

A student doing a observational drawing as part of her current inquiry study. There was a time when inquiry based learning was central to all that happened in the primary school day and other areas, such as literacy, were used to develop both the skills required to research and also to contribute appropriate content. The blog below is based on an UK article sent to me by David Hood and, although it is written about secondary students, it applies to all age groups. There is no doubt that it is in year 7 to 10 that school need to dramatically rethink their programmes if they wish to engage their students.

A summary of a paper sent to me by NZ educator David Hood written by Ruth Deakin Crick (2008) Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, makes inspiring reading.

Although it doesn't refer to the writings of John Dewey, the work of American James Beane, or the Project Based Learning as shared on the Edutopia Website, it expresses similar ideas. The few innovative primary teachers, who still apply inquiry to all they do, will also recognise the ideas expressed.

The paper describes and explores the key elements of an approach to personalised learning which is rooted in student experience and choice. learning shaped by the learner's interests which is rooted by their curiosity and purpose. The approach to pedagogy described takes seriously the 'self hood' of the learner while at the same time not abandoning the rigor of specialist knowledge in the various subject fields.

This very much the position taken by John Dewey and recent writers and one I also hold personally.

Worldwide there has been a growing interest in developing competency based curriculums . Our own New Zealand Curriculum is a good example and may well lead the field as it places a strong emphasis on all students developing identified 'key competencies' as a result of their learning. These competencies develop essential values, dispositions and attitudes of effective life long learners. Others, like UK educator Guy Claxton, ( not mentioned) call such competencies 'learning power'.

Others write about 'dimensions of learning' ( Deakin Crick 2007) identifying seven dimensions of 'learning power':

1 Changing and Learning - a sense of oneself who changes over time
2 Critical Curiosity - a need to 'get beneath the surface'.
3 Meaning Making - seeing that learning 'matters to me' and seeing connections.
4 Creativity - risk taking - playfulness, imagination and intuition.
5 Interdependence - learning with and from others.
6 Strategic Awareness - awareness of ones thoughts feelings and actions.
7 Resilience - orientation to persevere.

Many teacher will recognise such attributes.

Inquiry learning and personalisation is a means to achieve such life long learning dispositions. Such a realisation will mean schools shifting away from an 'industrial mechanical metaphor of education towards a complex organic and participatory metaphor of learning.' Such an approach needs to value and build each students experiences.

Such a participatory approach (Heron ad Reason 96) includes four ways of learning:

1 Experiential Learning - is about direct encounter and experience
2 Presentational learning -way of expressing learning in range of media
3 Propositional learning - know through arguing, description, or theories
4 Practical Knowing - 'how to' competence

Unlike what passes for much inquiry learning the above emphasises the importance of real experience.

Personalisation is another agenda that many teachers will have heard of. Personalisation means putting the the learners experience at the 'heart of everything we do'. Our own New Zealand curriculum expresses this when it gives school the flexibility to develop curriculums to suit the needs of their students

Inquiry learning and personalisation reflect the demands of the information age which has changed forever the way human experience their world.

In her paper Deakin Crick talks of the risk of students not getting their knowledge first hand but mediated through technology, pre-formatted, selected and edited-a world of virtual experience.Deakin Crick writes that, 'the less we work things out for ourselves the less we are required to get back in touch with the world we live in'... 'Increasingly we are losing our sense of where we we belong in the world'.

As well she says we are in danger of losing our capacity to make sense of that world. Old subject teaching approaches are outdated. Knowledge doesn't fit together in 'subjects' any more but the answer isn't leaving the 'fitting together' to the 'mercy of software developers'.

Survival she writes, 'requires not just information but know how; the ability to relate and harness information to identify and purpose what is known in new contexts. In the context of the New Zealand Curriculum to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge.' The emphasis is on each individual - the personalisation of learning.

Deakin Crick writes 'Who I am' is a function of 'what I know', why I learn? and 'how I can communicate it.' The 'know how' student's need in a world information is the 'ability to relate and harness information to identify and purpose what is known in new contexts'.

The implication of all this is that too many students are still taught to behave as passive recipients or consumers of education rather than developing the confidence to become active agents in their own learning. This is still the case not withstanding decades of educational reform. Schools are based on a conception of young people 'as dependent and incapable' of making up their own minds even in many so called child centred Junior classrooms. In such rooms the rel world of the children does not feature.

Deakin Crick writes that we cant go on for ever fragmenting knowledge or letting learning be dominated by technology. We need to focus on helping all students know who they are. We need to protect at all costs our learners sense of agency and identity.

To develop a personalised pedagogy we must 'attend to the person who is learning' and help then develop a positive narrative, or story, about their own lives.

To achieve this the challenge is for teachers to 'ensure the learner narrates a unique and personalised pathway through the curriculum in a manner that strengthens her identity and sense of self as a self learner as well as enabling her to acquire the knowledge and formal qualifications she needs.

It is about learning as a journey of 'participation and acquisition' unique to each learner.

Using the metaphor of a journey Deakin Crick outlines four stations in a learning journey:

1 The first is the learning self - the individuals own particular identity, gifts, relationship, stories and aspirations.
2 The second are the individuals personal qualities, values, attitudes and dispositions for learning( perhaps the 'key competencies').
3 The third is acquiring publicly assessed knowledge.
4 Fourth - is the achievement of publicly assessed competence.

The first two are personal and unique to the student and rests with them. They are all to do with the personal power to learn -sometimes called 'learning power'. It is these that are all too often bi-passed in the requirements to ensure students achieve imposed standards.

Deaken Crick outlines eight steps in a personalized learning journey ( inquiry learning steps). The learner begins the journey with his or her own experience or interests. This requires a movement away from pre-packaged or a teacher determined curriculum both of which predetermine what is taught but, at the same time, students need to acquire disciplined knowledge from the various learning areas.

The eight steps are are sequential but iterative starting from the initial interest and then moving, with teacher assistance, into an increasingly complex series of learning capabilities and depth of content.

1 First: Choosing and deciding. What is wanted is topic,question, or topic that fascinates the learner. Careful prompting by the teacher may be needed to ensure the personal interest is strong and authentic.

2 Second: Observing and describing. The students record observations or descriptions about their chosen item and their reasons for choosing it.

3 Third. Wondering/Interrogating. Students ask open questions about their chosen area of learning. This begins the process of inquiry and investigation. Present answers ( or 'prior ideas') may be recorded.

4 Fourth. Discovering/Storying
. the questioning leads to a sense of narrative around the chosen study and the unfolding of new learning. In this process the student is becoming the author of their own learning story or journey.

5 Fifth.Navigating/Mapping. The students begin to turn their 'ad hoc' learning into new concepts and knowledge. This is making meaning - expanding the students 'knowledge maps' and connecting with prior knowledge.

6 Spanning/Connecting. With informed guidance and support from the teacher, the students widening 'map' of of knowledge can be related to existing scientific, historical, mathematical knowledge.

7 Seventh: Interacting/Incorporating. Students arrive at the interface between their personal inquiry and the specialist requirements of the curriculum, course, or examination. The process allows the learner to encounter specialist knowledge in a way that makes sense to them.

8 Eighth and last. Reconciling/Validating. Students forge links between what they know and subject, course, or accrediting requirements. This may take the form of a portfolio, a presentation, exhibition, or a written essay, making explicit both processes and outcomes of the inquiry. By doing this a pathway is made between personal subjective knowledge and established knowledge. This is the time to reflect on what has been learnt, the process of gaining new learning, and about where it might lead to.

In this process the teachers 'scaffold' learning, thinking skills and capabilities, and assist with resources. The author of the article likens the 'journey process' to an archaeological dig as students gain layers of new meaning. Teachers act as tutors and mentors prompting , supporting, and reassuring when students run into difficulties( which are integral to the journey metaphor). All this done honouring the students responsibly for being in charge of their own learning.

Ultimately the competencies the students gain is as important as knowledge itself.


At the heart of such process are two core values: that of attending to the person who is learning as unique individual and that of empowering the individual to move towards the world they live in and to fulfil their particular potential.

This is a process of knowledge being co-constructed with the learners,demanding a wide range of competencies, with high levels of teamwork and feedback.The rewards are found in terms of personalisation, that is, a pedagogy which takes the person who is learning as seriously as the learning outcomes. It is anchored in personal interest rather than didactic intent.

Learning choice and agency of this sort, the author writes, requires three conditions:

1 The learner needs to know their own mind.
2 Learners need to be supported in their choices by people they trust and respect and who uphold their intentionality.
3 That choice making is understood as risk taking undertaken within a framework that feels safe.

Personalisation and inquiry learning requires a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. To undertake such a process a school would require, courageous leadership, respectful relationships, an ability to challenge traditional organisations and assessment practices, and an ability to live with uncertainty - an attribute required for any future learning.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the last two blogs - both with the same powerful message. I bet few schools have gone as far - particularly secondary schools!

Bruce said...

I know both the last two blogs were rather long but it was hard to write less. I thought the original articles important. I have a couple of quick ones in my mind for next time!

Anonymous said...

Well worth the read Bruce.It is the way into the future - but there will be a lot of roadblocks! Do we have the will and the leadership?

Anonymous said...

Finding all of your articles an absolute revelation and just what I was looking for to taking my teaching beyond the accepted methods.
Thoughts about publishing a book?
What about trying to turn a school around that is well entrenched in dinosaur thinking?
Cheers

Bruce said...

Thanks for the comments. It is always great when somemone responds. I had thought of selecting some blogs out to make a book in the future -which always keeps moving away!

Only thing that will fix a entrenched dinosaur is a meteor!

christine wells said...

I am just starting out along the PBL pathway and have enjoyed reading your blog. It has given me some food for thought on my journey.
Do you know if anyone is offering professional development on PBL in Auckland?
Christine Wells
Orewa College