Friday, February 22, 2008

Developing an Inquiry Approach across the curriculum

Developing the school as a 'community of inquiry' is a theme running through the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

All learning is based on curiosity - a need to make personal meaning.It would be a great idea for schools to develop a inquiry approach across the curriculum that all teachers and students are able to articulate.

Not that there needs to be cut and tried approach ( all Learning Areas have their particular emphasis) but more that the spirit of inquiry should underpin all actions.

Some scientists prefer to call scientific thinking 'enlightened trial and error' - trying things out and keeping what works for 'next time'. Homer Simpson has the opposite point of view, 'Trying is just the first step towards failure'. In contrast basketballer Michael Jordan says, 'I've tried over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.' Effort, practice,'stick-ability', or perseverance, are all important attributes

The New Zealand Curriculum, states in it's section in the Thinking Key Competency, that students need to be seen as, 'active, seekers, users and creators of knowledge'. Learning is to be, 'constructed', driven by, 'intellectual curiosity', as the students are encouraged to ,'ask questions,and challenge the basis of their assumptions and perceptions'

Under the Managing Self competency it is stated that, students need to have a, 'can do' attitude, able to , 'establish personal goals, make plans, (and) manage projects.'

Under the English Learning Area it states that, students need to be able to, 'make meaning of ideas or information'; in the Arts area students are, 'to use their imagination to engage' in expressing their interpretations; in Mathematics, 'students are to develop the ability to think creativity, critically, strategically and logically' and to carry our procedures, 'flexibly and accurately to process and communicate information'; Science includes students, 'making observations and carrying out investigations'; while in the Social Sciences students are to: ask questions, gather information, explore and analyze, and reflect and evaluate their learning. Technology is about designing products' and states that it is better to do fewer things well in depth.

The inquiry emphasis is highlighted in the Effective Pedagogy section where teachers are asked to help their students in the ability to, 'assimilate new learning, relate it to what they already know ( their 'prior knowledge') and learn to think about their own thinking' ( 'meta cognition'). Effective teachers are to, 'stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover' by means of 'learning conversations'.

With all the above in mind it is a wonder that Inquiry Learning didn't have section of its own?

Essentially Inquiry learning follows the following process ( remembering learning is not a linear sequence and that new ideas can emerge at any stage that could alter the course of the learning.)

1 A question or challenge arises that requires action to explore.( At this early stage it is a good idea for students to express what they already know - their 'prior ideas').

2 Students sort out the key questions to research (as individuals or groups). Teachers need to gather relevant information and resources, and also to consider relevant experiences that might be useful to provide greater depth of understanding. Teachers need also to consider what 'big idea' they want their students to achieve from the study.)

3 Students to undertake observations, research possible answers to their question and to carry out activities and experiments that might offer them greater insight. Simple tests might need to set up

4 Students to draft ideas out and to then present them to others for critical evaluation.

If the essence of the inquiry approach is communicated to students at every appropriate time it will become ingrained and transferred from situation to situation. This is not to say some processes will be subject specific.

The essence of Inquiry Learning is to question everything and be open to new possibilities. A mind disciplined by inquiry considers all forms of evidence that validates new ideas and delivers deeper and more insightful understanding.


Anonymous said...

Developing an inquiry approach across the curriculum, to explore authentic learning contexts, is very much the spirit of the New Zealand Curriculum with its emphasis on seeing students as, active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Our 'new' syllabus provides schools with a great opportunity to be creative - the last thing we want is more of the same, or simply improving current ideas. Developing personalised learning ought to be the goal.

gregcarroll said...

What about an "immersion" stage in your Inquiry process Bruce? You need to know what you don't know (and want to know) before you can pose any useful questions for research.
What you describe is a research cycle - my experience is this has a tendency to put off junior teachers (in particular) as it is increasingly difficult as the bodies get smaller for children to pose meaningful questions without sufficient prior knowledge.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Fully agree Greg. Students do need entry experience(s) to give them opportunities to have their curiosity challenged. As they go deeper, and get exposed to more ideas, better and deeper questions will emerge. Howard Gardner makes this point in his latest book Five Minds for the Future. Without this 'immersion', as you suggest, shallow learning will result.