Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Inquiry Learning and Teaching as Inquiry

Many years ago I was involved with a class that studied a local redoubt built by British troops during the land wars in Taranaki. This was motivated by visiting a archaeological dig on the site of the redoubt and led into researching the redoubt and the exciting life of Pakeha Maori Kimbel Bent. A real example of student inquiry.

There seems some confusion about 'inquiry learning' and 'teaching as inquiry'.Both are included in the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

Teaching as Inquiry is where teachers inquire into their own practice to improve the quality of their teaching so as to benefit their students.

Teaching as Inquiry is to be seen as an ongoing process and is based on reflecting on evidence of success or otherwise of the teachers teaching. The model is outlined in the New Zealand Curriculum.

Teachers need to consider what issues are important and worth focusing their time on. This could well arise through self appraisal or a school review against agreed teaching teaching beliefs or practices. Or it might arise from a new idea read about or observed elsewhere.

Teachers then set up an an Inquiry or Action Plan to investigate the chosen practice. They then act as students to 'seek, use, and create their own knowledge'. This means trying out the ideas in their class for a suitable time to gain evidence of success.

When appropriate teachers then reflect on what happened, why it happened, and what might happen next? Ideas could then be shared with other teachers and, with school agreement, be included in the schools approach to teaching and learning.

Teaching as Inquiry is an ongoing evolutionary way of improving teaching. Teachers, along with their students, are becoming involved in continually extending their knowledge base.

Inquiry Learning is a process where students 'construct' their own learning ( with their teachers guidance) in an authentic context. As such it is a form of student Action Learning, Problem Based Learning, Inter Disciplinary Learning, or Project Learning. Such approaches are not new but all too often are done superficially resulting in shallow learning. Unless students are equipped with all the necessary skills to undertake such learning they are not worth undertaking. Ideally the literacy and numeracy times need to 're framed' so as to contribute both skills and content.

In classrooms that follow such an approach ( and they are not all that common) inquiry is the central feature of the day programme.

A class inquiry requires examining a real issue and naturally integrates a number of learning areas - topics however will mainly come from science, technology or social sciences but starting points can arise from any area.

Whatever is chosen must be studied in depth and result in clearly identified outcomes.The best models for inquiry learning is seen in exhibits for science,maths or technology fairs, and such learning ought to be year long feature in classrooms as well. The classroom walls would reflect current inquiry topics - students' questions, the tasks, the findings, and associated expressive work.

Obviously what is chosen could also be part of a Teaching as Inquiry task as well.

Teachers need to negotiate a compelling topic or challenge and with students consider what quality outcomes might result from the study. It is good advice to do 'fewer things well' so as to develop both in depth understanding of chosen content as well as research and inquiry skills ( and this ought to involve using the literacy and numeracy blocks to develop).

Once the topic is chosen then students' question (and their 'prior ideas' ) need to be identified. Then students need to undertake research their questions, undertake experiments, activities; for this this they will need adequate resources and equipment.

After the learning activities are complete students need to plan for a culminating event, display , or exhibition.

Evaluation of learning is covered throughout the process as teachers and learners interact. At the conclusion of the study students need to evaluate the success of their work and what needs to be learnt to use in their next study.

The best assessment of inquiry learning is when students undertake an independent study . This is best done in Term Four after students have been introduced to the various skills in previous studies and through the literacy block. Such an individual study will point out how well students have used inquiry and communication skills and, for the teacher, what areas students need to focus on for the next study.

A number of inquiry model are included under the various Learning but all cover the same basis process.

Teaching as Inquiry and student Inquiry learning ought to be the main features of a modern classroom.


Anonymous said...

It would be great if schools were to place student inquiry central, as you write, but it seems to me schools are just too conservative and lack the kind of creative leaderhip to ever do so.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I undestand what you say but it is very hard to go against current expectations - particularly as National Stndards in literacy and numeracy are taking up teachers attention.

Anonymous said...

I think teaching as Inquiry can never be underestimated - perhaps if the National Standards people did this they would see the negative impact national standards will have on learning, student engagement and how students might perceive teachers recognise or do not recognise their real strengths.

I believe engagement is the key to learning through a passionate teacher learning and facilitating learning through an Inquiry approach along side the students, always constantly inquiring into their own teaching practice. The review tools(Put out by the ministry) really bring it back to student outcomes - perhaps if teachers inquire into their practise and schools inquire into some of the extras they do, in terms of student engagement and authentic learning, we could make even more progress with learning.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Couldn't agree more anon