Using Investigation and Discussion to Inquire about Issues in Primary Social Studies, pp. 2 of 15

Unlike traditional instruction whereby teachers teach content through telling and children learn passively in class by listening, teachers using the inquiry approach to frame their lessons around key inquiry questions about a topic, a problem or an issue and develop activities for children to play an active role in seeking answers to the questions and derive their own conclusion based on evidence. In the inquiry classroom, teachers are no longer the knowledge dispensers; rather they play the role of facilitators to provide the necessary scaffolding and resources to support their children’s learning. The resources for inquiry go beyond the textbook which is the dominant material used in traditional classroom instruction. Instead, they can be drawn from a plethora of sources such as artefacts, pictures, video clips, audio-clips, maps, statistics and resource persons. The focus of inquiry lessons is the learning process of how information can be acquired by children and how they can make sense of the information through analysis, interpretation and conclusion and is not solely on the products of learning (Van Cleaf, 1991).

The inquiry approach can be implemented by using discussion and investigation (MOE, 2013).  According to Parker and Hess (2001), discussion is defined as a shared inquiry which involves listening and talking to others about something – it could be a topic, a problem, an issue, etc. During a discussion, children air their views, evaluate their classmates’ claims, make sense of what transpired and incorporate others’ interpretations and life experiences into their own understanding. The outcome of such classroom inquiry is shared and enlarged understanding (Parker & Hess, 2001; Walsh & Sattes, 2015). As for investigation, it is known as the scientific method whereby children go through a series of steps to find out something (Parker, 2012; Savage & Armstrong, 2008; Van Cleaf, 1991). Many types of investigation models are written in the general teaching and social studies methods books and these include Group Investigation by Shlomo Sharan and Yael Sharan (1999), WebQuest by Bernie Dodge (2011) and Walter Parker’s (2012) Inquiry Model. Although these investigation models vary in terms of the number of steps, purposes and context for use, all of them have certain basic steps in common, and these are: a) identify the problem, issue, hypothesis or question, b) collect data, c) analyse data and d) draw conclusion (Savage & Armstrong, 2008; Van Cleaf, 1991). Based on the MOE’s (2013) syllabus, discussion using questions for lower primary teaching is encouraged as teachers can utilise the ministry-produced social studies readers in the form of big books to promote young children’s curiosity. For the upper primary children, investigation as an instructional approach is promoted to develop older children’s critical minds.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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