‘Inquiry’ (or enquiry in British English), is up front and centre in IB schools. This is a way of teaching adapted from the cyclical iterations used in science and design.
The cycle varies depending on who you ask but usually something like:-
Investigate, design, plan, create, evaluate, reflect and back again
At the moment, I am studying an online course into designing educational games. The lesson we are up to now is ‘iterating’ our design. As in, we made a game, we play tested it and now we are making a new version based on the feedback from the play test.
What struck me is how this is the exact same process I use as a teacher. In my very first teaching practice, I was lucky enough to be assigned two Y7 classes who were doing the same topic. This gave me a great insight into the value of testing ideas out a few times. Maybe 7A thought the activity was confusing but 7W thought it was great.
As I qualified and started working in a variety of challenging schools, I found the greatest barrier to trying new things was if the novel activity fell flat the first few times.
How many times can you try some new technique before you can say “nope, this doesn’t work for me” or “nope, this isn’t right for my class(es)”? If you work in challenging classrooms, it is so critical to have a run of good lessons, so that your classes trust you and get into good routines. If you have a handful of mediocre or even bad lessons because a technique isn’t working for you, you are risking your entire year with that class (and indeed, career).
It is not worth it.
Many teachers in this situation will only add new things to their repertoire if forced.
The typical situation is that their school’s leadership team books outside professional development and then writes a school policy that everyone has to do that new thing from now on. If it falls flat the first couple of times, all the technique does is create friction. Teachers get really good at pretending they are doing it, especially during observations but basically leave it to one side. And techniques they aren’t being forced to use? Unless they worked the first time, they are not going to try them ever again.
There is a better way.
Teachers find out about new methods. Maybe they could look into what works best or discuss with/observe colleagues.
The teachers work together to design a lesson incorporating the new technique.
Then the individual teacher plans to adapt the design for their intended class.
The teacher delivers the lesson to the class.
In the first stages, this involves figuring out what went well and what could be improved before the teacher goes back to the ‘plan’ phase and goes back to the drawing board a little bit. There is always something that can be changed in the next iteration based on feedback. Then they try again a few times. Maybe with more than one class.
The teachers get back together to discuss how it went, what they found out and what they will do in future.
In my recent own practice, I’ve had to make do with squashing the Design & Plan phases together, and Evaluate & Reflect too. I really want to have other teachers to bounce ideas off of but right now, I’m leaning heavily on social media for those interactions.
I think this is because how personal teaching is. I have had discussions about teaching with other teachers that spiral into defensiveness and ad hoc urination tournaments. None of us want to believe that we have been doing it wrong or have been expending effort on useless stuff.
What’s funny is that this same tension plays out in our classrooms. Our students would get so much better if they would give and take peer feedback. They would improve enormously if they took our feedback on board. And yet, they don’t always. For a sizeable number of students it is because having something to improve is such a threat to their ego that they won’t listen to feedback. A prime example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.
I wonder if classrooms where students are more relaxed about making mistakes make more progress because their teacher is more relaxed about learning from their mistakes too.
Aside:- According to Hattie’s meta-analysis, ‘inquiry’ has an effect size of 0.3. So, it doesn’t do any harm but then again, it’s not really doing that much good. Compare/contrast with ‘direct instruction’ and the effect size of 0.69
I have thought about this a lot. I think this is because ‘inquiry’ can be taken to mean “do not answer any student questions: make them work it all out themselves” or “do not teach any sort of content under any circumstances”. I think this method has its place but students need a conceptual base in order to inquire into something.
In other words, ‘direct instruction’ in the ‘investigate’ and ‘evaluate’ phase of the inquiry cycle is probably what students need. Someone needs to give this method a name so it can be studied separately.