Inquiry-Based Learning and Its Enhancement of the Practice of Teaching
- Susan Groundwater-SmithSusan Groundwater-SmithUniversity of Sydney
Learning about the practice of teaching is a complex and ongoing business. While it may commence as initial teacher education, undertaken as tertiary study, it necessarily continues throughout a teacher’s professional career. This is recognized by employing authorities across many parts of the world as they make provisions for professional learning often characterized as “professional development,” mainly through short and longer generic courses. However, such provision may lack contextual coherence leading to an acknowledgement that the complexity of teaching may be better captured through systematic inquiry undertaken by practitioners into their own practices in the company of others. Such inquiry could investigate not only matters of significance in terms of actions and activities, but also take account of local and external relevant discourses and the arrangements of relationships with peers and students themselves mediated by a variety of factors, for example, social geography. Educational practice is best seen as a “living practice” constantly morphing and changing in accord with a dynamic world. It can be argued that inquiry-based learning is itself a practice-changing practice with a focus on a range of matters such as enhancing student learning outcomes through a profound understanding of how students learn via their agency as the consequential stakeholders able and willing to provide their teachers with honest and worthwhile feedback. As well practitioner inquiry may address what is worthwhile, fundamental and enduring, and seek to integrate current theories with practice.
Many so-called “improvements” and “reforms” in education are developed with little reference to that which teachers know and understand of their practice. They are developed for teachers rather than with teachers. As a redress it is essential that teachers themselves can articulate their practice and provide sustainable, plausible evidence of not only their achievements, but also the many matters that present ongoing challenges, for example: the impact of social media on classroom dynamics; technological innovation more generally; and state-wide testing regimes combined with international comparisons. Systematic inquiry can contribute not only to the professional learning of the practitioners who are so engaged, but also to the larger body of knowledge regarding professional practice. With this end in mind, it is essential that inquiry-based learning is both to the benefit of individual teachers as well as the broader profession itself and to act as an antidote to some of the less desirable features of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). Thus inquiry-based learning may be seen as a powerful reform in its own right.