Allowing students to independently explore a topic is probably the best way to enhance learning. In this month’s Ilm o Amal, TRC staff looks at how inquiry-based learning can help increase your students’ love for learning and help prepare them for life beyond the classroom.
As educators it is our job to prepare students to succeed in a world that is changing rapidly. To do well in today’s world, students should be empowered to think critically, be creative, curious and be independent. Inquiry-based learning is an instructional method that comes close to achieving this if it is implemented correctly.
Inquiry-based learning is a student-led learning journey. Traditional methods of teaching require a teacher to pass on information while students take notes and learn the material. On the other hand, in inquiry-based learning, the most important aspect of the approach is that students are not spoon-fed information by a teacher. Instead teachers allow students to explore materials on their own. Students learn by doing and curiosity and exploration are encouraged, often leading to a better understanding of the concepts and material that are being taught.
BENEFITS OF INQUIRY BASED LEARNING
Adopting more and more inquiry-based learning in the teaching practice can bring of immense value to both the students and teachers. Following are the ways, students can benefit from this form of learning.
Inquiry-based learning enhances critical thinking skills: Critical thinking skills receive a boost during inquiry-based learning, because learners build important skills on an ongoing basis. These skills are often found to be useful later in life and give the student a huge leap when it comes to career and skills that they will require as adults.
Makes learning more interesting: Inquiry-based learning actively engages children, which in turn is more likely to keep their interest and will help them retain and understand concepts better. This in turn leads to better learning outcomes and is certainly a more entertaining way of studying a topic. This approach also allows teachers to feel more fulfilled, because they know their students have truly understood the concept that is being taught.
Enhances curiosity: Inquiry-based learning begins with curiosity. A student who is curious is also one who is engaging with the topic. He or she makes an effort to actively seek out information from the resources which are available. He or she will also probably seek out different resources which are available and useful. Curiosity, thus directed in the pursuit of learning can also enhance social and emotional learning.
Empowers students: This proactive approach to learning can help empower students. This in turn can help them discover the finer details of the subject at hand. For instance, a child who avoids reading books, may pick up a book on the topic he or she is exploring, as part of the research. In this way, the child truly understands and experiences the material in a completely new way.
Enhances comprehension: A lot of students spend far too much time memorizing key facts and dates just to get through exams. This is not real learning, because often once the exams are over, the purpose has been served, and the student is not likely to remember what he or she learnt. Often the student will not even comprehend the scope of what he or she is learning. For instance, reading about an experiment and actually witnessing and being involved in an experiment are completely different things. Learning by experimenting can also lead to further questions, thus enhancing the student’s learning, leading to a more in-depth understanding of the topic.
APPROACHING THE INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING PROCESS
While it is not possible to conduct elaborate inquiry-based experiments for every subject that students are learning, they can follow the following approach as a general process in the classroom.
1. Ask students to develop a question that they want to answer through their inquiry. The question can begin with, “What happens when…?”, “Why does this happen?” etc.
2. Help out, but don’t step in. As a teacher, you should be around to lend a helping hand and to guide wherever your students get stuck, but avoid stepping in an doing the work for them. Allow them to make mistakes. Also allow enough time for your students’ explorations and nudge them in different directions if it is required. But let them do the discovering and uncovering on their own.
3. Ask students to share their findings. You can divide the students in groups and have them present their findings. Not only will this improve their presentation skills, but presenting to the class will also help them understand the subject better.
4. Have a post-learning discussion with the students. Ask the students to talk about what worked and what didn’t. Was there anything that surprised them? Did they have to abandon their initial approach? This will not only enhance their understanding, but also get them thinking about the process of research and about preconceived ideas.
When employed in the STEM subjects, inquiry-based learning would require students to use measurement tools and conduct experiments. They would be given a relatively free environment to explore and discover. For arts subjects, students would be able to able to use paint and cardboard and other material to explore. After the process is over, students would be most likely to retain what they have discovered. Since inquiry-based learning is inherently exploratory, it brings out the best in students, helping them take on responsibility and making their learning more meaningful.