Why Making Students Teach Themselves isn’t Always a Bad Thing (Inquiry-Based Learning)

John Dewey said, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” Too often, students are bored from eight to four, and the information they “learn” is often only retained until they are tested on it. Inquiry-based learning changes this. The basic principle of inquiry-based learning is to base students’ learning upon their own interests. Inquiry-based learning is flipping the conventional classroom setting around. Instead of teachers feeding students information, this method is more focused on answering questions that students have already. These questions can be answered by the teacher throughout their lessons or through student research.

An inquiry-based classroom would give students much time to research their chosen topic. Then, students would present the information they learned to the class orally, online, etc. This method really gives students the opportunity to explore their own interests and passions. One disadvantage to this method, however, is its outward appearance to some parents. This practice may give the impression that teachers only give students the freedom to pursue their own interests to alleviate the workload from themselves. Although it may appear this way to some, inquiry-based learning has proven to be very beneficial, and lower-achieving students have especially seen improvement.

One of the reasons I chose this pedagogical method was because I have experienced it this semester. ENG 331, Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing is a prime example of inquiry-based learning.  Throughout the semester, we have had time to research, posted about our research online in the form of weekly blogs, and discussed our topics in class.  Prior to this class, inquiry-based learning was completely new to me. I am used to more black-and-white assignments, so the layout of the class took some getting used to. One of our first assignments was to study one aspect about the history of rhetoric and teaching writing and compose our findings to the class blog. Considering I didn’t even know writing had much of a history (and I had to look up what rhetoric even meant), I was a bit overwhelmed. However, after putting time into research, I found it to be an extremely interesting subject. Our most recent assignment was to write a letter to modern writers from a historical figure, anyone we would like, while taking on this person’s “persona.” This has been my favorite so far. The connection between just these two projects was that students got to choose something WE were interested in. My professor did not say, “Research so-and-so and write a report on him.” How fun would that have been? I especially enjoyed the second assignment I mentioned. For another class, I am studying Walt Whitman and have found him to be an extremely interesting character. I loved getting to step outside of myself and explore his personality even more.

The best part about inquiry-based learning is that it requires much more student participation in their learning. They no longer have to just memorize whatever is “taught” to them; they actually have to put effort into learning something they are interested in. This method also gives students the opportunity to learn from each other. Something we have talked about throughout this semester is teaching students to be learners not just obedient, and inquiry-based learning does just that.

Here are some useful websites and articles I found on inquiry-based learning.




Here are some accounts that mentioned inquiry-based learning in some of their posts. The last account is focused on inquiry-based learning in a math class, but I still found it helpful!

https://twitter.com/smokeylit       @smokeylit

https://twitter.com/joannebabalis       @joannebalis

https://twitter.com/IBLMath          @IBLMath

Here is link to my letter from Walt Whitman if anyone is curious about it! Also, if you click on “Teaching the Writerly Life” at the top of the page, you can see the other topics my class has been learning/teaching each other about!