Episode 1: Why Inquiry-Based Approaches Harm Students’ Learning by John Sweller

In this episode of Progressively Incorrect, Zach Groshell and Bradley Arnold discuss “Why Inquiry-Based Approaches Harm Students’ Learning” by John Sweller. Brad emphasizes the importance of developing students’ inquiry skills through a variety of activities that are determined on the basis of formative assessment, and Zach isn’t sure whether inquiry skills are biologically primary, and therefore cannot be taught, and attempts to describe the difference between one-way lecturing and effective explicit instruction.

10 thoughts on “Episode 1: Why Inquiry-Based Approaches Harm Students’ Learning by John Sweller”

Great format for a podcast. I was on the edge of my seat, going back and forth in my mind. Please keep it debate oriented for as long as possible, as I learned a lot by hearing you disagree honestly and in real time…but in a civil manner! Please continue!

I loved this podcast. I am new to inquiry based teaching and sometimes really find it hard to work with as I myself have studied in a very traditional method of teaching. I did notice in my class a few days that my students are kind of completely disinterested in the inquiry task. What I learnt from today’s session is that it is important to teach foundation knowledge very explicitly which is very much interactive with lots of question and answers, discussion, note taking and should be followed up by applying it into new situation. I don’t know if I did it right but just want to share an example. We did decimals in our class and students learnt about the decimals through explicit teaching mostly with activities which involved use of money. As a FA, they formed their groups of 3 students each and I gave them food items price list with their pictures to make it more appealing, kind of pamphlets. Their task was to frame 2 word problems of all 4 mathematical operations. And I did get impressive results with some students needing little help . Although that took long time and we could hardly do other ready made word problems based on the same concepts.

I think what you describe are the tenets of good explicit teaching. Contrary to popular belief, explicit teaching does involve questioning, valuing students’ interests and getting them to actively participate in activities involving the material. It just doesn’t start with a student choosing a topic, inquiring into it individually or in groups, and evaluating their inquiry skills at the end. Explicit teaching involves a teacher leading the learning, fully explaining concepts, and gradually releasing students into independent work, which is not for discovery, but for practice of the taught material.

I also had some thoughts about the points being debated. I believe there’s a continuum of approaches that might fit both world views, but it depends on the expertise of the learner. Here’s an example.

Step 1 – For the novice (or Dunning-Kruger-afflicted-learner), I like to immerse them in a “failure experience that matters”. This has to be crafted carefully to give them an experience of “wanting to use the knowledge but not being able to do so effectively.” This builds motivation and curiosity.
Step 2 – Explicit How-To Steps leading to Me-We-You practice
Step 3 – Inquiry-Based application of what was learned

This approach could fix some of the problems you highlighted by following one approach or the other exclusively. I think there’s a way to time the above steps so that it suits the needs of a class of learners, which as different than trying to teach one person.

Also, the questions around pedagogy vs andragogy were lurking in the background of your debate, and probably will come up once again. I only teach adults, and they seem to be unforgiving of minor lapses in design. They are gone to their smartphones in an instant.

Your thoughts? I don’t know if you are interested in using the comments for this kind of further discussion so I will take your lead!

The first step you mention relates to the productive failure evidence, which is still emerging. I think it’s possible to do it well if you’re careful, but it has to be followed by explicit instruction. That’s how the productive failure experiments are conducted, and I’m not sure you’ll get an effect without it. Maybe the failure experience prepares the student for explicit instruction by activating prior knowledge or getting the student to recognize gaps in prior knowledge, who knows.

I don’t know if I’d call step 3 inquiry-based, discovery based or otherwise. I’d call it practice. Practice as application of what was taught. It’s a bit of a misconception that explicit teaching doesn’t involve the students doing anything – in all models I’ve explored from the teacher effects pattern, Archer, Rosenshine, DISTAR, Hollingsworth and the rest, practice is a major component, but it isn’t inquiry in the sense of the student launching an investigation on the basis of an interest.

Great format for a podcast. I was on the edge of my seat, going back and forth in my mind. Please keep it debate oriented for as long as possible, as I learned a lot by hearing you disagree honestly and in real time…but in a civil manner! Please continue!

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Thank you! Yes, it’s fun recording them. We’ll keep the same format, for sure.

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I loved this podcast. I am new to inquiry based teaching and sometimes really find it hard to work with as I myself have studied in a very traditional method of teaching. I did notice in my class a few days that my students are kind of completely disinterested in the inquiry task. What I learnt from today’s session is that it is important to teach foundation knowledge very explicitly which is very much interactive with lots of question and answers, discussion, note taking and should be followed up by applying it into new situation. I don’t know if I did it right but just want to share an example. We did decimals in our class and students learnt about the decimals through explicit teaching mostly with activities which involved use of money. As a FA, they formed their groups of 3 students each and I gave them food items price list with their pictures to make it more appealing, kind of pamphlets. Their task was to frame 2 word problems of all 4 mathematical operations. And I did get impressive results with some students needing little help . Although that took long time and we could hardly do other ready made word problems based on the same concepts.

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I think what you describe are the tenets of good explicit teaching. Contrary to popular belief, explicit teaching does involve questioning, valuing students’ interests and getting them to actively participate in activities involving the material. It just doesn’t start with a student choosing a topic, inquiring into it individually or in groups, and evaluating their inquiry skills at the end. Explicit teaching involves a teacher leading the learning, fully explaining concepts, and gradually releasing students into independent work, which is not for discovery, but for practice of the taught material.

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I also had some thoughts about the points being debated. I believe there’s a continuum of approaches that might fit both world views, but it depends on the expertise of the learner. Here’s an example.

Step 1 – For the novice (or Dunning-Kruger-afflicted-learner), I like to immerse them in a “failure experience that matters”. This has to be crafted carefully to give them an experience of “wanting to use the knowledge but not being able to do so effectively.” This builds motivation and curiosity.

Step 2 – Explicit How-To Steps leading to Me-We-You practice

Step 3 – Inquiry-Based application of what was learned

This approach could fix some of the problems you highlighted by following one approach or the other exclusively. I think there’s a way to time the above steps so that it suits the needs of a class of learners, which as different than trying to teach one person.

Also, the questions around pedagogy vs andragogy were lurking in the background of your debate, and probably will come up once again. I only teach adults, and they seem to be unforgiving of minor lapses in design. They are gone to their smartphones in an instant.

Your thoughts? I don’t know if you are interested in using the comments for this kind of further discussion so I will take your lead!

LikeLiked by 1 person

The first step you mention relates to the productive failure evidence, which is still emerging. I think it’s possible to do it well if you’re careful, but it has to be followed by explicit instruction. That’s how the productive failure experiments are conducted, and I’m not sure you’ll get an effect without it. Maybe the failure experience prepares the student for explicit instruction by activating prior knowledge or getting the student to recognize gaps in prior knowledge, who knows.

I don’t know if I’d call step 3 inquiry-based, discovery based or otherwise. I’d call it practice. Practice as application of what was taught. It’s a bit of a misconception that explicit teaching doesn’t involve the students doing anything – in all models I’ve explored from the teacher effects pattern, Archer, Rosenshine, DISTAR, Hollingsworth and the rest, practice is a major component, but it isn’t inquiry in the sense of the student launching an investigation on the basis of an interest.

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Thanks for the great discussion!

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Appreciated!

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