When deciding how to approach this year’s course, the main thing I was struggling with was how to manage the technical aspects of performing research with a variety of factors like: ability levels, background, class size, etc. I asked the members of my collaborative inquiry group (CIG) as well as an attending facilitator, James Ritchey, for advice during our Skype meeting on Thursday, December 1, 2011.

My question:
Do I conduct research using scientific methodology for comparing the results between direct instruction and inquiry based strategies – meaning the use of a control group versus an experimental group with same-age students?

James’ response:
We can consider this type of study “action research.” Since you’ve already taught a particular lesson one way, you don’t need a control group. You can just teach using inquiry-based strategies and compare it to previous experience. Also, there are many different approaches and direct-instruction is not necessarily the opposite of inquiry-based. You can have a materials-based, skills-based, or any other myriad approaches based on content, ideas, facts, emotional expression, history, etc. If you are thinking you are already comfortable with inquiry, then what is the next direction or challenge?

This conversation really made me look at what I was trying to accomplish. I want to figure out which teaching strategies work best for certain skills. Finding the balance between giving instruction and not giving instruction (or when to do so) is the biggest struggle for me.

I specifically remember one CIG meeting where Mary Elizabeth shared a chart that visually depicted the stages of inquiry. On one side, you could see that a clear direct approach was taken. And, on the other side, an full inquiry approach was used. There were in-between stages that described some of the strategies I tried. That give-and-take was what really the basis of what I wanted to research this year. Where is the balance between the two approaches and when is it appropriate to use one or the other or a combination of the two? MEM, if you are reading this and have it available, can you post that chart for our CIG (or anyone who is interested) to look at?

I think at this point, I can still say that teaching entirely to one modality is not necessarily the best practice and probably not what I envisioned aiming for. I think the best practice is to use a variety of teaching strategies, just like using a variety of assessment strategies reaches more learners. I need to find that balance.

Moving forward, how can I plan for the best uses of inquiry?