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Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is gaining more and more attention from modern educators as a method of encouraging children’s independent and creative activity. In Early Years training, this approach is particularly useful since young learners receive the opportunity to learn through real-life experiences and satisfy their eagerness to investigate processes around them. This paper includes an analysis of IB learning and teaching as a part of the Early Years programme and includes reflections on teacher identity. IBL is viewed as a beneficial strategy that has the potential to cultivate young learners’ hypothesising skills and encourage them to think independently and analytically.
Inquiry-Based Teaching Practices in Early Years Training
IBL is an approach to teaching and learning that presupposes children’s active participation in increasing their knowledge instead of passively receiving the knowledge of somebody else. Inquiries into the classroom dimension are governed by three principal frameworks: establishment of classroom objectives, recognition of an instructional approach to engage learners, and the teacher’s degree of direction (Kidman & Casinader, 2017). IBL practices are highly relevant to Early Years teaching since young children are particularly curious about everything surrounding them. Children’s natural eagerness for understanding processes happening in their lives is the major driver for IBL. However, it is also crucial to examine the function of the teacher in such a learning environment.
When analysing IBL, specialists remark that using the term ‘learning’ undermines the role of teaching, which is at the core of this process. Scholars acknowledge the importance of teachers’ support and guidance when undertaking inquiries (Kidman & Casinader, 2017). However, at the same time, they note that the level of guidance should be carefully adjusted to students’ needs so that the line between active and passive learning will not be crossed. According to the basic hierarchy of inquiry-oriented teaching practices, the level of teacher direction may vary from exposition and narration to support and encouragement (Kidman & Casinader, 2017). At the highest point of the scale, which is called hypothetical inquiry, the teacher supports the learners’ inquiry but gives no direction, thus ensuring the process of learning is a creative activity (Kidman & Casinader, 2017). Therefore, it is necessary to take into consideration both the teaching and learning experiences when analysing the importance of IBL.
A teachers’ role may be scrutinised under two types of the learning environment: field and classroom. Classroom learning environments (CLEs) are located within the premises of an educational establishment. Field learning environments (FLEs) are locations beyond school, including libraries, museums, gardens, parks, or virtual spaces that require the use of the software. Researchers emphasise the significance of the IB approach in learning science (Cremin, Glauert, Craft, Compton, & Stylianidou, 2015). Indeed, scholars argue that IB teaching has the potential to increase children’s understanding of science considerably (Samarapungavan, Patrick, & Mantzicopoulos, 2011). Therefore, such spaces as science museums are gaining popularity as FLEs, where young learners can explore science through hands-on inquiries (Duran, Ballone-Duran, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2009). The nature of LEs predetermines the variety of teachers’ roles in each setting. For example, learners have more freedom in FLEs than in CLEs (Kidman & Casinader, 2017). The simplest explanation for the differences between LEs is that in a CLE, students mostly work with secondary data, while in an FLE, they have the opportunity to generate primary data by themselves. How this data is gathered depends on the teachers’ mastery of IB teaching.
To encourage children’s inquiry, a teacher needs to initiate their interest in a topic. The most significant positive outcome from such encouragement is students engaging in hypothesising and starting to ask questions about relevant issues. The skill of questioning is more basic than that of hypothesising since even a learner with little knowledge of a subject can ask questions. However, when understanding of the topic deepens, the teacher can guide children to make hypotheses about various issues or phenomena (Kidman & Casinader, 2017). The teacher’s role in developing students’ hypothesising skills is highly significant. The educator’s task is to guide the discussion process during which learners should discern between what is known and what requires further investigation and analysis. While hypothesising is largely viewed as a scientific skill, it can also be employed in humanities under the IBL approach to make predictions about some phenomena (Kidman & Casinader, 2017).
To develop students’ inquiry skills, the teacher has to be persistent and creative when leading the initial stages of questioning. When developing inquiry teaching practices in Early Years teaching, one should make use of the positive factors and be cautious of the negative aspects. Advantages of IBL include developing children’s independent thinking, deepening their analytical skills, and encouraging independent learning under the teacher’s guidance. However, there are some serious challenges associated with the introduction of IBL in one’s teaching practice that should be considered as well. One major obstacle is a teacher’s lack of confidence or expertise (Kidman & Casinader, 2017). If the educator does not have a sufficient degree of inquiry literacy, they cannot be as effective in promoting their students’ IBL. Hence, the primary goal of a teacher is to obtain the necessary knowledge of IB learning and teaching before engaging in these processes.
Personal Reflection on Inquiry-Based Teaching Practices
Being a pre-service teacher, I have not had any teaching experience yet, so my reflections on IB teaching practices will be based on the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) (2011). According to Sachs, teacher identity (TI) is “the core of the teaching profession” (as cited in Oruç, 2013, p. 208). Through understanding one’s TI, future or practising, educators can establish what approaches they can employ during an activity to make their practice useful and effective. The professional identity of teachers working in present-day environments presupposes being engaged in lifelong learning, following professional ethics and standards, and participating in professional membership foundations (Moss, 2016). There is a variety of skills and expertise issues that TI covers: self-assessment, disciplinary and cross-disciplinary knowledge, equity, professional activism, networking, mentoring, research, reflection and problem solving (Moss, 2016). Some of the ‘literacies’ I still need to develop as a teacher involve teacher research, cross-disciplinary knowledge, and networking.
These aspects are included in APST (2011) as a professional practice and professional engagement domains. Through further enriching the knowledge and skills I already have, I will be able to enact IB practices in my teaching. Linn and Jacobs (2015) emphasise the importance of introducing IB technologies into teacher preparation programs. I believe IB practices will have a positive effect on my teaching, so I intend to enact IBL through applying core knowledge and understanding of the significance of teacher-child interactions (Linn & Jacobs, 2015). Also, I plan to use the approaches of reflective learning to analyse work in the classroom and find ways of increasing my efficacy as a teacher.
Reflection is probably the most suitable alternative approach to inquiry teaching in relation to my specialisation since it will enable me to understand the achievements and problems as a practising educator, as well as help in finding solutions to more complex issues. Another complementary approach to inquiry teaching practice will be research work since I consider it an effective means of increasing knowledge and mastering my practical skills. To enact IB practices in my teaching, I will promote the development of children’s cognitive and metacognitive processes (Wang, Kinzie, McGuire, & Pan, 2010). However, as a pre-service teacher, I realise that there are some challenges related to the integration of inquiry instruction in contemporary school environments (Eckhoff, 2017). Therefore, I will strive to provide each learner with equal access to educational opportunities within the IBL settings (Malone, 2008). To do so, I will need to make sure that my personal identity does not interfere with my professional identity.
When analysing one’s TI, it is crucial to consider one’s beliefs and values as a learner (Graham & Phelps, 2003). Research indicates that soon after placement, new teachers realise that there are gaps in perceiving their TI, which may influence their practice in a negative way (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009). For me, the most difficult component of shaping TI is the role of emotions. I realise that allowing personal and professional identities to intermingle could have a detrimental impact on my practice, so I plan to work hard to avoid this scenario. The values I consider most crucial involve understanding the divergences between children’s physical and intellectual development that can affect learners’ level of perception. Also, I believe that teachers need to express empathy toward children and treat each student with respect, regardless of their economic and cultural background. It is important to bear in mind that TI tends to change throughout one’s professional life due to various external and internal factors (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009).
One’s emotions, life experiences, and other issues can all influence one’s identity. At this point, I view a successful teacher as a professional who is well-educated, unbiased, continuously working on personal development, and who knows how to implement IBL in different learning environments. As a pre-service teacher, I have some apprehensions regarding the challenging aspects of implementing IBL. For instance, I am worried about enhancing my knowledge, selecting the most effective strategies, and combining teaching with continuous self-development. Before starting this course, I did not know what IBL was. While the course has given me a lot of new knowledge about this specific approach, I feel the need to enhance my understanding further through research and practice. I realise that both school administration and parents will expect me to offer the best learning opportunities to children, and I intend to work hard to live up to their expectations. The course has provided me with the foundations of IBL, which I will cultivate in the future.
Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. (2011). Web.
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