This week as a staff we discussed the concept of Inquiry Based Learning, another of the pillars of the IB approach to education. Again, there are great tracts of educational research supporting the benefits of this approach:
- In a 1998 study by H.G. Shepherd, fourth and fifth graders completed a nine-week project to define and find solutions related to housing shortages in several countries. In comparison to the control group, the project-learning students scored significantly higher on a critical-thinking test and demonstrated increased confidence in their learning.
- A more ambitious, longitudinal comparative study by Jo Boaler and colleagues in England in 1997 and 1998 followed students over three years in two schools similar in student achievement and income levels. The traditional school featured teacher-directed whole-class instruction organized around texts, workbooks, and frequent tests in tracked classrooms. Instruction in the other school used open-ended projects in heterogeneous classrooms.
- The study found that although students had comparable learning gains on basic mathematics procedures, significantly more project-learning students passed the National Exam in year three than those in the traditional school. Although students in the traditional school "thought that mathematical success rested on being able to remember and use rules," according to the study, the project-learning students developed more flexible and useful mathematical knowledge.
Inquiry based learning involves, essentially, a five step approach and key to it is that the teacher acts as facilitator rather than lecturer:
- Students are presented with a scenario by the teacher- the more realistic, the better
- Students identify what questions they will need to ask in order to explore the issues thoroughly
- Students engage with the scenario
- Teacher feeds in additional resources designed to advance the project to a more sophisticated level or to challenge the conclusions students are reaching
- Students reflect on their responses to the scenario and how they approached the project
As you may imagine, this kind of approach requires plenty of hard work and careful thought by teachers, especially in the planning stages, but the rewards in terms of students’ learning are considerable.