“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”
The end of a journey…
I began this journey into understanding inquiry learning at a time when I was also just beginning a career as an educator. I had very little prior knowledge on this topic and my lack of experience left me sceptical as to the relevance of inquiry learning for primary school students. I was under the impression that inquiry learning was limited to a narrow definition of a student-centred research which expected students to direct a transformative inquiry in order to participate in social change. This limited definition left me pondering how we could reasonably request students at a primary school age to engage in such a complex task, and it is this narrow approach which guided the three questions I had posed in my initial reflection. My learning journey has provided me with a greater knowledge and understanding of the broad range of inquiry learning perspectives, and I feel that I am now able to respond to my own initial concerns.
- How can an inquiry learning unit be implemented for younger students?
- Are there different levels or frameworks of inquiry learning for different ages and abilities?
As I have already remarked, my journey has led me to understand and appreciate the breadth and depth of inquiry learning and as such I feel that the answer to these questions is one and the same. My experience in supporting an ILA with a group of Year 4 students, and my subsequent involvement in other groups engaged in inquiry learning has developed an understanding of how best to scaffold and direct inquiry learning based on the individual needs, skills and experience of the students. Whilst an inquiry learning unit may be designed differently for a Year 3 class as opposed to a Year 12 class, the essential skills and models of inquiry can be equally applied to both groups.
- Is inquiry learning in conflict with, or does it enhance the learning objectives of the national curriculum?
This question was posed at a time when both inquiry learning and the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2013) were new experiences for me. I have since been involved in both designing a unit of work based on the recommendations of the curriculum and in a number of inquiry learning activities. I understand that applying an inquiry learning activity does not fit all strands and learning objectives of the curriculum, and students learning should not always be solely based on inquiry. What I have begun to understand is how critical the professional experience of the educator is in designing any learning experiences, which will always been done in consideration of both the skills, needs and interests of the students and the learning objectives.
So the answer to this can be very simple yet still complex. Inquiry learning does enhance the learning objectives of the Australian Curriculum where it is suitable and there are times when inquiry learning does not enhance the learning objectives of the curriculum. Essentially this is a point in which the educator, in collaboration with their peers will determine the best method for achieving the learning goal. My journey has led me to appreciate that a well-designed inquiry learning activity supported in collaboration with the Teacher Librarian can enhance a learning experience and guide the students to engage in critical and higher order thinking.
The journey continues…
My travels in the Learning Nexus unit have offered me opportunities to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of inquiry learning. From the beginning I was initially sceptical of applying these activities to primary school students, and now I am a fervent advocator of this process. I have discovered the breadth and complexity of inquiry learning and how this can be scaffolded and designed based on the student needs. I have been introduced to a framework of ideas to support inquiry learning, and have had the opportunity to assess a number of models. I believe that in combining aspects of both Kulthau’s ISP (2004, p.82) and Brunner’s Inquiry Process Model (2012), and introducing these across the school, I will assist students in developing their skills in these processes. Inquiry learning guides students to actively engage in the development of knowledge through the enhancement of critical and higher order thinking, and promotes collaborative and independent skills in research, analysis and application of information.
This final post does not complete my journey of discovery into inquiry learning. In fact it is really only the beginning. As I take the knowledge I have gained, I will continue to develop and practice my professional understanding of the ways in which inquiry learning can enhance the educational experience for students. Inquiry learning activities provide an opportunity to promote the values of life-long learning within the school community and develop the essential skills our 21st century students require for successful participation in a rapidly changing technological future.
I am looking forward to the future with confidence to support students in their paths of discovery whilst continuing my own learning journey.
ACARA. (2013). The Australian Curriculum v5.1. Retrieved September 29th, 2013 from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/
Brunner, C. (2012). The Inquiry Process. [model] From How to: Inquiry. Morino Institute Education Development Centre: Alexandria, VA. Retrieved August 28th, 2013 from http://www.youthlearn.org/learning/planning/lesson-planning/how-inquiry/how-inquiry
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd Ed. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.