The three questions I started my journey with.
Q1. How do children with special needs fit and/or are inclusive to inquiry-based projects and/or classrooms?
Q2. How does an Inquiry based approach fit into a prescribed and mandated curriculum?
Q3. It is evident that there are many and varied definitions for Inquiry Learning as well as how it is manifested within the classroom. Is it possible its definition lays in the fact that it cannot be precisely defined, but is adaptable to varying classroom situations?
Have I been able to answer these questions? In all honesty, probably not and I am perhaps only 50% there. But that is 50% further along than when I started.
A1. I have neglected the first question, almost in totality. Though I came to realize, early on in the journey I would need to have a clearer understanding of what inquiry learning is, before I could broach this subject. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the inquiry classroom would be a better place for those children with special needs. I suspect the teacher who aligns with theories such as Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002) and probably Gardners Multiple Intelligences is able to engage all children and support different ways of learning. In reflecting back on discussions had when I did my post-graduate degree in early childhood teaching, I recall debates about play-based classrooms, which seem supported at the Prep level only to dwindle away as the pupil moves up grade levels. As this happens the focus becomes on a specific way of learning and multiple intelligences are ignored. This is contrary to how I believe students should be encouraged to learn. It seems to me that Inquiry Learning opens the door to support multiple intelligences and therefore supports the inclusive classroom. To what degree that support is, remains unclear. In concluding remarks on this question, it appears the place of kids with special needs, in the inquiry classroom is scarce in the literature. Though this could be a result of my focus, which was coming to grips with Inquiry-Based Learning.
A2. This question is close to my heart as I have been bitten before. And although I agree with Mandy where she writes the pedagogy is up to the teacher (Lupton, 2013), it’s still a hard gig if you are flying solo. However, as this subject unfolded the essential role the TL plays in teaching inquiry gives me a visage of inquiry teaching which is far more achievable. Of course there are the barriers as I mentioned in my essay, but the TL is perhaps in a better place to jockey for position and canvass the Principal and school community for changes such as those recommended by Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Casperi (2012) in their book “Guided inquiry design : a framework for inquiry in your school”. I especially like the use of expert teams where the TL, classroom teacher and where able, other expert plan for inquiry.
I have also learned of the essential role of the TL in implementing inquiry into the classroom which means the teacher is not on her/his own. And though many TLs in today’s schools may not know what I now know, it gives me cause for hope.
A3. Answers to question 3 roll on from my ponderings in question 2. I think out of necessity and survival on the ground, the inquiry teacher does need to adapt as far as humanly possible. That is, where a culture of Inquiry Learning is not embedded inside the school, the informed teacher performs inquiry-based lessons to the best of their ability. But where our schools are so results driven and standardized testing entrenched, it becomes a tricky business. However, having considered the literature I do believe that a framework of inquiry does realistically exist. Unfortunately it will require a massive shift in the politics and culture of teaching on the ground for it to be given the opportunity to prove as credible practice. Again, I’ll refer to Mandy’s words “The pedagogy of inquiry is the teacher’s responsibility” (Lupton 2013, p. 27) because I think it does reflect a paradigm for some change. While the national curriculum is indeed littered with the buzz words which frame inquiry there is a disconnect with the teaching of it. And while pedagogy does belong to the teacher, it would make it so much easier if policy makers would recognize what is required for our education to move forward, 21st century style.
I think I will also admit here to having some struggle with the brush of ‘educating the 21st century child’, coming from a Marxist perspective. Whilst Marx and Marxists talk about the training and education of children to ensure they are Capitalism compliant, the argument for educating our kids for the 21st century workforce, for me at least, implicates the same goal. However on the flip side implementing the inquiry-based classroom also seems to threaten the current education system… just more thoughts for me to ponder.
Coming back to earth, I have to acknowledge I have learned ‘heaps’, but I think importantly for my jaded self I have learned there is a basis for belief that change is possible and that one wee teacher-librarian might be able to positively affect it. The learning journey continues.
I have also learned to spell Kuhlthau without having to refer to the spelling of it!
(where no hyperlinks)
Lupton, Mandy (2013). Inquiry pedagogy and the Australian Curriculum. Primary and Middle Years Educator, 11(2), 23-29.