The following citations and studies support the authentic learning and deep understanding that results when classroom topics, tasks and activities support an inquiry-based learning philosophy:
- …there’s a growing body of literature urging educators to design curricula, teaching and learning experiences where students have the opportunity to “learn their way around a discipline” by engaging in authentic intellectual tasks and opportunities for genuine knowledge creation . Educators advocating for this approach argue that each discipline (e.g., science, mathematics, history) has its own particular ways of generating knowledge, verifying what counts as quality work, and communicating. The job of educators thus becomes to apprentice young people into these practices.
- Researchers assert that discipline-based approaches to inquiry learning, if designed well, support students in deep learning .
- When teachers treat answers as the primary or even sole evidence of learning, lessons end once students have given these answers. Students become conditioned to guess what the teacher wants, and even when they get an answer right, they’re not sure why.” -Judith A. Langer
Learning and Technology:
- Most of today’s jobs require specialized knowledge and skills, including the capacity to design and manage one’s own work, communicate effectively and collaborate with others; research ideas; collect, synthesize, and analyze information; develop new products; apply many bodies of knowledge to novel problems that arise .
- In the past, when most jobs required manual labour, only a small elite needed to possess abilities like these. Today the vast majority of the population needs these competencies to flourish in an economy where there is “greater dependence on knowledge, information and high skill levels, and the increasing need for ready access to all of these by the business and public sectors”
- Web 1.0 was dominated by browsers containing static screens full of information, with the user working in isolation. The second generation of the Internet, Web 2.0 is different because it “it is more interactive, allowing users to add and change context easily, to collaborate and communicate instantaneously in order to share, develop, and distributed information, new applications, and new ideas” . With applications such as wikis, blogs, voice threads, RSS feeds, social networking (e.g., MySpace, Facebook), and Google Apps, users can work online with multiple users within a collaborative space.
- Within this new landscape digital technologies will play an integral role in supporting learning and knowledge-building activities . Students will be able to “engage collaboratively in idea improvement, problem solving, elaborated forms of communication, consulting authoritative sources and knowledge advancement as they undertake real problems, issues and questions”. Emerging technologies provide students with elaborated forms of communication such as publishing and movie-making technologies. In the past these technologies were expensive and only available to a small professional elite but they are now available to a much wider population.
- Much research has shown that the most creative thinkers are those people who can make links between different areas of study, thought, commerce, arts etc. For example Prof Sir Ken Robinson says, “Creativity depends on interactions between feeling and thinking, and across different disciplinary boundaries and fields of ideas” . It is these sorts of creative thinkers that are most valued in business, politics, media, creative industries, engineering, research etc.
- Interdisciplinary teaching increases student learning: Engaging students and helping them to develop knowledge, insights, problem-solving skills, self-confidence, self-efficacy, and a passion for learning are common goals that educators bring to the classroom, and interdisciplinary instruction and exploration promotes realization of these objectives. Repko asserts that interdisciplinary instruction fosters advances in cognitive ability and other educational researchers have identified a number of distinct educational benefits of interdisciplinary learning including gains in the ability to:
- Recognize bias
- Think critically
- Tolerate ambiguity
- Acknowledge and appreciate ethical concerns. –Why Teach with an Interdisciplinary Approach?
- …the emerging popularity of interdisciplinary teaching is grounded in the student gains that various researchers have identified.
According to The National Council for Teachers of English “educational experiences are more authentic and of greater value to students when the curricula reflects real life, which is multi-faceted rather than being compartmentalized into neat subject-matter packages.” In their view, real-world problems are complex, so no single discipline can adequately describe and resolve these issues. Therefore, they are not surprised that interdisciplinary forms of learning are prevalent and growing in abundance and stature throughout higher education – Why Teach with an Interdisciplinary Approach?
- Newmann et al. conducted a large study evaluating elementary, middle, and high schools that had implemented authentic pedagogy and authentic academic performance approaches in their mathematics and social studies classrooms. They sought to determine to what extent student achievement improved in schools with high levels of authentic pedagogy involving higher-order thinking, deep-knowledge approaches, and connections to the world beyond the classroom. The research team observed 504 lessons, analyzed 234 assessment tasks, and systematically sampled student work. The researchers found that environments with high levels of authentic pedagogy led to higher academic achievement among all students. They concluded that differences between high- and low-performing students greatly decreased when students who were normally low achieving were offered authentic pedagogy and assessments.
- In another study examining 2,128 students in 23 schools in Chicago, Newmann et al. found that students instructed in mathematics and writing organized around more authentic work made higher-than-normal gains on standardized tests. They defined authentic intellectual work as follows:
- Authentic intellectual work involves original application of knowledge and skills, rather than just routine use of facts and procedures. It also entails disciplined inquiry into the details of a particular problem and results in a product or presentation that has meaning or value beyond success in school. We summarize these distinctive characteristics of authentic intellectual work as construction of knowledge, through the use of disciplined inquiry, to produce discourse, products, or performances that have value beyond school.
- To determine the effectiveness of this approach on learning, Newmann et al. examined the level of authentic intellectual work in writing and mathematics assignments in Grades 3, 6, and 8 classrooms. After examining the quality of the assignments against the quality of student work, they correlated this data with students’ scores on standardized tests
Research on how teachers can maximize the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning:
- Discipline-based approaches to inquiry should not be confused with forms of inquiry calling for minimally-guided instruction , where students are given little guidance or support in their learning. As Friesen notes, inquiry involves a spirit of investigation always linked to a particular topic or field of study. Consequently, inquiry moves away from a purely teacher- or student-centered approach to a form of learning that takes its cue from what the field of study requires of those coming to know it. As they pose guiding questions, problems, or tasks that professionals in the field would recognize as important, students and teachers work and learn from experts to develop responses and performances of learning that are meaningful, sophisticated, and powerful.
- Darling-Hammond and Barron et al. argued that scaffolding activities, frequent opportunities for formative assessment, as well as powerful guiding questions are vitally important for ensuring inquiry-based projects to lead to deep understanding. Although there is widespread disagreement in the field as to what constitutes a scaffolding activity, in general it involves tools, strategies, and guides to support students in gaining levels of achievement that would not be otherwise possible. Simons and Klein argued that an effective scaffold involves bracketing out elements of a task initially beyond the learner’s capability in a way that allows the learner to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within their range of competence. Similarly, Pea argued that scaffolds involve a range of instructional measures including “constraining efforts, focusing attention on relevant features to increase the likelihood of the learner’s effective action, and modeling advanced solutions or approaches” . Research suggests that scaffolding activities positively impact problem solving , reflection , research assistance , concept integration , and knowledge acquisition .
- Along with scaffolding, a large body of research concludes that the learning gains engendered by formative assessment were amongst the largest ever reported among any educational interventions . This same body of research found that these learning gains are most dramatic with low-achieving students. Formative assessment must be embedded in the cycle of learning so that students receive ongoing descriptive feedback to improve the quality of their work and understanding. Heritage’s review of the literature asserted that feedback designed to improve learning is most effective “when it is focused on the task and provides the student with suggestions, hints, or cues, rather than offered in the form of praise or comments about performance” . Students should be provided opportunities for self-assessment based on clear assessment criteria. Teachers can then use the knowledge gained from this process to adjust their teaching to foster the desired competencies.
- Barron et al. noted that well-designed inquiry projects should be organized around powerful driving questions that make clear connections between activities “and the underlying conceptual knowledge that one might hope to foster” . Guiding questions help focus the inquiry around enabling constraints. A powerful inquiry question should be significant to the discipline and connect students to the world beyond the school while also honouring the outcomes within the program of study.
- Teachers have a number of sources of support in designing inquiry projects. Scott and Abbott outlined a growing body of literature that promotes purposeful inquiry strategies and frameworks that enrich content understanding and promote the apprehension of disciplinary means and processes . Key to these approaches is a shift away from predominantly information-transmission pedagogies to inquiry oriented around critical ques¬tions and essential questions .
- Wiggins and McTighe promoted subject-matter understanding through es-sential questions that guide units around big ideas that emerge from the content. A question is an essential question if it lies “at the heart of a subject or curriculum (as opposed to being either trivial or leading), and [promotes] inquiry and uncov¬erage of a subject” . Examples of essential questions include:
- To what extent do we need checks and balances on government power?
- What are the common factors in the rise and fall of powerful nations?
- Is the scientific method more like a toll way without any exits or an interstate highway with many exits?
- How is thinking algebraically different from thinking arithmetically?
- School jurisdictions have invested significant time, money, and professional development support for teachers to integrate these inquiry models into their practice. For example, the critical thinking framework developed by Case forms the central organizing framework of the online support resources for curriculum and instruction for the social studies program. Similarly, school districts continue to provide ongoing professional development opportunities to aid teachers wishing to adopt Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design and essential question framework into their teaching.