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Lesson Plans

Curriculum Issues: Inquiry

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Dr Sam Short (short.4)
Sun, 13 Apr 1997 09:38:44 -0400

I wish to thank Roger Tomhave for his articulate posting. I too have
witnessed Mary "orchestrate inquiry-based learning" and quite agree, "it is
a wonderful thing to behold."

Re your question about post modernism and constructivism. Actually, the
theory of constructivist learning first appeared in REMEMBERING, a book by
F.C. Bartlett (1932). Bartlett conducted numerous experiments. In one
experiment, he asked British subjects to read "The War of the Ghosts," a
story indigenous to Native American culture. When asked to recall the
story, the British subjects tended to substitute British experiences for
the Native American experiences recounted in the story. For example, a
"fishing trip" was substituted for a seal hunt, and a "boat" was
substituted for a canoe. As this became a common pattern in his data,
Bartlett concluded that individuals continually engage in an "effort after
meaning." that is, they try to relate presented information or situations
to their own experience (prior knowledge) in order to understand. In so
doing however, parts of the original information are often omitted or

The importance of recognizing what prior knowledge and experience students
bring to the teaching/learning environment often appears in the literature,
and was actually the basis of my posting about inquiry learning and high
schoolers in the inner city whose experiences, attitudes, and learning
styles may be quite different from high schoolers in suburbia. Hence, a
different kind (form) of inquiry must take place.

Re: your question about the place of inquiry in constructivist thought. It
seems to me that intelligent inquiry (asking good questions) is fundamental
to the constructivist position. Through inquiry, students can avoid the
omissions and distortions of Bartlett's British subjects who were not
allowed to ask questions, but merely asked to recount "War of the Ghosts."
The answers to questions can help students find a better fit between what
they already know and understand and the new information.

It may take a teacher many years to become an expert at inquiry. This is
where "Our Place In The World" is valuable. It can be used as a tool for
teachers to learn and practice the inquiry process with their students in
ways that are open-ended enough to accommodate most curricular demands.
Content is also provided so that practice becomes meaningful.

However, as Jen Dixon and Teresa Tipton have found, the inquiry process
must take the prior knowledge and experiences of learners into account. If
art students are very sophisticated in their knowledge of art, the inquiry
process might begin in a very different place than it would with students
whose background is more limited and motivation to learn less advanced.

Sam Short

  • Maybe reply: jendixon: "Re: Curriculum Issues: Inquiry"