I never know where to start with blogs. However, that shortcoming is pretty apt for the articles I will be addressing today. When someone outside of the education field asks me: “What kind of teacher are you? The new-age love-dovey type or the traditional hard-edge type?” I know what they are really asking is if I teach using inquiry, or do I teach in a traditional/direct manner. I wonder why they use different terminology.



Disregarding the variety of ways people ask me this question, everyone does ask it once they have a meaningful window of time to discuss my profession. My answer is always the same; “I don’t really know where to start with that. Let’s just say, neither and both. Want to hear why?” Sometimes they do.

I will get to why at the end of my blog.

The two articles I read, Teaching for Meaningful Learning: A Review of Research on Inquiry-Based and Cooperative Learning By Dr. Brigid Barron and Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, and Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching By Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark argue for and against the inquiry based approach, respectively.

The first, Teaching for Meaningful Learning, was written by a psychologist and educator both teaching and researching at Stanford University. They advocate for the implementation of inquiry based learning at all levels of education. Their article uses various research papers to prove how students who learn through inquiry demonstrate the same abilities as students who learn in the conventional manner, but inquiry students excel far more in critical thinking abilities, which are generally held as the primary set of abilities we want our students to develop. The authors point out that this is a difficult outcome to achieve if teachers are not properly trained or given the time and resources for the task. I hope this is not a cop-out, the frequency of this point was concerning.

The second, Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work, was written by a trio of educational psychologist from various (but well-known) international universities. They advocate for the removal of minimally guided practices which all fall under the inquiry umbrella such as project-based learning, problem-based learning, discovery, experiential learning, and so forth. This article also uses various research papers to prove how students who learn through inquiry do not demonstrate the same abilities as their directly taught peers, and inquiry-taught students also demonstrate deficiencies in working memory. The authors point out that inquiry based learning has gone through many iterations, all which fall out of favor and are generally the same. Fun fact, the word ‘creative’ does not appear in this article (ctrl-f).

After reading both articles, I am hung up on two problems.

First, the desired outcome for student success is not the same. It seemed that the argument for inquiry based learning was centered around a stronger critical thinker. The argument for direct learning was focused on using direct teaching in order to train brains to better perform similar tasks. What exactly are we looking for as educators in B.C.? I do not think I know.

Second, I am annoyed with how the data in the articles are inconsistent with one another. The first article uses research showing improved performance of inquiry based learners, while the second uses research showing the opposite. Are the assessment techniques used to gauge effective learning insufficient and/or biased?

Perhaps each discipline has its own set of flaws?

So that brings me back to explaining why I am a teacher that uses both and neither the direct or inquiry approach. In practice, there is never a one size fits all. The plethora of teaching techniques (direct vs. inquiry), settings (public vs. private vs. homeschool vs. Montesorri), and demographics (physical geography, relative geography, physical population in a school) all effect what a teacher will need to do in order to best teach learners. I do not like to, nor would I ever, brand myself a direct or inquiry teacher. I frequently use techniques from both disciplines, and others. I have rehearsed, practiced, changed, tweaked, and revamped what I do based on my experiences. I sometimes do this on a daily basis, sometimes once a month. If I want to meet the underlying ethical demand of each article (which is to maximize the success of each and everyone of my students), why pigeon-hole myself into one mode of thinking when I have a room of students who likely benefit from one, the other, or a mix?

Links to articles:

Teaching for Meaningful Learning

Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work:…

Image attributions:

  1. “NCSSM_Display_Photos_Collection_0236” by NCSSMphotos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 
  2. “Inquiry Grade 5” by Lindy Buckley is licensed under CC BY 2.0 



Edit: I struggled during my first write in how I would connect these topics to social media. So I left that out. Luckily, in the proceeding day of class, Dale (a peer in my cohort) gave me a thought thanks to a story about his Journalism class. His students, after the first month of class, rejected his inquiry approach and demanded direct teaching, objective criterion, and a letter grade evaluation.

Social media, easy digital access, and digital literacy have allowed our adolescent students (at younger ages) to learn what to expect in post-secondary teaching practices. For example, some of my grade 8 students are already looking at what university will be like. This is a reason why students are rejecting particular disciplines, primarily Inquiry. They expect a direct, traditional approach in post-secondary. So they ask themselves ‘Why practice inquiry if it will have no bearing on my future studies?’ And as a teacher I wonder what happens when both types of students (those wanting inquiry or those wanting direct) are in the same high level, pre-requisite class?