I am assured that, even though the migration issue has STILL not been resolved, I can continue to post without worrying about losing anything. Just in case, I am keeping a backup…
At the end of the school year we had a PD session on inquiry based learning. This presentation (a 40 minute PowerPoint, by the way) was a reasonable overview, but covered little in the way of new ground. It described the idea of inquiry based learning from Socrates to the present. When I recently looked back at some of my notes, I found that for that session I had written only one thing:
Socrates = Border collie
Think about that for a minute.
Socratic questioning is a method of forcing the student to think through a problem, and can be a powerful tool. But it is really intended to lead the student to a specific outcome. It also establishes a hierarchy – the teacher who does the questioning, and the student who is forced to think towards a conclusion that is known to the teacher. In other words, it is shepherding, hence the canine analogy.
This shepherding process is not restricted to Socrates. I have seen many instances and examples of so-called “inquiry learning” that involve a specific desired outcome known in advance to the teacher, which requires periodic* intervention to ensure the student is on the right track. We might add this to the pseudo-ed lexicon and call it “pseudo-discovery”. It is not real discovery, not real inquiry, just following signposts.
True inquiry or discovery-based learning involves the student asking the questions, and following where those questions lead, while the teacher’s role is to provide the tools and guidance for how students can accomplish their goals, rather than what they should be accomplishing.
While true discovery learning can be powerful, it can also be tremendously time consuming, and difficult to implement if there are many specific curricular requirements that must be met. But when planning, be sure to avoid pseudo-discovery. Even the students who may struggle in a science course are smart enough to know they are being led, and thus need not put forth the effort on their own, and also know that the teacher is holding out on them – that she/he is withholding information rather than just telling them, which can weaken trust, and grow resentment.
So where am I going with this?
I’m not entirely sure, except to say that not everything is what it claims to be, and we have to stand back and think of all the angles and possible consequences before jumping in to something because someone said it was a good idea. I teach Science. Science is an inquiry and discovery process, so it makes sense that teaching science through inquiry and discovery would be a good idea. But like all things that seem like a good idea, further analysis is required.
*I used periodic in the lay sense, as in from time to time, not the scientific sense of regular intervals. I apologize in advance to anyone more pedantic than I who might object to this usage.