In today’s classroom, the word “why” isn’t used much. With the advent of state-mandated, multiple-choice exams, there seems to be little time for “why.” Who, then, is being left behind by this omission? In my opinion, we all are.
An inquiry-based approached to teaching slows things down. Never mind that studies show better comprehension of concepts is attained. Never mind that we are quickly becoming a society where “yes” or “no” will suffice as an answer to any question. Never mind that inquisitiveness and creativity, which made our country the most ingenious and productive of all modern civilizations, is eroding away. It’s our API (school report cards) scores that pay the bills in our public education system.
But all is not lost! To those of you who still look upon the agriculture teaching profession as a profession that values hands-on classroom instruction, supervised agriculture experiences, and leadership development through FFA activities as the mantra – I applaud you; spread the word! For those of you who may have lost your way or feel a job security threat, please read on.
The phrase “inquiry-based instruction” is merely the “educationese” term for asking questions of students that:
1) evaluate their comprehension and, more importantly,
2) allow the students to use their senses, emotions and actions when developing an answer to your questions.
It takes more preparation on the instructors’ part to ask the “how-, why-, where- and when-type” questions. It takes more instructor preparation because the teacher must be willing to accept and peruse answers that are not written on the side of the pages in the teacher’s copy of the classroom text book. It takes longer because the instructor must listen very carefully to the student’s answer (an answer that may not be familiar to the instructor) and direct or redirect the discussion back to the theme of the day’s lesson, yet still allowing that student to feel as if their answer was of value on some level.
Inquiry-based instruction takes longer because, in many cases, there ends up being more questions than answers; and, herein lies the most remarkable result of this kind of instruction: Being left with more questions than answers lets the student know there is a place for him or her in the world. It lets the student become part of the answer and that taking the responsibility to learn more about the question will result in an answer that 1) may make a difference in the world, or 2) may make a difference in his or her life.
I teach four different preps (routine for single-person agriculture departments across the nation). My classes range from earth science and biological science to economics (three of my four preps satisfy college preparatory requirements). I am constantly under pressure to have my agriculture students perform at or above the level of regular college prep core classes because our classes are considered by core administrators at the state level to be classes with little or no rigor in the curriculum. Many of us offer these alternative credit classes to stay alive in California. Many of us are learning how to hang on to our inquiry-based instruction and still cover all the material mandated by the state. And many of us are winning!
I think we are winning because we have found that students who are routinely asked inquiring questions instead of “true/false” or “multiple-choice” questions are able to internalize the concepts of the subject matter and, therefore, can retain the information longer (or at least until April - our magic testing month in California). But we are also learning that we have students who know why they are coming to class. We have students who are becoming aware that education can be fun, engaging and worthwhile. We have happy children – and no one feels left behind.