Teaching Geographical Concepts and Skills in Primary Social Studies, pp. 4 of 13

Teaching Using Inquiry

Besides using deductive and inductive approaches, another way to teach geographical concepts and generalizations in primary social studies is to frame the lessons around key questions. The inquiry approach is one in which teachers assist students to develop abilities to ask questions about the spatial characteristics of a place like a neighbourhood and to seek answers through inquiry activities such as research and fieldwork (Carter, 1998; Catling & Willy, 2009). Inquiry questions can be generated by teachers or students. Teachers can raise questions such as those in Figure 1 below and get students to investigate. Alternatively, teachers can get students to ask their own questions about a place. In student-initiated inquiry, teachers play the role of a facilitator and help students shape their questions and guide them in their inquiry.  Interestingly, Rowley (2006 cited in Catling & Willy, 2009, p 65) has argued that inquiry initiated by teachers and structured around questions in Figure 1 may inhibit students from being engaged with matters that are truly meaningful to them, making proposals or even taking  actions.

The decision of whether to have teacher-directed inquiry or student-directed inquiry or a combination of both is determined by many factors such as the syllabus, instructional objectives and student profiles. If the lesson outcome is to develop students to take more initiative in inquiry, then student-directed inquiry is the choice. Usually, student-directed inquiry is more suited for older students who are more mature and self-directed. For younger students, teacher-directed inquiry tends to work better.

Regardless of who initiates the inquiry, in essence, inquiry is about facilitating students to be connected, involved, aware and challenged (Catling & Willy, 2009). Students are connected because the inquiry is relevant and interesting to them. They are involved because of their active engagement in the inquiry. They are aware because they can internalize what they have learnt from their inquiry and link to their senses, feelings and thoughts. They are challenged to think, apply, adapt and develop their understanding, skills and attitude. Through the inquiry, they learn to be citizens by expressing their views and ideas and acting on their considered judgments and proposals.

The quality of inquiry hinges on the types of key questions asked. Catling and Willy (2009) have argued that effective and stimulating key questions will promote students’ exploration of the complex world around them and their ability to link geographical concepts and recognize the existing patterns and processes at the place of study. Dinkele (1998) elaborates that key questions are important to drive instructional planning and teaching. They are derived from the intended outcomes of the curriculum and unlock the door to learning about the key ideas and processes implicit in the curriculum. They are signposts for the topic of study and inquiry. Good key questions are open ended in nature, generate more questions and require investigation before the answers can be derived. Key questions can raise students’ awareness of issues that are relevant, important and meaningful to them. They may be descriptive, explanatory or speculative, moral, value-based or reflective. The questions provide opportunities for students to share their findings and interpretations and take actions to change or improve what they have investigated. They can also promote research and fieldwork skills needed for the conduct of inquiry by students.

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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