“Construction of knowledge, through disciplined inquiry, to produce discourse, products and performances and that have meaning beyond success in school.”
Wehlage, Newman & Secada
Student Ownership of Inquiry
When considering the matter of student ownership of the inquiry, the ideal situation is where students have full ownership of the initial question, idea, problem or issue. I totally agree that this is what we should be aiming for, however the reality in the primary school classroom is that many students don’t have the skills to come up with rich questions until these skills have been taught. So how we achieve this ownership in the classroom and still cover the topics we consider are important for students, but for which they show little interest? How for that matter do we work on topics they don’t even know exist?
A useful question to ask students when they begin their inquiry is why they want to answer the question/solve the problem that is at the heart of their inquiry. This answer will help focus them on where they are heading. The answer may be just that they really want to know the answer or could be something that involves others e.g. they want to influence others or take some action. This can help greatly at the create/synthesis and communicate phases of the inquiry. (Thanks to Lorraine Watchorn for this suggestion)
Posing Problems of Emerging Relevance
More illumination on this matter came from reading Jacqueline Brooks’ book ‘In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms’ which seemed to offer some answers evidenced in this quote:
“Critics contend that the constructivist approach stimulates learning only around concepts in which the students have a pre-kindled interest. Such criticisms miss the mark. Posing problems of emerging relevance is a guiding principle of constructivist pedagogy. However, relevance does not have to be pre-existing for the student. Not all students arrive at the classroom door interested in learning about verb constructs, motion and mechanics, biological cycles, or historical timelines, but most students can be helped to construct understandings of the importance of these topics. Relevance can emerge through teacher mediation. " (Brooks, 1999, p.35)
Brooks goes on to explain some of the ways we can kindle that interest thus giving students ownership of their inquiry. This fits well with the ideas I discussed previously about guided inquiry. It also fits well with the immersion or knowledge attack stage of an inquiry. This book is well worth reading, I can certainly recommend it.
In discussing this issue Bruner (1971) wrote:
"It is just as mistaken to sacrifice the adult to the child as to sacrifice the child to the adult. It is sentimentalism to assume that the teaching of life can be fitted always to the child’s interests just as it is empty formalism to force the child to parrot the formulas of adult society. Interests can be created and stipulated (p. 117).”
The Galileo Network Inquiry Rubric has criteria for authenticity and student ownership of an inquiry topic which is also well worth a look. For more thoughts on this topic see the page on Guided Inquiry.
Brooks, J. & Brooks, M. (1999). In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Bruner, J. (1971). The Relevance of Education. N. Y.: Norton.
Wehlage, G., Newman, F. & Secada W. (1996). Standards for authentic achievement and pedagogy. In Newman F. M & Assoc. (Eds.) Authentic achievement: Restructuring schools for intellectual quality. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
2006 Jan-Marie Kellow