I have been thinking over the past few weeks about Inquiry-based approaches to learning. In trying to get a hold of what it is, I have also been frequently faced with questions.
- Is it really anything new?
- Isn't this just a new 'fad' and 'buzz-word' that will be replaced by something else in a few years?
- Haven't I done inquiry before (we just didn't call it that)?
- Isn't most of inquiry just 'good teaching'?
I have also been talking to other people in the education world about it (lecturers, teachers, students, parents) and trying to get a sense of how they feel about it.
It seems to me that it's not really a 'new' approach to learning. In fact people like Dewy advocated for this type of approach to learning. So I think there is a danger in seeing it as something 'new' and potentially dismissing the multiple ways in which many classroom teachers are already using it in their classroom. Having said that, it does seem to provide an alternative to the highly structured and linear models of teaching that have remained dominant in many spheres within education.
Is it exciting? Absolutely. In my opinion, successful and inspiring teachers should be ones who do many of the things that Inquiry involves in their daily practices e.g. meaningful questioning, exploring, creating meaningful contexts for learning, allowing students to make linkages to the world around them and creating meaningful outcomes to their research. I have always believed that learning is a process not a means to an ends, and therefore an inquiry approach is very exciting. It is liberating as an almost-teacher to think that I can approach teaching in a non-linear way that is both student-centred and student-directed (while also maintaining guidance and support/scaffolding as a teacher).
I think that part of the problem with the taking up of this approach seems to be the 'label'. As soon as we label something in a new way, people make the assumption that it is something new. The cynic in me also starts to wonder whether it's just a short-term policy buzz-word, soon to be replaced by something bigger and better. I don't want inquiry to be 'sold' to me (and the monetary off-spins of Inquiry can't be denied). I want to embrace the concept as part of my teaching philosophy that will remain with me in the classroom right through my career. I don't really mind what it is called, and what particular model is used (in fact I think that ultimately we create new models to meet the changing needs of our students) - so long as I allow my students opportunities to learn in this way.