Saturday, June 30, 2007

Inquiry or Project Learning advantages

Students in this year 7/8 class research life in another country as part of a project to raise money to provide aid. This is part of PowerPoint presentation of their project.

For over a 100 years educators such as John Dewey have written about the benefits of experimental, experiential, hands on,student-directed learning. 'Doing projects' has a long history.

Junior school teachers, who believe in inquiry learning, see such investigations as the source of 'intellectual energy' in their classrooms. In many classrooms however is is relegated to light relief after the heavy work of literacy and numeracy has been completed.

Two developments have made Project Based Learning (PBL) more relevant the past decades are the revolution in understanding how students learn as they 'construct' their own understandings and the shift from an conformist industrial culture to an information age demanding greater innovation and creativity.

The future will demand of students new 'key competencies' if they are to take responsibility for their own ever evolving careers in a unpredictable changing world.

Schools will have to change dramatically if they to assist their students develop the talents and competencies to thrive. Inquiry based learning provides the means to actively engage students to develop knowledge and skills through extended inquiry processes structured around complex authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks. Some call such tasks 'rich topics','fertile questions' or 'hook' questions.

Creating effective products is important. Inquiry without real 'products', or content, is learning at risk; doing and creating something are part of the same process.

Outstanding inquiry projects;

1 Recognise students inherent drive to learn ( to construct meaning), their capability to do important work, and their need to be taken seriously by putting them at the centre of the learning process.

2 Are central to the school curriculum not an 'add on'. Such learning provides an realistic context to apply literacy and numeracy skills.

3 Highlight provocative issues, or questions, that lead students into in depth explorations of important topics, or 'big ideas'.

4 Require students to develop competence in essential tools and skills, including technology, self and project management ( NZ Curriculum's 'key competencies')

5 Result in 'products' that solve problems, or present information generated through students investigations, research and creativity.

6 Allow teachers to interact to provide feedback and support to ensure students develop in depth learning.

7 Use performance based assessment that communicates high expectations, rigorous challenges requiring an integrated use of a range of higher order thinking, communication skills, and complex planning and process procedures

8 Encourages collaboration between students, in some form, through group tasks and class presentations.

9 Naturally integrates learning areas
and, in secondary schools, involve teams of teachers to working together to assist their students learn.

Such learning is a far cry from earlier 'project learning' that, in many cases, resulted in little learning of real quality. Even today there are teachers who seem to believe that 'the process' is more important than 'the product'. The emphasis ought to be on creating quality products ( or knowledge) through quality process, not either or.

To be successful teachers and students will have to master the behaviours and strategies necessary for students to achieve quality learning but if they do there are important benefits.

Such an approach to learning:

1 Overcomes the dichotomy between thinking and knowledge. Students need to both do and know. Some see learning as a 'verb' best seen through student 'performitivity' or actions.

2 Supports the learning of a range of skills and competences in realistic settings

3 Develops the 'habits of mind' associated with lifelong learning.

4 Integrates curriculum areas, thematic instruction, teacher expertise and relevant issues.

5 Enables students' learning ( of both knowledge and skills) to be assessed using criteria similar to those used in real world team project learning which values accountability, goal setting, and improved performance.

6 Develops positive and collaborative relationships between students and teachers

7 Provides opportunities to meet the needs of students with varying skill levels, learning styles and particular talents. Personalised learning.

8 Has the potential to engage and motivate bored learners
- and jaded teachers.

For teachers who involve themselves in inquiry, or project based, learning it is an opportunity to create engaging classrooms to support self directed learning.For teachers in secondary schools it is an opportunity to work with other teachers to share the joys and challenges of teaching.

When implemented properly it has the potential to transform a school and to develop an education system which faces the challenges of the future. There are plenty of schools that are well on the way on this learning journey.

It will not be easy, particularly for 'subject constrained' secondary schools, but it will be worth it.


Anonymous said...

Making inquiry the central feature of learning is the key to the 21stC .

Unfortunately too many primary teachers seem sidetracked into spending most of their energy on literacy and numeracy to make the time.

Secondary schools are just too structured and compartmentalised to begin to start - they are ideally equiped to deliver a 19th Century education.

Big changes in 'mindsets' will be needed at both levels!

Bruce said...

I fear you you're right but there are innovative teachers in both areas doing their best. Teachers are a fairly conservative lot!

RhetorRick said...

You are exactly right. Here in the US colleges are beginning to see the value of inquiry- and project-based learning communities. It is not catching on fast enough, though.

Keep up the good work!

Bruce said...

Thanks Rick -enjoyed reading your blog.

Most of the writing on inquiry based learning is coming from the US it seems. The problem is making it central to learning -and this is particularly hard in schools with compartmentalised programmes.

Innovative primary ( elementary ) teachers in NZ have a long history of inquiry learning but they have never been in the majority.