“We will never be able to help children learn if we tell them everything they need to know. Rather, we must provide them with opportunities to explore, inquire and discover new learnings.” So goes a statement of a science teacher.
The core of inquiry is a spontaneous and self-directed exploration. Textbook-dictated procedures do not allow an active probe into the unknown. Curiosity, special interests, and instant queries among the young demand immediate answers. Only an instant and direct search for evidence would suffice even momentarily, otherwise frustrations and passivity come in. The inquiry approach, sometimes termed “discovery,” “heuristic” and “problem-solving“, is defined simply as a teaching method that is “modeled after the investigative processes of scientists.” It puts a premium on obtaining information through direct experiences. Some authors use the terms inquiry and discovery approach interchangeably Both require the use of investigative processes.
When children are learning by interacting with their environment, they are said to be inquiring. They are asking about something, doing something to obtain information and processing that information. As more and more substantiations unravel they compare, classify, analyze and evaluate collected observations. Depending on ‘the weight and relevance of the evidence, they formulate their own conclusions.
The teachers using this approach are aware of the following commonly observed characteristics:
- Investigative processes such as inferring, measuring, predicting, classifying, analyzing and experimenting, formulating conclusions and generalizations are employed.
- The procedure in gathering information is not prescribed by the teachers. The students are treated as independent learners. They formulate their own hypothesis and suggest ways of testing them.
- The children are highly motivated to search, hence active participation is the best indicator of inquisitiveness.
- The answers arrived at are genuine products of their own efforts. Then they experience the “thrill of discovery” which is oftentimes missed in passive reception of information from their teachers. This learning outcome is the best reward and guarantee of lasting impact on the young.
- Focused questions before, during and after are critical ingredients that provide direction and sustain action.
Outcomes of Inquiry Teaching
- Because of its emphasis on the processes of gathering and processing of information, teachers are likely to doubt whether they are gaining a clear understanding of the content being introduced. Teachers must keep in mind that their act of facilitating satisfies innate ‘curiosity which can serve as the initial step towards a more consistent employment of the basic inquiry methods of gathering information.
- Its dependence on the first-hand experience with objects and phenomena occurring in the environment is certainly in agreement with the most often cited theory of Piaget on intellectual development. At the concrete stage, Children learn best by manipulating and closely examining real objects. Hence, instructional materials must be carefully selected and planned for a meaningful quest and not a hit-or-miss routine.
- The inquiry approach which predominantly allows some degree of freedom develops initiative and divergent thinking. Children resent being restricted both in movement and in forming their own ideas. They love to try their own ways of doing things. This approach affords them a good chance to pursue their own learning methodologies and in the long run, build on their own le ruing styles.
- A deep sense of responsibility is developed when children are left to manage their own learning, be it in pursuit of answers, mastery of content or simply solving a problem that confronts them instantly. Experience gained from independent inquiries makes them realize the benefits derived from self-managed learning.
- Educators strongly believe that facts and concepts that children discover by themselves become stored as part of their permanent learning. Such facts are organized and associated with big generalizations or prevailing ideas and so their immediate recall is easily guided when the need for such information arises. This easy retrieval of past learning is different from memorized bits of subject matter in that they spend their time and effort to learn the former and, more important, it is their own. It is most likely to be remembered for a long time.
- Experiencing success in discovery lessons builds up the children’s feeling of confidence. As a result, he would want to do more and to discover more. This is the kind of drive needed to keep the wheels of the learning process turning. This kind of push is inner-directed.
- Participation in inquiry activities strengthens one’s intellectual capabilities. One who learns how to investigate and discover new information would definitely be in a better position to reason, either by deduction, conducting similar investigations or by extending inquiries to all possible resources, compared to those who miss the chance of even attempting to learn things by themselves, through no fault of their own but due to the teacher’s insistence on more passive and rote learning styles.
How to Facilitate Inquiry Teaching
- Arrange for an ideal room setting. After planning the learning activity for the day, structure the room in such a way that will allow freedom of movement. Chairs lined in a semi-circular manner is conducive to clear viewing and easy transfers around the area.
- Choose tools and equipment that can easily be manipulated.
- The materials to be used or examined must lend easily to the processes to be employed and the end product desired.
- The questions/problems to be answered should originate from them, followed by the formulation of hypothesis.
- The .procedure should likewise be planned by them. They may be given a choice of a variety of data-gathering measures such as actual observations, setting up experiments, taking a field trip or collecting specimens, and not a monopoly of the usual rigid indoor tryouts and cookbook procedure.
- At the completion of the activity, require an evaluation of the steps ‘undertaken as to its effectiveness and the clarity of the results. A feeling of confidence is enhanced from the realization of the day’s accomplishments. The evaluation record can serve as feedback for future investigations.
- Above all, the teacher herself should internalize her changed role to that of a guide, facilitator and counselor rather than the traditional authority who not only, determines the material to be learned but also dictates how it should be learned.