Through my information gathering this semester I have worked towards developing a cohesive definition of inquiry learning, and how I can apply this learning theory in a meaningful manner in the context of the Australian history curriculum within an early years classroom. As I have been exploring inquiry in the history curriculum, I have been motivated by the fact that keys elements of the new history curriculum can be directly linked to historical inquiry learning. The document Shape of the Australian Curriculum: History provided me with insight into the theory which underpins history curriculum standards. In particular introducing students to historical understanding involves the use of teaching methods of historical inquiry. By definition historical inquiry is the “process of developing knowledge and understanding in history by asking questions about the past and applying skills associated with analysing, interpreting and evaluating sources of evidence to develop informed and defensible answers.” (ACARA, 2009, p.5)
Defining inquiry within my context was indeed a challenge as many searches related in links to the science curriculum. In saying this however, one particular article Simplifying inquiry instruction (although in the science field), provided me with practical insight into Inquiry learning frameworks, and practical applications within a classroom setting. I found it interesting that they feel that “teachers know that inquiry is important, yet most teachers lack a practical framework of inquiry to inform their instruction.” (Bell, 2005, p.1) Personally I have found however that the Australian Curriculum provides practical frameworks, and it is more that I lack confidence in defining what effective inquiry learning looks like within a classroom setting.
From 2012 as a classroom teacher I am required to plan, assess and report using the new Australian Curriculum: History area. The framework of this curriculum area requires me to build my own historical understandings, my own historical skills, and most importantly forces me to critique my current teaching pedagogies to ensure that it is in line with inquiry based learning theory. Looking at the learning theories discussed in Kuhlthau, Carol C. ; Maniotes, Leslie K. & Caspari, Ann K. (2007). Chapter 2: The Theory and Research Basis for Guided Inquiry has helped me to develop a basic grounding in guided inquiry theory, and assists me in implementing inquiry based learning actively in the context of history curriculum.
One of the things I was particularly interested in investigating was how to develop effective inquiry learning activities within an early years classroom, where learners are not as independent as older students. I like the idea suggested by Bell in his article “Simplifying inquiry instruction”, that “the inquiry scale should be seen as a continuum so ideally students should progress gradually from lower to higher level over the course of a year.” (Bell 2005 Page 4) It needs to be remembered that no matter what opportunities are provided in an educational setting, a student’s progress on this continua in inevitably influenced by their ability. This is particularly relevant in terms of where my early year’s students sit on this continuum and my expectations of them as a result.
In relation to the Australian Curriculum: History standards, it is important for me to remember that regardless of the age of the learners, the inquiry process requires me to assist students in deepening their understanding of a particular topic because the goal of a true inquiry task is not simple rote learning of facts (as was a prominent feature of history curriculum in the past.) This idea was reiterated by Hoepper, in his article “Who says you can’t change history” which provides a concise description of the changing face of history teaching over time.
The reality of a classroom setting also has an influence on my ability to develop authentic inquiry learning tasks within my class setting. Alexander in his article Walking on the Wildside! Teaching Towards Deeper Understanding in History Through Building Capacity rather than Delivering Content reminded me of this. He suggests that the everyday expectations within a school environment may actually be at odds with the current curriculum development. In particular development of an Australian Curriculum with core content, and the implementation of various forms of state and national testing within schools may be at odds with inquiry learning, where there is a the need to facilitate deep learning for students.
As is the aim with inquiry learning, in my ideal learning environment I strive to provide students with opportunities to have an active role in learning situations, using real world connections, and build on what they already know. In reality however, the day to day school based expectations/curriculum expectations, interruptions, and not to mention the behaviour management influences, sometimes make it difficult to give the students “full control” over their learning. I can only continue to strive towards this.
When planning inquiry based units within my early years classroom, it is important that I remember that “inquiry is not a ‘method’ of doing science, history, or any other subject in which the obligatory first stage in a fixed, linear sequence is that of students each formulating questions to investigate. Rather, it is an approach to the chosen themes and topics in which the posing of real questions is positively encouraged whenever they occur and by whomever they are asked. Equally important as the hallmark of an inquiry approach is that all tentative answers are taken seriously and are investigated as rigorously as circumstances permit.” (Wells, 1999)
Alexander, J (no date given) Walking on the Wildside! Teaching Towards Deeper Understanding in History Through Building Capacity rather than Delivering Content, Paper retrieved July from www.acel.org.au/conf07/papers/Alexander%20Joe%20paper.doc
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (2009). Shape of the Australian Curriculum: History ACARA. Retrieved August 23, 2012, from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Australian_Curriculum_-_History.pdf#xml=http://search.curriculum.edu.au/texis/search/pdfhi.txt?query=history&pr=www.acara.edu.au&prox=page&rorder=500&rprox=500&rdfreq=500&rwfreq=500&rlead=500&rdepth=0&sufs=0&order=r&cq=&id=503494f52f
Bell, R; Smetana, L & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying inquiry instruction The Science Teacher, 72 (7), 30-33 retrieval August 23 2012 from http://search.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/docview/214615319/fulltextPDF
Hoepper, B., (2004) “Who says you can’t change history.” Retrieved August 2012 from http://www.eqa.edu.au/site/whosaysyoucant.html
Kuhlthau, Carol C. ; Maniotes, Leslie K. & Caspari, Ann K. (2007). Chapter 2: The Theory and Research Basis for Guided Inquiry in Kuhlthau, Carol C. ; Maniotes, Leslie K. & Caspari, Ann K, Guided inquiry : learning in the 21st century, Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited, pp.13-28from https://cmd.library.qut.edu.au/CLN650/CLN650_BK_175481.pdf
Wells, Gordon (2001). Action, talk & text: Learning & Teaching Through Inquiry. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Retrieved August 23 from http://www.galileo.org/inquiry-what.html#1