Inquiry Learning - The limitlessness of Learning
Adam Lear | Head of Junior School, Dee Why Campus | 14 June 2019
What is “inquiry learning”?
Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. Children should be seen and not heard. Curiosity killed the cat. These are the mantras that were once drilled into the minds of young people in an era when school was aimed at preparing a workforce for the industrial age. Educators worked hard to build a culture of compliance, obedience, recall and order. It made sense because the amount of knowledge in the world seemed containable and the options for contributing to society were definable.
Fast forward to the third millennium. The limitlessness of learning has been acknowledged. Anything is possible. New realities are being designed before we can adjust to the changes we encountered last week. Like an ever-expanding fractal design, the options before our young people are myriad. One response is to be paralysed by the tyranny of choice.
Thankfully, savvy educational researchers and leaders have uncovered a deeper layer. Intrinsic to our youngest children is a natural inclination to play. Play is about exploration, experimentation, imitation and adaptation. It is about asking questions and learning by trial and error. Educators of the past are skilled at extinguishing such approaches to learning. However, the future-focused are recognising that such behaviours may be the key to thriving and that our challenge is not to shape chaos into order. Instead, it is to feed and foster this innate motivation to engage with our world and learn through wonder and inquiry.
How do skilled educators realise this goal? They do so by providing a rich and stimulating environment. One that is characterised by sensory experiences, emotional engagement and the right amount of unfamiliarity and stretch. It is by giving just enough information and opportunity for skill development that the student begins to unlock and become aware of their own rich questioning and their desire to say things like, “Perhaps I could try…” At the same time, it is about adults withholding the desire to intervene and “help” when struggle is encountered, to seek to understand the thinking behind an unexpected response rather than to dismiss it or correct it, to promote imagination and creativity rather than simply knowledge and skills. It is to understand that inquiry is a disposition that can be fostered in the context of good character.
Often, through inquiry, the learner arrives at unexpected destinations with unprecedented awareness. “I didn’t learn what I set out to, but this has opened up a whole new world for me. How did I even get here?” At these points, the student may find they have more questions than they started with. How many inventors accidentally made one revolutionary development while attempting to make another that was vastly different?
Launching our children into a world of inquiry might conjure concerns about whether they might “fall behind” or “miss out” on important academic rigour, but we are seeing more and more that the opposite is true. Children who have been encouraged to initiate their own learning and ask powerful questions achieve great things in the long term. Be a brave parent / educator by promoting and supporting opportunities for your child to learn through inquiry.
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