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Lesson Plans

Curriculum Seminar: Inquiry

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Fri, 11 Apr 1997 17:00:31 -0400 (EDT)

This e-mail is in response to "Our Place in the World" and its on-line
seminar regarding the issue of inquiry--based learning.

The "Inquiry-Based Approach" as described by Mary Erickson in "Our Place in
the World" states as follows:

"Put simply, an inquiry-based approach uses questions to help students
learn. Students formulate questions and search for answers in their own
experiences and by consulting knowledgeable sources. By using this
approach, students grasp concepts and ideas differently than if they learn
by listening or if teachers teach by telling. Inquiry-based learning and

* puts control and direction in the hands of the learner.
* provides focus for comparison and generalization.
* guides investigation into the unknown.
* stimulates imagination about possibilities."

There are several questions that arise in my mind regarding inquiry-based
learning and art education.

1. To what degree does inquiry-based learning currently occur in the art

2. Is there a connection between postmodern theories of constructivist
knowledge and inquiry-based learning?

3. To what degree should students construct their own knowledge and how can
the teacher guide the construction zone so that the expectations of what the
students should know and be able to do are met?

First, if you believe what you read in Postmodern Art Education: An Approach
to Curriculum by Arthur Efland, Kerry Freedman, and Patricia Stuhr, then art
education is moving beyond discipline-based art education toward a
constructivist or reconstructionist art education; that discipline-based art
education is modernist in its orientation, and constructivism and
reconstruction are postmodern. This is a reading of the art education world
with which I disagree, but I thought you might be interested. How do
inquiry-based methods fit into this opinion?

Having worked with many populations of students, there are a limited number
of students that are self-motivated enough that they will be able to
effectively learn from an inquiry-based approach that is not well
orchestrated by an exemplary teacher. And, even for those that do, there is
no guarantee that the path of inquiry that they may follow will lead them to
the knowledge or skills that are the intended result of a thoughtful
curriculum with a scope and sequence taking the students from one level to

It takes practice and an experienced teacher to maneuver the students through
the lesson so that all bases are covered, yet the students own their
learning, and feel as if they have been on a journey of self-discovery. Our
new teacher training program tries to address strategies for teachers by
which they can direct students to take ownership of the knowledge and skills
they need. To what extent we are successful, I do not have hard data.

I offer the following from John Wilson's work. It may be helpful in
inquiry-based approaches to isolate questions regarding facts, questions
regarding values, and questions regarding concepts.


1. Were Native American artisans influenced by Europeans prior to 1600?
(This is a question regarding facts that could be discovered through
appropriate research)
2. Is it desirable to study the Baroque period in art (1600-1750) in
relation to the silver mined from the mountain of Potosi in South America
which supplied the European artisans of that period? (This is a question
regarding values and priorities)
3. Is multicultural art education compatible with the aims and intentions of
the present system of education in the United States? (This is a question
regarding concept, definition, and even metaphor)

I find it extremely interesting to follow the Supreme Court's discussion of
freedom of speech issues and the internet. The discussion centers around
metaphor. Is the internet like radio? Is it like the telephone? Is it like
TV? Is it like the mail? Each metaphor carries with it a whole history of
precedences that would guide the regulation of the internet. It always
amazes me how important finding the proper metaphor is.

Perhaps these strategies devised by Wilson would help in inquiry-based
approaches in which we wrestle with concepts and look for metaphors.

Questions of concept do not often have single clear solutions. Therefore,
since the facts are not clear cut, look for the following.

Instances of which we are absolutely sure and can find consensus.

Instances that clearly do not apply.

Similarities and differences help us to differentiate.

Those instances where we are not sure, but the discussion about them sure
seems to help us clarify what we mean.

Analysis of concepts is essentially an imaginative process, more an art than
a science.

Who would be likely to make such a statement or definition, why, when.

Truth and Credibility (by Harry Broudy, a clear thinker when engaging tough
questions.) Who's truth counts? How come?

This is what the Supreme Court is looking for to help them grapple with the
regulation of the internet.

Sorry this is so long. To conclude, I fear, as does Glen Williams, that
inquiry-based learning might be misconstrued and embraced by a whole set of
art educators who remain in a world where art making is all that occurs in
their art rooms, and student self-discovery is an excuse for lack of
teaching. I have seen Mary Erickson orchestrate inquiry-based learning. It
is a wonderful thing to behold. I think she will agree that it takes
practice, hard work, and persistence.

Roger Tomhave