Heading photo credit: Marco Pezzoli, Path [Explored], available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license
Where I’ve been…
As I read through the wonderful blogs of my colleagues learning about Inquiry Learning, I come to realise how different my ‘starting point’ is from those I share this course with. My understanding of inquiry learning is based in the academic, and a world of learning outside of schools. I have only a small amount of experience teaching in schools (as a secondary History and Science teacher). The majority of my career has been spent teaching in cultural institutions; my current teaching and learning space is a State Library. I work in a team of teachers, I am a teacher, and we think a lot about the lives of teachers and students … but we are different. We develop and deliver curriculum-based learning programs for onsite delivery, online publication and delivery via virtual excursion. We teach students! But we are different. I feel most of my classmates must see students daily, develop relationships with them that extend months and years, and teach hour-upon-hour of every day, in the tradition way of a teacher. I see students when they are on their best behaviour, when (in theory) someone else is in charge of behaviour management, and in an environment that is stimulating and engaging if only through its “newness” (but hopefully also because of what they are learning!). After a few hours, I wave “my” students goodbye, never to see them again, and recover with a cup of tea. I am becoming keenly aware of this difference between us, classmates. I’m wondering how it will impact on my learning experience and on my contributions to this course, but I feel very excited to learn from you all.
What I know…
I know Inquiry Learning is based on a starting point of a question or problem, for which students seek out an answer through a spiral of questions and answers, which theoretically drives them deep into the initial question or problem. As the process proceeds, students should be dynamically self-assessing their learning. Inquiry Learning is student-led, personalised, and grounded in constructivist principles. The skills students acquire from the Inquiry Learning approach are life-long and include information literacy and critical thinking.
I come at Inquiry Learning largely through an information literacy approach – in my work and experience and current line of thinking, information literacy (which I would define in terms of finding information, effectively evaluating its strengths and weaknesses and knowing how to handle it in light of that evaluation, efficiently extracting knowledge from it, and generating a ‘take-off’ point from it, which leads you to the next piece of information along the Inquiry Learning road) is what I believe to be the real value of Inquiry Learning. Followed very closely by the importance of fostering a LOVE of learning.
What I wonder…
When I think of the concerns that classroom teachers cite regarding the amount of content they feel they need to teach and the little time they feel they have, I start to wonder about whether there is a disjoint between the ideal of Inquiry Learning, and the reality of the coalface.
And so I find myself spiralling through a thought process that looks a little like this:
And on and on I go – into questions about best-practice for students’ critical self-evaluation and how one walks the line between facilitating and leading (dragging?) when it comes to scaffolding? Or, alternatively, between stimulating and stifling? How can one be sure that Inquiry Learning is taking students beyond the surface and into a deeper level of thinking, understanding and meaning-making? Moreover, how, with so many different learning styles in a classroom and so many varying sets of existing knowledge, can one “model” ensure that ALL those students get the most out of Inquiry Learning?
Wrestling these thoughts into three questions is a difficult thing. What do I most want to know?
Here they are:
- What is the primary goal of Inquiry Learning, in terms of outcomes for students?
- How do the pressures on schools and teachers interact with the goals of Inquiry Learning?
- How is the effectiveness of Inquiry Learning measured?