What are the main concerns of teachers regarding Inquiry Learning, and how do these concerns impact on the implementation of Inquiry Learning in the classroom?
As I look towards becoming a teacher librarian I feel that understanding teachers’ concerns about inquiry learning is crucial to my future professional success. By understanding the hesitations teachers may have engaging with this pedagogy, and the impact of these concerns on its implementation in the classroom, I will be better placed to support and encourage teachers. The main challenges teachers face in implementing inquiry learning in the classroom can be attributed to four broad areas: limited resources, readiness, a lack of support and perceptions regarding student needs.
Gutierez (2005, p. 125) and Blanchard, Osborne, Wallwork and Harris (2013, p. 40) both cite a shortage of time and materials as one of the biggest constraints to teaching through inquiry. However, the shortage of time, specifically, appears consistently across the research studied. Time pressures relate to the lifespan of inquiry learning projects with Gutierez (2015, p. 127) , Michell and Spence (2009, para 17) and English (203, p. 30) all reporting on teachers’ concerns that inquiry learning takes “too much time”. Time pressures felt by teachers in response to inquiry learning relate also to the time required for preparation. English (2013, p. 28) makes the argument that inquiry learning is often foreign to teachers, because it is very different to how they learnt, and Trautmann, MaKinster and Avery (2004, p. 2) observe that teachers teach in a way in which they are familiar. Therefore it can be argued that comfort with inquiry learning requires significant preparation time for teachers to overcome habits of teaching.
Teacher’s comfort with, or “readiness” for, inquiry learning is essential to its successful implementation in the classroom. Blanchard et. al. (2013, p. 40) found that comfort with inquiry learning was the single most important predictor of whether a teacher would use this pedagogy in the classroom. Whilst one of the most significant factors impacting on teacher “readiness”, or comfort, with inquiry learning is preparation, this preparation relates specifically to the inquiry learning process, and not a teacher’s preparation to teach the content of the subject itself. According to Blachard et. al.’s findings (2013, p. 40), as a teacher’s passion for and knowledge of a subject increases, the likeliness that they would implement inquiry learning in the classroom for that subject decreases.
Compounding this problem is, the lack of support that teachers may feel for this learning method among their fellow teachers. Articles such as those appearing in The Age by O’Farrell (2013) alert us to the existence of teachers who feel a resistance to the movement towards inquiry learning. This attitude is also evident in academic circles, with Krahenbuhl (2016, p. 97) challenging the merits of constructivism (the underlying principle of inquiry learning). Teachers are also challenged by what they see as a lack of support for inquiry learning reflected in the proliferation of standardised testing. Gutierez (2015, p. 126), English (2015, p. 29), Trautmann et. al. (2004, p. 2 &6) and Blanchard et, al. (2013, p. 40) all found that teachers felt significant pressure to prepare students for examinations due to a focus from schools, parents and administrators on test results. Consequently, teachers report feeling compelled to cover content ‘efficiently’ through direct instruction, perceiving the requirement for students’ success in exams to be at odds with inquiry learning.
The last major challenge to inquiry learning is teachers’ perceptions of student’s needs and abilities. There is a prevailing attitude amongst the teachers studied by Gutierez (2015, p. 127) and Blanchard et. al. (2013, p. 41) that inquiry learning is for “high achieving” students. Edeslon, Gordin & Pea (1999), in writing about what was required in order for inquiry learning to be successful in the classroom, focused almost exclusively on the demands on students that inquiry learning posed, including the need for them to master techniques of research, have strong background knowledge and self-discipline, and be very motivated. Trautmann et. al.point to teachers’ concerns that students would not be able to cope with the higher demands of inquiry learning, that students expect more “structure and guidance”, and the argument that students need more time with the basics (2004, p. 9).
These four main areas of concern will need to be addressed in my work as a teacher librarian helping teachers implement inquiry learning.
Blanchard, M. R., Osborne, J.W., Wallwork, C. & Harris, E.S. (2013). Progress on Implementing Inquiry in North Carolina: Nearly 1, 000 Elementary, Middle and high School Science Teachers Weigh In. Science Educator, 22(1), 37-47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/openview/52374e43a158b87d7c6ac59378234f66/1?pq-origsite=gscholar
Edelson, D.C., Gordin, D.N. & Pea, R.D. (1999). Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning Through Technology and Curriculum Design. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8(3&4), 391-450. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10508406.1999.9672075
English, M.C. (2013). The role of newly prepared PBL teachers’ motivational beliefs and perceptions of school conditions in their project based learning implementation (Doctoral dissertation). Available from Dissertation Abstracts International. DAI-A 74/09(E)
Gutierez, S. B. (2015). Collaborative professional learning through lesson study: Identifying the challenges of inquiry-based teaching. Issues in Educational Research, 25(2), 118-134. Retrieved from http://www.iier.org.au/iier25/gutierez.pdf
Krahenbuhl, K.S. (2016). Student-centered Education and Constructivism: Challenges, Concerns, and Clarity for Teachers. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies Issues and Ideas 89(3), 97-105. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/vtch20/89/3?nav=tocList
Michell, P. & Spence, S. (2009). Inquiry into Guided Inquiry. Retrieved September 10, 2016, from http://www.asla.org.au/publications/access/access-commentaries/guided-inquiry.aspx
O’Farrell, J. (2013, December 21). Why our schools are failing your children: a teacher tells. The Age. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/newsstore/
Trautmann, N., MaKinster, J. & Avery, L. (2004, April). What makes inquiry so hard? (and why is it worth it?). Paper presented at the NARST 2004 Annual Meeting. Retrieved from http://ei.cornell.edu/pubs/NARST_04_CSIP.pdf