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As we explore inquiry-based learning with you, we'd be remiss not to address some of the fallacies that have surfaced about it over the years. After all, some teachers are reluctant to embrace inquiry initiatives in their classrooms.
Our purpose here is to dispel the most persistent inquiry-based learning myths in circulation. We hear these five more than any others. So we're happy to set the record straight once and for all.
1. Inquiry-based learning is a new way of teaching.
Actually, inquiry-based learning has been around for thousands of years. It dates back to the philosopher Socrates and just happens to be integral to the Socratic Method. However, it gained some real traction during the discovery movement of the late 1960s. During this time, psychologist Jerome Bruner argued for its merits this way:
"Practice in discovering for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily viable in problem-solving."
Its roots can also be found in the constructivist learning theories of Jean Piaget, John Dewey, and Lev Vygotsky. Something that's been around that long isn't a new idea at all. And let's face it—sometimes the old ways are the best.
2. Inquiry-based learning is a learning style.
Inquiry-based learning is, in fact, a full-fledged pedagogy. The term "learning styles" has been tossed around educational discussion circles for years. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support them.
In fact, articles like “The Problem with Learning Styles” from Scientific American cite studies that challenge the idea of learning styles head on:
“A recent review of the scientific literature on learning styles found scant evidence to clearly support the idea that outcomes are best when instructional techniques align with individuals’ learning styles ... there are several studies that contradict this belief. It is clear that people have a strong sense of their own learning preferences, but it is less clear that these preferences matter.”
3. Inquiry-based learning takes too much time.
It takes no more time to implement than simply asking questions to provoke investigation and discussion. After that, your learners take the lead while you facilitate their progress. The Future-Focused Inquiry Cycle makes it more accessible.
If you're not familiar with the system, this is how it works. Luckily the cycle also addresses the idea that inquiry-based learning fails to adequately address curriculum.
THE GLOBAL CONCEPT
The Global Concept is the focus of inquiry summed up in just a few words, or even only one (e.g. Sustainability, Inclusion, Tolerance). Learners are encouraged to pursue these concepts in ways that speak to them personally, creating a stronger connection to the material.
THE 4 CS
- Curious: This is the concepts in the content that learners can think about and discuss to drive their curiosity forward.
- Connect: Bringing the content to learners by making relevant connections to different concepts inspires real learning.
- Communicate: Here, we state what message and essential learnings we want our students to gain.
- Create: This is what learners will present to demonstrate their understanding of, and appreciation for, what they’ve learned.
Here's what all four Cs look like stranded together to create the line of inquiry:
Learners are curious about ______ and make connections to ______ which allow them to communicate ______ by creating ______.
As you unpack curriculum, you’ll discover every standard usually fits and can be addressed through either one or more of these four categories. The 4 Cs become the line of inquiry, or an overview of the unit of study. Suddenly you understand not only why you are doing the unit, but what you want it to achieve.
4. Inquiry-based learning is just students doing whatever they want.
Sometimes the first image that materializes when teachers hear “student-led” isn’t a pleasant one. Many envision diluted content in an uncontrolled state of classroom chaos, where no “real” learning takes place. Nothing could be more untrue.
In the article Busting 5 Myths of Inquiry-Based Learning, Ross Cooper reinforces the essential role an educator plays in inquiry-based learning:
“The teacher works to uncover misconceptions students hold about a given topic … what students lack in experience, they often make up for with their imagination ... the teacher helps inspire student inquiry by providing an environment worth exploring … proposing a provocative question, providing materials for an experiment without a road map, or simply encouraging students to look critically at the world around them ... students learn the terms through experiences, which deepen the learning of the vocabulary and it is therefore more likely the learning will transfer to later endeavors.”
These are a few of the many ways teachers facilitate the inquiry process. What matters is they are still at the heart of the adventure along with their students.
5. Inquiry-based learning isn’t for every student.
Inquiry-based learning is for ALL students of all ages and disciplines. The beauty of it is that once a line of inquiry is opened, it adapts to an individual’s learning background and personal experience. The vocabularies of inquiry and discovery learning are vast, and they welcome every language in the world.
What we essentially have with inquiry-based learning is a process that is fluid and completely adaptable. Within its fold, teachers and students work with each other and with peers to take steps toward the goals that have been set. There is no direction, and yet there is purpose. Many things are uncertain, yet the process is harmonious. We are searching for the unknown, and yet the path is made clear through questioning and exploration.
This is what learning is all about, and learning is for everyone.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published May 23, 2019, updated Dec 18, 2021