Discovery and Inquiry
Last week I was introduced to the idea of encouraging discovery rather than instruction in terms of the way that content is delivered.
You see, back when I was at school, the teacher was the fount of knowledge and learning took place by listening then doing. This is largely because the sources of information were bound between covers of encyclopaedia, and was largely inaccessible for the entire class to access at the same time. For whatever reason, when I fall back to my ‘default’ teaching style, I resort to instructing and then allowing students to do as instructed.
But these days, when the source of knowledge is readily available on a multitude of devices, and accessible these days by all students through out the school day, the idea of enabling students to discover the lesson content completely changed my role as the teacher.
Instead of talking, instructing, modelling, I’m needed more as a guide, to question, to enable, to give students the tools to find out for themselves, and to provide the support and opportunity for this to happen.
Lots has been made of the inquiry model of learning, where students have a big question and dig deeper into it through a variety of sources to gain a better understanding of the topic raised by that question.
This model works well when students are able to define the question that they actually need in order to find out what they want to find out.
However, not every student is able to do this, especially at primary school.
In addition to this, if we were to launch an “inquiry” into something, it raises certain connotations with criminal activities and sinister behaviour. For example; “There’s going to be an inquiry into the Charter Schools.”
Discovery, however, has with it a sense of adventure. There’s an excitement of the unknown and the journey to find out more. It takes a student from not knowing, to thinking, finding, expressing, processing, collating, and combining information for themselves to gain an understanding of that unknown.
An example I am using this week has come about while I was thinking what students will need to know to complete some science based experiments. One of the key ideas around these experiments is testing and looking at constants and different variables. Knowing my class (as much as one can after 4 weeks), I suspect that most students will have little or no understanding of the terms “constant” and “variable”.
Now, I could just tell the kids what they are. I could get the dictionary and then get students to write down the definition of both terms.
But how much more active would the students be in this type of activity of they worked with a buddy (which as Year 5 and 6 students they need to given the neurological changes going on for them behind the scenes) to look up two different definitions of the terms, and construct their own definition of “constant” and “variable”?
For one, they get to explore. They get to engage with the learning on a new level. They get to do the learning themselves. And in the long run, because of the hands on experience, might retain the information, as well as learn research and information finding skills that will help them in the future.