Inquiry-based teaching

“The school needs to have more student-initiated inquiries than teacher-driven ones”, was the observation of the visiting team of IB experts who had come to study classroom practices in the school that I work with. Teacher training is an important part of my job description and is one of the aspects of teachers’ professional development that I have struggled with for the past couple of years. Coming from veterans in the field, persons whose work I have been following for a number of years, made me reflective and empathetic to see it from the lens of the teachers in the classroom who are trying, with varying degrees of success, to adapt to the inquiry-based approach of teaching-learning. 

Our perception of adults in general and teachers in particular, is that they ought to know better than children. As adults, we have experienced life more and therefore ought to have all the correct answers. So in our interactions with children, we assign ourselves the role of “answer provider”. Since there is only one “answer-provider” in a classroom, by implication there can only be one correct answer. Also then only some kind of inquiries can be raised, the ones that the “answer-provider” knows the answer to, and the rest are discarded and disdained as “silly” or “impertinent” or “irrelevant”, no matter how intelligent and relevant they are to the question-poser. 

Even when we do, there is little patience with or faith in the child to facilitate his search for the answer or construction of meaning. It is so much easier and acceptable to provide the answers to the child. Then there is the other element of student led enquiries – how does a teacher assess the work of the student when there is “multiple correct answers”? I will elaborate more on this topic in my next blog. 

Some of the difficulty in letting children initiate and take charge of their inquiries stems from our difficulty in accepting that the child is an individual today with his own perspective, and education should bring out more of his individuality. The urge is to mould him into our image of “a somebody”, so that he can be “that somebody” in the future – with complete disregard to “the somebody” that he is a today. 

Teachers trained and raised with such beliefs, therefore, find it very difficult to adapt to the inquiry-approach which celebrates “multiple correct answers” as the child directs his inquiry and charts the course of constructing meaning. Unlearning the teacher-taught methodology takes longer and is more difficult than learning how to help students generate and find their own answers to those inquiries. But the latter cannot happen without the former. 

So, to the teachers who are working to adopt the inquiry-based approach to teaching-learning and adapting yourselves for it, I commend your efforts.

Keep up the good work……it only gets better!!