What If Inquiry-Based Teaching Isn’t Always The Right Answer?

Inquiry-based learning has become more of a common practice throughout schools. It encourages asking questions, thinking deeper, and applying the material to personal lives. Inquiry-based learning is flexible because the student is the leader for where the conversation and learning leads. It can have higher engagement because the student can take the material where they want it to go. 

This type of learning is so beneficial in some studies. However, are there times when inquiry-based isn’t best? What are the parameters for inquiry-based versus direct instruction? 

Teamwork and group projects are where inquiry-based flourishes, students can collaborate, ask questions, and use the skills developed in inquiry learning to look deeper into the subject. 

Science lessons based on experiment and discovering new ideas is also a great platform for inquiry. 

Discussions on subjects are where inquiry-based can blossom. Promoting questions with long or different answers can assist in deeper inquiry, instead of direct, one-word answer questions. 

However, are there times inquiry-based learning isn’t the best way? Where does direct instruction fit into the school day? Here is a great rule of thumb- throw out inquiry-based as soon as you see a student struggling. It’s important to note that struggle is good when using inquiry because it can lead to more learning breakthroughs for the student. The struggle that causes red flags is the kids who are constantly struggling, the kids on a lower reading level than their peers, or the ones who cannot seem to grasp the concept enough to participate in these discussions. This is where direct instruction needs to happen. 

Imagine a struggling child who is constantly poked and prodded with questions about letters and sounds in order for them to inquire more about it, eventually leading to them knowing what the letter names and sounds are. If they are already behind, more inquiring isn’t going to help them. It’s a powerful tool to directly tell them what something is and how it functions over and over until it clicks. Once they can grasp this complex concept, they can continue to move up and work on each concept until eventually, they can participate in inquiry discussions. 

Sometimes, kids don’t need more questions, they just need direct information. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for inquiry-based learning, and plan to write more on the subject matter. But I am also an advocate for doing what is best for the student. 

What is your rule of thumb for direct versus inquiry learning? 

Looking into the Bond We Make with Literature

My daughter stared at a stack of library books with fear in her eyes saying, “No, mom. No!” as she grasped her favorite yellow book in her arms. How To Babysit A Grandpa has been on repeat over here for a few weeks now. I have a sneaky suspicion that it has something to do with the fact that her grandpa babysat for some time while I was out of town. 

I was annoyed with her persistence to continue reading the same book I’ve read at least 100 times today. Don’t get me wrong, I know the benefits of repeating text. However, we had Caldecott Medal books, Christmas themed books, and books about animals that go on wild adventures. How in the world could she not be excited about them? 

I attempted to pick up the books and briefly explaining what was happening in them. “Look! Santa is eating the cookies the kids left! I love cookies, do you love them too?” 

Nothing but fear came from her. 

“Oh! There is a puppy in this book! She looks like our puppy! Do you want to come to see?” 

Instead, she backed up, clenching her book even tighter. 

Why was she so hesitant about these fun books? We have a giant library of kid books at our house and she is very familiar with all of them. She’s well versed in Dr. Seuss, fairy tales, and how to babysit grandpas, so why was a few new books such a red flag on her radar? 

It took me a few days to understand, but finally, it clicked. She found safety in her books. She’s the kind of kid that thrives on predictability and sticks to what she knows. Venturing beyond brings anxiety, even in the form of books. She needed the comforting words of How To Babysit A Grandpa and she knew she could count on each different colored animal in Brown Bear, Brown Bear. There was no indication that these new library books would give her what she needed from them. 

So how did I eventually coax her into giving them a try? I stopped pushing. 

I left them to her access where she could see them always. We built up the predictability of these books by showing that they would stick around. 

I let her see me reading them. 

I referenced them often as we talked. “These cookies we made are yummy! They remind me of the cookies in the book about Santa!” 

When she finally did show interest, I didn’t push, I let her explore on her own. When she was ready, I joined her. 

We kept the books checked out for as long as the library would possibly let us keep them. By the time we had to return them, we didn’t make it through every page of every book, but we did read a significant amount. Then we filled our bag with new books and started the process all over again. 

This experience made me truly realize what comfort we can find in books. For the third-grader who is going through a really hard time with family troubles, Roald Dahl may hit right at home for her. The first-grade student who wasn’t quite ready to be away from her mom for a full day yet might be flipping through the pages of Goodnight Moon over and over because she can hear her parents voice reading it to her. Maybe a high school student continues to check out The Hunger Games from the library for the 6th time that school year because he feels confident in his ability to read the storyline and is intimidated by other similar series. 

Books can have a huge impact on anyone’s life, especially kids. They bring a sense of safety, security, and predictability into their lives. It opened my eyes to realize that books can be scary, and books can be comforting, it all depends on the situation. 

How do you encourage hesitant readers to try something new? Have you been a hesitant reader before too?