Have you heard the term Enquiry-Based Learning (or Inquiry-Based Learning) and wondered what teaching method it is, what its benefits are and what the difference is between this teaching method and the frontal (traditional) one? Let me look back at my 20 years of teaching.
I am a product of traditional teaching. As a child in school, I remember the desks in a row and the teacher standing at the front of the room talking to the class and writing on the chalkboard. We copied the notes, wrote in our books and stayed quiet for most of the day.
As a teacher, my classrooms over the past 20 years have evolved to look and function very differently. I have embraced the concept of Enquiry-Based Learning and have found that my classrooms have changed into a place where learning is active and exciting, and silence is rare. The students sit in groups, discuss topics with each other, share information, and work cooperatively. My job as the teacher has moved away from the «knowledge giver». Instead, my role has changed into that of a guide. I move around the room, ask questions and challenge my students to dig deeper, question further and reflect more. I guide them not only in finding knowledge, but in how to develop their skills as negotiators, presenters, and team players.
Enquiry-Based Learning, at its core, is exactly that.
One asks questions and learns by finding the answers.
However, it is not that simple. In a class of 20 students, each with their own ideas, questions and experiences, creating a learning environment which is both supportive and focused is hard work. For the students, though, this hard work pays off in spades as they take ownership of their learning and become active participants. They not only learn to work collaboratively but challenge one another to extend learning into new and more exciting places. The original questions often turn into background knowledge as the students push to learn more about the topic based on their new knowledge. At the same time, these students are learning how to cooperate and negotiate with one another, how to present ideas effectively and how to work as a team.
For the teacher, the challenge is to step away from the role of «knowledge giver» and to commit oneself to the more difficult role of guide. Teachers in these classrooms encourage their students to ask increasingly complex questions and gently point them in the direction of where the students might look to find their answers. At the same time, the teacher guides the groups, teaching the invaluable skills of group work - how to lead, how to collaborate, how to share information, how to reflect and how to give and receive feedback.
It is an incredibly exciting and energetic school environment and works for all ages! Of course, with the younger children and babies, Enquiry-Based Learning is much more guided. The teachers present different ideas and topics to find out what the interests of the children are. They then use these interests to develop an exploration of a topic where the children are excited to discover what comes next. Once the children become more verbal, the teachers teach the children how to ask questions about a broad theme and to articulate their interests and wonders. These teachers again develop a guided exploration where the children can find out the answers to their questions and to extend their knowledge and curiosity at the same time.
As the children get older and more independent, teachers using Enquiry-Based Learning take more and more of the scaffolding down so that the students are able to take more control of their learning. The students ask the questions, do the research, collaborate with their peers, reflect on their learning, and present their findings. These students become fully engaged in their learning and often acquire more knowledge than the curriculum requires them to know, all the while developing and honing their collaborative skills that they will need throughout life.
To conclude, I am truly a fan of Enquiry-Based Learning because I have experienced the joy and challenges of it. I love how excited the students become when they are given the opportunity to ask what they really want to know. It is a challenge for the teachers to be sure when first graders are asking about the roles of the different blood cells that we have in our bodies or kindergarten children are asking exactly how does a car engine work but the learning that then takes place for everyone based on these types of questions is well worth the effort.
If you are interested in learning more about our teaching methods, find out more about Tandem IMS and how we support every child in reaching their highest potential in order to prepare them for their next educational step be it Swiss Gymnasium or another upper-level school.
You can get an idea of how we put the theory of Enquiry-Based Learning into practice with our students on our social media channels: Follow us on Instagram or on Facebook (@TandemIMS). We would also be happy to advise you in a personal conversation.