In Ontario at present, “inquiry learning” or “problem-based learning” (including “play-based learning”) is widely advocated. However, while many proponents of the approach maintain that all the questions guiding inquiry should come from the students, I (Clive) beg to differ. Although generally in agreement with the approach, I think a balance is needed: teachers should pose questions too.
For example, the students in the course Reflective Professional Development I am teaching this term seem to love the questions we are pursuing; e.g., how much do teachers learn informally, how can informal learning be enhanced, how can formal PD be more effective? I don’t have to push the students at all – in small groups, whole-class discussion, and individual writing they go to work on the questions in quite a refreshing way. However, many of the questions we discuss came from me: they are inherent in the structure of the course and the readings I recommend.
So there has to be a balance. The classroom should be a setting for co-learning or “co-constructivist” learning. Teachers should suggest many of the questions, but also do the following:
- Let a question go if there is no “uptake” from the students
- Respect the additional questions and sub-questions students raise
- Allow the students a lot of air-time so they can identify questions and express their views about them
- Encourage the students to pursue their own questions in their assignments
Over time, with this approach, we will get a better sense of which questions are interesting and fruitful, and which ones we should pose next time we teach the course, while again looking for new questions from the students.
One of the greatest joys of my (Cathy’s) job is observing student teachers in their teaching practicums. In my next few blogs I will be happily sharing some of the highlights from these visits.
Yesterday I was observing a student teacher instruct a grade six science class exploring electrical currents. The student teacher wisely arranged his students into collegial groups and then gave each group a paper bag full of various parts (batteries, wires, light bulbs, switches etc.). The students were expected to find a way to put the put the parts together that would create an electrical current, hence lighting up the light bulb. It was fascinating watching the students trouble shoot their way through the process. They were so engaged. I was proud of the student teacher for setting up the investigation so well. Suddenly there was a squeal from the corner group. One of the boys was holding up a lit light bulb. His smile was brighter than the bulb. “What did you do?” I asked him. He was silent for a few seconds, staring in amazement at the lit bulb. Then he said, “I have no idea.” Everyone laughed. The process of deduction then began as the group tried to figure out why it worked. And next week I get to observe completely different classes, making entirely new discoveries. Lucky me.