For the last couple of decades I have taught almost entirely in a style called inquiry-based instruction. In inquiry-based instruction the teacher does not dispense knowledge as a sage-on-the-stage to eager note-takers, as so many teachers used to do forty or fifty years ago.
Rather, the teacher begins by posing a question and then facilitates a learning environment in which students pursue their own answers or perspectives through thought, research, and experimentation. Inquiry-based or discovery learning is very common now in the United States and the most common pedagogy in teaching credential programs regardless of subject.
Inquiry begins with a question but not just any question. A good inquiry question does not have as its answer a simple fact retrieved from memory, an older sibling, or an almanac, like “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?”
No, a good inquiry question is complex rather than direct and invites investigation via the range of paths one wants students to learn to use: theorizing, experimentation, research, and reasoning.
Good inquiry teaching is more, however, than simply posing a rich question to kick off a session. In good inquiry teaching the teacher does not pose the question only to drive students quickly and inexorably to his own favorite answer or resolution (typically by praising answers he agrees with and discounting or quietly not following up on divergent views). Learning science is now clear that the disposition to think independently rather than simply to bow to authority out of habit or fear of ostracism comes from being educated or raised in an environment that supports opposing perspectives and approaches.
The inquiry teacher, then, works to help students understand what good reasoning, good research, and sound experiment look like. She models and mentors students in the method of learning as much as or more than the content at issue.
Inquiry teaching is valuable because learning by inquiry is a fruitful habit for a lifetime. It is an approach of being open-minded rather than seeking rapid closure on every question, of gathering ideas across a wide field, of determining what is already known, recognizing quality as well as bias, and coming to sound and honest conclusions.
As a personal habit it means thinking first independently about a question, however far afield the question may be from ones normal area of expertise. After organizing initial thoughts one begins to gather data, to read up on (or listen to) what credible and insightful experts have learned before or are learning through their inquiries, and then to compare notes.
In the spirit of inquiry, then, I would like to put forward Shekhar Kapur’s second idea about story-telling for my reader to consider before I take it up in my next post. This statement of his idea is slightly paraphrased:
The universe is a contradiction, but we are always looking for harmony. Good storytelling is about harmony in contradiction- something bigger and larger than resolution.
Think about this, if you will, and I will take it up next time.