Researchers and educators have long emphasized the importance and value of engaging students in the authentic practices of the discipline they study (e.g. Edelson, 1998). Indeed, many argue that students cannot fully understand concepts without also participating in the practices through which these ideas are developed. In the classroom, this means engaging students in forms of inquiry that are similar to those that are used by literary scholars, historians, or scientists.
In all subjects, this type of inquiry involves student-driven investigations of complex or “no known answer” problems. In science, inquiry-based learning more specifically includes hands-on investigations, analyzing scientific data in many forms, including texts and graphics, and creating models to understand and explain scientific phenomena. Although the specific practices vary by discipline, the goal of apprenticing students to develop authentic habits of mind and reasoning skills remains constant.
Transitioning from Traditional Instruction
Experts agree that there are benefits to infusing authentic disciplinary inquiry into instruction, though moving away from traditional instruction can be challenging for many teachers. Inquiry-based learning has been shown to support not only conceptual understanding (e.g. White & Frederickson, 1998), but also understanding the skills and practices of the discipline. It has also been shown to increase students’ interest and engagement (e.g. Welch, Klopfer, Aikenhead, & Robinson, 1981).
Implementing inquiry-based learning in the classroom, however, comes with its own set of challenges. Productive inquiry-based learning is often complex, messy, and boisterous. Inquiry classrooms can initially seem less under control from a classroom management standpoint, with students loudly but productively collaborating. Teachers also commonly struggle with the balance between letting students independently engage in inquiry and ensuring they make the right connections. For many teachers, this work necessitates a shift in instructional practice as well as classroom management strategies. To facilitate this transition, teachers need opportunities to learn about and practice new forms of instruction in low stakes settings, such as professional development, before trying them out in classrooms.
The Role of Professional Development
Professional development that builds expertise and, in particular, self-efficacy with new instructional practices is the most valuable. In fact, research suggests that teachers’ sense of personal self-efficacy—the degree to which they believe that they can impact student learning—strongly influenced their attitudes toward implementing new instructional practices (Guskey, 1998). Teachers with a greater sense of self-efficacy thought that new practices were more congruent with their current practices and, more importantly, less difficult to implement. High self-efficacy teachers also rated new instructional practices as more important than teachers with low self-efficacy. This work suggests that building teachers’ self-efficacy, through professional development and other forms of support, is critical to success with innovative instruction.
Academic Approach offers professional development and instructional tools that support teachers in learning how to incorporate cutting-edge instructional practices, such as disciplinary inquiry. Our SAT Curriculum Toolkit includes curricular materials that engage students in skills and practices that align with disciplinary inquiry and reflect the types of reasoning that students will engage with on the SAT. The toolkit also includes professional development that focuses on implementing these skills and practices and supporting the development of SAT-aligned, inquiry-based instructional materials. Additionally, Academic Approach’s “So, What Now?” session incorporates best practices from research and classrooms to help teachers implement high-impact instructional strategies in their classrooms to better prepare students for the rigor of the SAT and college-level math and reading.
Contact us to discuss how Academic Approach’s professional development can help your school infuse new instructional practices into the classroom.