Thursday, January 12, 2012

Culture and Inquiry Learning


Using the Wikipedia article on Inquiry Learning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquiry-based_learning) as a reference point will make it easier to explain why I believe that cultural diversity is a pivotal element in a truly inquiry-based learning environment. To displace cultural diversity from the inquiry mix in my mind would be to sabotage the process altogether.

From Wikipedia to describe the core of inquiry as a concept…
Characteristics of inquiry-learning
-Inquiry learning emphasizes constructivist ideas of learning. Knowledge is built in a step-wise fashion.
-Learning proceeds best in group situations.
-The teacher does not begin with a statement, but with a question. Posing questions for students to solve is a more effective method of instruction in many areas. This allows the students to search for information and learn on their own with the teacher’s guidance.
-The topic, problem to be studied, and methods used to answer this problem are determined by the student and not the teacher (this is an example of the 3rd level of the Herron Scale)

My point of view weaving culture (the thing each of us has been constructing since the minute we were born) and inquiry acknowledges the above points.

Culture is both a representation of us as individuals and as members of the groups we belong to that largely determine our biases and tendencies as learners; specifically how we “inquire” about anything we intend to learn, explore, experience… our learning (formal inquiry learning included) is undeniably influenced by our cultural bias and perspective… it sets us on the path of undetermined principles (what we will inquire about) as influenced by our predetermined principles... what we will know, understand and be able to do is affected by what we already believe we know, understand and can do from our own cultural perspective.

The challenge (as it has often been contextualized) to address the inherent cultural diversity in schools can be re-framed as a brilliant opportunity to inquire from our personal perspectives, but perhaps more importantly from the perspectives of others. We can effectually “inquire” about how others “inquire;" a complex, analytical and empathetic function that would allow us a glimpse of what others see, believe, feel, do, learn etc. from their cultural learning perspective. For learning to proceed best in groups, we have to understand the groups we choose to belong to, or that we are placed within.

Posing questions for students, but more importantly, asking them to formulate their own questions, to me is all about engagement. A peaceful, understanding and culturally interdependent society depends on our willingness to engage each other, learn from each other and do everything we can to understand each other’s perspective. If we add the word “learning” before the word “perspective” at the end of the last sentence, I think contextualizing inquiry learning as prominently influenced by the diverse cultural nature of individuals and groups becomes clearer.

I think the topic, problem to be studied, and methods used to inquire about them are ultimately determined by the student and not the teacher… no matter what the teacher thinks, this is always what happens (I call this “inside learning.”) How teachers view each student’s inside learning (the process we all go through when we internalize and make personal meaning of what we want to learn or are being asked or forced to learn,) and how much it conforms to what they think we should be learning is what teachers call assessment, I think.

If educators could understand that diverse perspectives toward the world (essentially culture,) are represented within every learner, and then embrace this reality as a learning asset each possesses, I think the effort to tap student’s inside learning would become second nature and the natural inquiry process that we are born with would then be omnipresent in the formal education system.
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