Embrace inquiry-based learning for better results

Most accomplished teachers find questioning a very efficient way to keep students engaged.  They creatively formulate questions that productively aid the understanding of new concepts. But imagine flipping this role. What if students asked more and more questions?

Students asking questions in class is just as important (perhaps even more effective) as the teacher doing it. From young children whose mantra for everything is “Why?” to teens that require effective inquiry skills as part of their preparation for successful post-secondary life, this need is high. However, our challenge is where to begin. How can educators jump-start a culture of fostering student inquiry that, in turn, fosters questions and ideas?

To start with, create a conducive environment in the classroom. The trick is to make students comfortable among other students and the teachers so that they don’t feel terrified thinking about whether or not they are asking the right questions. Teachers can encourage students by asking them to make a list of 10 questions from any particular topic and hold class sessions where students get to play the role of the teacher. Asking a question in between peers and teachers prepares students to face the outspoken and challenging world they are finally going to enter.

Another way to promote enquiry based learning is through spider discussion.  In this type of discussion, learners are allowed to prepare questions on what they want to know before class, to be used in a group discussion where the teacher remains silent, allowing student voices to carry the day. As students discuss the topic, the teacher silently maps the flow of conversation by drawing lines from one speaker to the next. The intent is to capture who contributes and to what depth. It’s amazing what students can come up with when the teacher is silent. Often during teacher-led conversations, some students will defer to the instructor rather than take risks with exploring their thoughts. Other students may be content to keep their rich thoughts to themselves, while the discussion is carried on by a few. Spider discussion encourages idea generation and reflection.

Personal revision questions prepared by students also come in handy in aiding learning. However, students must be trained first on how to formulate questions. This can begin with a task as simple as reading a paragraph and formulating questions to give to their colleagues to answer. If this method is effectively used, learning gets easier. Students coming up with questions will also help teachers in understanding the perceiving level of students, which area of the course they understand and will help to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the students. With them asking questions, you can have a look in their mind and know what makes sense to them and what not. Teachers can further experiment with their teaching strategies for the optimum understanding of the class.

At the end of the day, inquiry based learning empowers students to be the drivers of their own learning. If you ask your students to come up with questions after every session, it will help them look at things with more than one perspective; hence, enhance learning.

The writer is a Language Consultant