Inquiry Based Instruction in a Test-driven World

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

After contemplating the information about inquiry-based instruction, I have had a lot of questions circling in my head about how the standardized tests fit into this model of teaching. This afternoon I sat down with the principal of one of the elementary schools in my district to talk about just that. We talked about the obvious benefits of inquiry based learning and of hands-on active learning in general. I explained that I am really interested in inquiry based learning because of the real world similarities - it isn’t about learning for the test, but rather, learning to solve a problem. He pointed out that successful scientists are using inquiry everyday, so why not expose kids to the way that “real” science is conducted.

Then I asked how he sees inquiry based learning working in terms of the state mandated standardized tests. I explained my fears that my students wouldn’t do well because they aren’t used to the format of the test. He adamantly disagreed saying that if students truly understand the information – which they should after a well designed inquiry unit – then the test should not be an issue. Basically, if students really and completely understand the material, the format of the test shouldn’t matter. I understand the argument, but I’m not 100% sure that I agree. I still believe that there are strategies for taking standardized tests that need to be taught so that knowledge can be applied in the most effective manner. The time constraints of standardized tests could be especially hindering if students are used to a more open-ended time frame.


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