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Inquiry into Inquiry Learning

The inquiry question that eventually became the focus of this investigation is: How is the discipline of history/classroom history enhanced by inquiry learning?

Marcia Behrenbruch has over 25 years of international education experience in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Vietnam and Singapore. She has particular interest in collaborative team work to facilitate pedagogical change. Her whole book was very informative, adding to my understanding of inquiry-based pedagogy, but in particular Chapter 3, “Guiding the inquiry – sharing responsibility: the role of the teacher corroborated Hoepper’s perspective on the crucial role of the teacher in the inquiry model. Chapter 4 discussed respectful relationships in inquiry, focussing on the voice of the learner, while Chapter 5 explored teacher perspectives of inquiry and offered some practical strategies to engage. My favourite insight from this source was that learning is something students do; it is not something that is done to them. This book is available as an ebook which makes it accessible for teachers and a useful handbook from both a theoretical and practical perspective.

Authors Voet and De Wever from Ghent University focused research on inquiry-based learning in the subject of history, so their article was most pertinent in answering my focus question. Their study explored secondary school teachers’ knowledge of inquiry methods and found a disturbing deficit, given their contention that inquiry-based learning was the optimum ‘best practice’ in tackling the discipline of history in the classroom. The article explored all the cognitive processes engaged during an historical inquiry and then presented a model that could be used as an instructional tool in training history teachers in inquiry pedagogy. This reading emphasised the crucial role that teachers play in the success of inquiry learning in the classroom.

Both Brush and Saye - professors at Indiana University and Auburn University respectively - were involved in the ‘Persistent Issues in History project’. Their research investigated how multimedia resources might be effectively integrated into problem-based inquiry learning in history classrooms. This was also a theme pursued in other readings and research I came across during this inquiry (e.g. Li and Lim) and also provided that vital connection to information literacies that both student and adult learners need to engage with in the 21st century environment. The research firmly supports the contention that the investigation of problems or questions in history via inquiry or problem-based learning strategies engages learners more deeply with a variety of content and develops better decision makers and problem solvers. Again, I found my focus inquiry question being answered.

Dong Dong Li and Cher Ping Lim based their research on case studies of two secondary school classrooms. Whist they acknowledged that further wider study be conducted in the future, the article was very helpful in further corroborating the wonderful learning opportunities that online resources have afforded history classrooms. Where once inquiry learning activities relied on printed materials as the principal source of information, technology has widened teacher and student accessibility. Online inquiry further enhances historical inquiry by making it more engaging and interesting because resources such as oral and visual recordings, animations and pictures reach beyond what the text book provides. In inquiry learning students have ownership over their discovery of these resources, previously provided by the teacher or the library (somewhat an extension of ‘provided by the teacher’).

This article was most compelling in its unwavering belief that inquiry learning is most beneficial to student learning. While it looked at inquiry learning across the curriculum – not just History – the discussion was pertinent to my focus question. Some of the findings that Saunders-Stewart et al discussed in this paper were backed by empirical verification and some were admittedly a theoretical consideration. However their conclusion was that overall cognitive, metacognitive, affective, personal and societal benefits could accrue from effective classroom inquiry.

John Staats again corroborates the notion of ‘doing history’ but uses the terms ‘hands on’ and ‘learning by doing’ in his paper. This article explores best practice in terms of ‘object based’ learning in history. This is merely one way of elaborating inquiry; with the sources being examined as concrete artefacts rather than print or multimedia based. His premise of how history is enhanced by inquiry is similar to the other articles in this collection. He also emphasises the important role of the teacher in providing ‘minds on’ stimulus, such as exemplary questioning frameworks and effective graphic organisers for recording observations, analysis and new understandings.
Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course on JSTOR

Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course on JSTOR

Li and Lim, and many other authors I have come across during this inquiry, have used the term ‘doing history’. Similarly Sargent Wood maintains that best practice is ‘to learn history by doing history’. Inquiry learning therefore by its nature, is best positioned to provide the optimal method of learning history. Sargent Wood’s emphasis in this article is akin to other articles in this collection with her focus on the explicit training of pre service history teachers to facilitate inquiry pedagogy. To help explain what doing history means, Sargent Wood developed ‘history labs’ as a walk through an historical inquiry process for trainee teachers. These ‘labs’ pose a historical question/problem, demand analysis of primary/secondary sources and require the learner’s interpretation/construction of new knowledge. As a side bar to my focus question, I have discovered that not only is history in the classroom enhanced by inquiry learning but perhaps teacher training might also be enhanced by inquiry learning.

Dr Brian Hoepper has worked in the broad field of social education with a particular focus on history. The chapter on teaching through critical inquiry consolidates my understanding of how history is enhanced by inquiry learning, because the stages of inquiry in a generic sense specifically correlate with historical inquiry i.e. a historical inquiry always begins with posing questions in response to a historical event or personality or issue where there is a contestable perspective or perspectives. From this questioning, a selection of sources or evidence might be gathered in order to respond to the questions posed. After analysis of the said sources and evaluation of their reliability and usefulness in respect to the question/s posed, an answer to the focus question may be arrived at and new knowledge or understanding of the event or personality is constructed by the learner. Hoepper’s chapter was also useful for answering one of my sub questions, how does guided inquiry still allow for student centred inquiry? He explored the integral role that teachers play in facilitating effective inquiry, through engaging, motivating, directing, consolidating and extending learning.