Teaching to inquire and (not vs) teaching through inquiry.

This post is adapted from one that originally appeared on: http://www.thirstforthinking.org

Education over the years has been rife with false dichotomies and good pedagogical ideas which have hardened into unhelpful dogmas. As a teacher who is committed to the goals of inquiry based education it is my fervent hope that inquiry based teaching does not fall into this pattern. This is a point Kath Murdoch has made on her excellent blog post (which was republished on this site) ‘Busting some myths about the inquiry cycle,’  when she stated,“I have seen slavish adherence to a cycle actually impede rather than enhance inquiry.”
As practitioners of inquiry based pedagogy it is important that we practice the open minded and critical thinking skills we believe are vital for our students to develop when assessing our own pedagogical practice and beliefs. This is particularly true when evaluating when is the best time to provide direct teaching so that students can acquire the skills and knowledge that they require in order to inquire effectively and when students need time to inquire independently in order to refine understanding and pose new problems. It is this movement (often many times during the course of a lesson) of the teacher between being an instructor,a facilitator an active observer or a critical friend that makes the inquiry classroom such a rich and complex learning environment.

It is vital that as teachers committed to producing students who will become empowered adults, we do not fall into the trap of thinking that any of these roles is ‘superior’ to another. It is even more important still that we do not fall into the dogmatic trap of viewing direct teaching as a inherently bad thing. As John Hattie has pointed out in his construction of Visible Learning from his meta-analysis of over 800 research papers; “ The model of visible teaching and learning combines, rather than contrasts, teacher-centered and student-centered learning and knowing.” (Visible Learning p26).
As with all teaching the pedagogical strategy is not the end in itself it is the tool to achieve the desired end. For us as inquiry based teachers this end is to develop individuals who have a rich range of knowledge, skills and understandings so they can encounter the unknown with confidence and enthusiasm. Adults who are not merely effective problem solvers but also insightful problem posers.
Teaching is both an art and a science and the most effective teachers are the ones who have the broadest paint palette and the largest tool box to use to create an effective learning environment. It is important that as inquiry based teachers we do not limit ourselves by dogma. Instead, like our students, we should be constantly excited by new knowledge and skills from across pedagogical traditions and ask how can we creatively use them to achieve the challenging goals we have for our students.

As the header to this site indicates true inquiry teaching is about asking really good questions about how we can best teach and being excited by the richness and complexity of the answers we find.

About derekpinchbeck

I am currently the Elementary Principal ISS International School Singapore. My website is www.thirstforthinking.org and twitter @DerekPinchbeck
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7 Responses to Teaching to inquire and (not vs) teaching through inquiry.

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. I couldn’t agree more.


  2. lsackerl says:

    HI; Thanks for this post. I have been thinking about ” direct teaching” and the notion of “front loading”
    It seems that direct teaching is at the point of need and front loading seems to be done without sufficient information about students interests and needs. Your thoughts?


    • The key point here is the centrality of effective assessment . If as a teacher you don’t know where the students are it is hard to intervene effectively to move them forward. Front Loading is clearly important in getting students deeper into an inquiry since the more you know about something the richer questions you are able to ask. However a lack of knowledge about what the students already know can make it irrelevant. Also the use of the word ‘front’ sometimes miss leads people into thinking that it is something that happens once and at the beginning of an inquiry rather than something that occurs strategically throughout an inquiry.


  3. Sue Alexander says:

    Great post! My “Middlins” have become so focused on answer finding that they are impatient with question making. Too often, they need direct instruction in how to ignite their own latent curiosity and fearlessness.


  4. kathmurdoch says:

    Thanks Derek for a good read (and for the mention 🙂 – One of the most important dispositions an inquiry teacher can bring to his/her work is that of mindfulness – enabling mindful, conscious selection of teaching strategies that support each learner in their journey towards deeper understanding. As you so rightly state, a healthy, varied tool kit that is not limited by dogma is just what’s needed for that task. Kath


  5. andy vasily says:

    Regardless of subject area, fostering an environment such as the one you describe above will no doubt increase the chances of producing students who will become empowered adults. I believe the key to success is consistency in our instructional approach across the curriculum to ensure we are guiding them in the right direction. I enjoyed this post Derek.


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