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Lesson Plans


[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Mary Erickson (MARY.ERICKSON)
Thu, 01 May 1997 18:06:00 -0700


Seminar participants identified various benefits of inquiry learningfor
students, from encouraging critical thinking and challenging students to
find their own meanings and solutions to increasing students' observation
skills. They argued 1) that "our entire system of education is failing if
we cannot engage students to learn, with passion, for themselves;" 2) that
[according to Cardellichio and Field] "The goal [of inquiry learning] is to
create explorers (students) who have an idea of what they are looking for,
who have a methodology with which to search, but who come to the
exploration with open minds so that, should they discover American, they
will not assume they have landed in India just because there's where they
intended to go;" and that 3) what is important is "To know what I know and
hopefully teach my students the same. Helping 'formulate questions and
search for answers in their own experience' can only broaden their art
education and make it more profound."

One participant eloquently summed up a major issue in the discussion when
he asked "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?" On the one hand
some argued that questions should be "home grown" from the students.
"There is too often a supply-side, trickle-down theory of questioning ....
Questions are imposed on students. ....Many of the appropriate questions
can from the students too." On the other hand, others argued that
"questions are of many different kinds and exist on many different levels.
It seems reasonable to conclude (therefore) that not all questions are
equal in value. Rather some questions are better than others. When
students' questions become strategies for knowledge seeking in a particular
direction, relationships can be established between the various answers,
and understanding aligned with instructional goals is more likely." As is
so often the case, I expect that the strength and experience of the teacher
as well as the background and experience of students are major determiners
of the optimal balance between teacher and student guidance of inquiry in
the classroom.

Seminar participants identified several prerequisites for teachers to
succeed in fostering inquiry learning in their classrooms. For example one
participant claimed that "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;" another wrote that "It may take a teachers many years
to become an expert in inquiry." Others focused on the classroom
environment, writing: "First is seems crucial that one knows and has
respect for their students, regardless of their age;" and "Meaningful
inquiry, it seems to me, also requires [that the teacher establish] a level
of trust. If students do not feel free to fail and have no interest in
scholastic achievement, can the inquiry approach to learning succeed."
Another participant wrote that "Teachers need to be effective exemplars of
good questioners so that students can plan their own questions and
strategies, carry out their plans, and assess their own effectiveness in
utilizing these strategies." Teachers need to understand that inquiry can
be both structured and flexible.

Other seminar participants expressed concern about how the success of
inquiry learning depends on the background and characteristics of their
students. Here are some of the observations made by seminar participants:
"Based on my experiences, I would say that whether discussion is part of
art viewing/making may depend upon students' prior knowledge. Without
prior knowledge, teacher/student inquiry, or discussion about art objects,
'awe' frequently is missing." "Students who spontaneously generate their
own questions often ask lower level questions because they lack background
to do otherwise." "The majority of my students have no sense of how to
practice inquiry." "I help my students with inquiry, they can't find
answers--they don't even know what questions to ask." "[Students' are
inexperienced] with open-ended questions that ask them to process ideas
instead of regurgitating facts." "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." "[My students] 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 distorted."

Quite a few seminar participants were willing to share strategies they have
used successfully in fostering inquiry learning: "As student responses are
generated, I feed specific information, correct mistaken assumptions, pose
more sophisticated questions, and reinforce the value of what has already
been said." "We take about forty minutes talking about the artwork without
ever asking the questions 'do you like it.' I've found that that question
closes minds and kids can learn to appreciate works of art that they may
not like especially IF they talk about them before asking judgment
questions." "It seems that some type of inquiry structure is needed so that
students don't stray too far afield and connection-making is made easier."
"I believe that questioning strategies need to be embedded in all
approaches." "Questions are important, but listening is the key to
successful learning." "Inquiry works best when it's focused, authentic,
unbiased, embedded, and generalizable."
"I find I have to do a lot of redefining and interpreting [of an inquiry
question] before my students can understand the question. .... After some
practice, and a lot of patience on my part, many of my students enjoy
learning like this. I think they like it when a good guess is OK and I
never say 'You're wrong.' Instead, my responses are 'good thinking!' and
'Your ideas are interesting, where do you think you got that?' or
'Interesting...does anyone else have a different idea?' These exchanges of
ideas can be very validating and stimulating for students who otherwise
might be content to stay on the fringes." "Carefully worded questions can
promote higher order thinking because connections (even broad) connections
may be suggested by the question that students may not have thought of on
their own." One particpant suggested that John Wilson's approach to
analyzing concepts might be helpful in inquiring into concepts as opposed
to facts. "Look for 1) model cases, 2) contrary cases, 3) borderline
cases, 4) invented cases, 5) social context, 6) underlying anxiety, and 7)
practical results."

When asked about an optimal sequence for fostering inquiry learning,
participants answered with a range of starting points: "The initial
experience of a hands-on activity is what causes the excitement and the
heightened awareness that allows students to identify with artists across
time." "Questions grown from activity are so much better." "The teacher
needs to find a way to reach into the day-to-day reality of students and
begin there." "A majority of my strategies involve production before
inquiry." "[There is] a need for a personal experience to precede or to be
an integral part of the lesson." "My students 'awe' and understanding
increased only AFTER discussion because they needed the background
(contextual information) to help them make sense of the images."

Several participants focused their attention specifically on how
questioning can enhance inquiry learning in art making lessons. "These
[art making] questions [from "Our Place in the World] enable students and
teachers to [consider] what have we learned, about ourselves and the rest
of the world." "The 'art making' questions engage students in their
choices, from 'beginning with ideas' to 'working with choices' concluding
with 'achieving goals.'

An issue which seemed to underlie much of the seminar's discussion of
inquiry learning was the compatibility of inquiry learning with any
curriculum established by the teacher, the school, or the district. Can
genuine inquiry take place within the parameters of an established

Another issue touched on but not developed in the seminar concerns
assessment and standards in inquiry learning. How can degree of student
learning be assessed when instruction follows and inquiry approach?

As seminar leader I apologize for the lateness of this summary. I found
this experience challenging, informative, and sometimes, down right fun. I
send you my sincere thanks for your participation.

Mary Erickson