I have spent the past couple of days learning about Dr Ruby Payne’s Framework for Understanding Poverty with a cluster of South Auckland Primary Schools. I have never been to a course that has seemed more credible to the teachers in the audience. Everyone seemed to have gone home on the first night and taught what they had learned to partners, flatmates, children and the dog. Cynical and change weary teachers were so captured by the practical strategies and insight offered that they were even buzzing about what they were planning to implement on Monday as they queued to get a pay and display ticket in the Telstra Clear Centre car park on the second day.
I am still thinking about the workshop and the recent critique of Payne’s work. But I enjoyed the overview she provided of the research background to the Feuerstein mediation approach used in the interventions, and the concerns raised over constructivist approaches. - “part of the ability to be educated is the ability to have shared understanding … it is not enough to make meaning in your own head, …it is important to be able to communicate in a way other people can understand.”
I found it refreshing to hear an alternative and reasoned critique of an approach strongly valorised in New Zealand. Schools see inquiry as an alternative to didactic instructional approaches; as a substitute for approaches that teach and test for inert knowledge.
When I ask teachers “Why inquiry?” many suggest that in adopting inquiry based learning, the pedagogy of student centered exploration will (in some ill defined way) introduce an “authenticity” to the “sequestered/isolated in some age sorted institutional space for 6 hours a day” classroom experience.
Teachers claim that the inquiry classroom will,
- Rescue us from the dislocation between classroom learning and real life learning.
- Disconnect us from “learning for the test and then forgetting learning”, and reconnect us with motivated for real life learning.
- Protect us from “Formica Learning” – the learning that results in a veneer of inert knowledge that coexists alongside deeper naïve beliefs.
They never stop to ask if inquiry is a wag the dog pedagogy, they never ask if we have misidentified what "matters most" and what "matters least" in learning, and they never ask about face validity versus construct validity wrt learning
Do students who experience inquiry based learning environments have an understanding that is deeper, more integrated, more coherent and at a higher level of abstraction than students who learn in “one size fits all” environments?
I’ve noted before that schools looking for research evidence on the efficacy of an inquiry based pedagogical intervention are poorly served by the research literature. There is an evaluative reliance upon anecdotal reactions to inquiry based pedagogical interventions. Too often the research methodology and sample sizes used means much of it is not repeatable, or able to be generalised to other settings. We have only superficial accounts of what was done, or anecdotal reporting on participants initial enjoyment of the inquiry based learning experience, the “I have never been so excited about my teaching” and “my brain was stretched” teacher and student responses.
More worrying is a growing suspicion that pedagogies of “inquiry” can all too easily create inert content knowledge, the very outcomes the pedagogies are adopted to prevent.
And even more worrying to schools heavily committed to inquiry is a recent research paper by Clark, Kirschner and Sweller. Titled "Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching" Their arguments that inquiry learning approaches,
…ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half century that consistently indicate that minimally-guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. (Kirschner et al (2006).
interest me and need to be carefully critiqued in New Zealand schools.