THE ART OF INQUIRY AS AN EFFECTIVE TEACHING STRATEGY
MARIDETH G. LISING
A strategy in teaching every subject is identified as inquiry grew out of the work of J. Richard Suchman, begun is 1957 at the University of Illinois. The materials that Suchman established were designed to train students in the “art of inquiry,” enabling them to initiate and direct their own inquiries. Suchman was concerned that most students who enter school as natural inquirers with several years of preschool experience in operating objects and who form concepts based on this experience lose this ability in school. In school, a different kind of learning took place, in which students were expected to keep in step with their classes and were not expected to “fool around” with materials and ideas. Students were rewarded for giving the right answers; they were expected to listen and to read what they were told to read. They were rarely given the opportunity to make decisions or draw their own conclusions. Suchman’s research showed that as students moved up through the elementary grades, they asked fewer questions, proposed fewer hypotheses, and became less independent in their thinking.
In reply to his findings, Suchman developed a series of short film loops, each of which presented a discrepant event in every subject. Student view the film and begin to formulate questions about the event. They must phrase their questions in ways that permit them to gather data; the teacher may respond to their questions with answers of either “yes” or “no”. As pupils gather data in this way, they begin the process of theory generation, which helps them understand the phenomena in the film. While conducting these inquiries, students use concepts of measurement, mass, weight, motion, and pressure.
The strategy in teaching any subjects currently termed inquiry has evolved beyond its original methodology. Now almost any experience that invites students to “mess around” with materials is often called inquiry, whether students are helped to make meaning from the experience or not. Perhaps such inappropriate applications of the original intent of inquiry teaching account for its loss of favor with public school officials. Inquiry teaching, like many good methodologies, has evolved in both good ways and bad.
Teachers who choose an inquiry strategy in every subject would share the belief that the process of inquiry is at least as vital as the information gathered. This strategy, carried out in strict Suchman orthodoxy, would also depend to a considerable extent on the teacher’s knowledge of subjects and on their abilities to field students’questions with accurate responses. The use of film loops instead of hands-on materials and the teacher’s center-stage direction of all questions and answers in data gathering made this strategy appealing to teachers who wanted to emphasize inquiry learning but also wanted to exercise extensive control of the process.
Variations of inquiry teaching are widely promoted today in several forms (“problem-solving strategies,” ”discovery strategies,” and others) by leading science educators.
— oOo— The author is SST I at Camachiles National High School, Division of Mabalacat City