Point/Counterpoint: Escaping the Inquiry Learning Debate

Several days ago, I posted some thoughts about the benefits of Direct Instruction. That post specifically contrasted the benefits of DI with the perils Inquiry Learning. Specifically, Hattie finds Inquiry Learning to be largely ineffective.assessing inquiry learning

The Learning Scientists have also published some skeptical thoughts about Inquiry Learning. In their most recent weekly digest, to promote balance, they offer links to some pro-Inquiry-Learning counter-arguments. If you’re an IL skeptic, you might want to check them out.

Assessing Inquiry Learning: What’s a Teacher to Do?

When we face conflicting evidence about any particular pedagogy, teachers can always focus instead on specific cognitive capacities.

For example: working memory.

If an Inquiry Learning lesson plan ramps working memory demands up too steeply, then students probably won’t learn very much.

Of course: if a Direct Instruction lesson plan ramps up WM demands, then those students won’t learn very much either.

The key variable — in this analysis — is not the specifics of the pedagogical approach. Instead, teachers can focus on the match between our teaching and the cognitive apparatus that allows learning.

In other words: overwhelming working memory is ALWAYS bad — it doesn’t matter if your lesson plan is DI or IL.

The same point can be made for other cognitive capacities.

Lesson plans that disorient students — that is, ones that interfere with attention — will hamper learning. So too motivation. So too stress.

When assessing Inquiry Learning, don’t ask yourself “does my lesson plan fit this pedagogical theory perfectly?” Ask yourself: “does my lesson plan realistically align with my students’ cognitive systems?

The answer to that question will give you the wisest guidance.

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