The first 2 words that come to mind when I hear ‘Inquiry Based Learning’, are – Active and Learning, an approach which has been existent in modern teaching societies for the past 15 to 20 years. Yet, though the term has existed for so long, the question remains – How much has this been used? and if it has been used – How much positive or for that matter negative affect has this practice delivered to our teaching methods?
Let’s start by analysing what is Active Learning. Wikipedia states that, ‘ Active learning is a model of instruction that focuses the responsibility of learning on learners.’ This site goes on to define that, ‘ It was popularized in the 1990s by its appearance on the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) report (Bonwell & Eison 1991). In this report they discuss a variety of methodologies for promoting “active learning”. They cite literature which indicates that to learn, students must do more than just listen: They must read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems. It relates to the three learning domains referred to as knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA), and that this taxonomy of learning behaviours can be thought of as “the goals of the learning process” (Bloom, 1956). In particular, students must engage in such higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Active learning engages students in two aspects – doing things and thinking about the things they are doing (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).’
Now, what is ‘Inquiry Based Learning’? Using the same source of information – Wikipedia states that, ‘Inquiry-based learning (also enquiry-based learning in British English) starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios—rather than simply presenting established facts or portraying a smooth path to knowledge. The process is often assisted by a facilitator. Inquirers will identify and research issues and questions to develop their knowledge or solutions. Inquiry-based learning includes problem-based learning, and is generally used in small scale investigations and projects, as well as research. The inquiry-based instruction is principally very closely related to the thinking and its development.‘
Both include very similar practices which focus mainly on the student learning through experiences or experience of particular situations. In both cases the presence of a facilitator more than a teacher is suggested. A teacher gives information, while a facilitator will guide the student to find out the bet possible way of how to find, gather and use information to solve a given situation/problem. Thus both rely on the thinking process involved and its development into an eventual solution.
The main subject that I teach is Academic English. This is a perfect example of how one can employ Inquiry Based Learning. A language, any language cannot be learnt if the practice of said language is an integral part of each and every lesson. This can be done both on a one-to-one basis but can have the most effect when employed with small groups of 3 to 6 students.
One particular example is a content comprehension lesson. The students are given a picture. In groups they come up with the possibilities that this picture might be suggestions. After this short exercise, the students are given a set of words which would serve to enhance or direct their understanding of what the picture- thus the topic is about. A discussion will ensue with this material in mind, material that the students have come up with themselves. The passage is then given to the students and read. A further discussion would ensue and the students would realise how much they had understood prior to reading the actual passage from single words and visuals. At this point the students would have shared previously learnt knowledge with each other, thus the learning process commenced much before the actual material had been given to them. The learning would continue through other group activities such as using words in the passage into alternate sentences etc.
But can this approach be practised across all subjects? In most subjects active learning is essential. In others active learning/inquiry based learning is a process which can be employed on various levels. One can say that the inquiry based learning approach is a teaching methodology that involves various planning skills based on the subject matter. These skills vary according to subject. In some more skill is needed to find the right form of approach, while in others the planning might be somewhat less. Though at the end it is definite that students learn to apply more what is accumulated during an inquiry based learning approach lesson.