How to inculcate a spirit of inquiry in school and college students


All students of schools and colleges have a natural inclination to learn something new and acquiring knowledge that never confines itself to the formal learning system. It is upto teachers to be innovative and encourage a spirit of inquiry in students. This article is an attempt to discuss a few aspects of this vital skill in some detail

Introduction

I have been a visiting Faculty member for personality development programs and also knowledge-based programs for over two hundred colleges in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh over the past twenty-five years. My personal knowledge of so many teachers in the schools attached to the big groups in so many places was highly rewarding in terms of how they institutionalized the practice of a spirit of inquiry. Their sharing of experiences lead me to similar experimentation in a few colleges where the students were quite receptive to the spirit of inquiry. It now turns out that one needs to institutionalize the spirit of inquiry and encouragement in school and college students through and by a) Adopting the point-to-point learning b) Making students think aloud about any concept c) Encouraging peer-group learning d) Enabling the interaction of successful teachers with students and e) Being as original as possible.

Adopting the point-to-point learning

A very close friend of mine, now a Principal of a CBSE school in Coimbatore, and also a Social Science Teacher, was talking about "point-to-point" teaching. The concept is interesting. What he would do is to talk about a single concept such as spirituality, that would be found somewhere in the syllabus for the tenth standard. The students would be given three days to collect any data. This was made applicable only to the ninth and standard students, as he felt that only such students would be "mature".

The students would come back with PowerPoint presentations that would be handled by students in groups. Outside the office hours, through a process of sharing, they would have to get the points ready. The teacher would explain every point in detail. Hence, while the points were the responsibility of the students, the teacher would explain each point. In this manner, he explained, the students were encouraged to get to know the nitty-gritty of PowerPoint presentations in the ninth standard itself. The intensity would increase in the tenth standard, but the basic methodology would be the same. I had tried out this method to some extent in an MBA class, in the Marketing session on "Positioning" in a B-School near Salem. Yes, the method worked. Of course, this is not as intensive as the loop learning method, explained in one of my earlier articles. How to Effectively apply loop learning in social sciences and MBA courses.

Loop learning also goes back into the historical aspects of any concept and also envisions a sort of future, based on all data collected. Point-to-point learning stops with all data related to the concept, but the points flow from one to another. The contextual learning is far wider in loop learning.

Making students think aloud about any concept

This is another aspect. The Principal quoted above explained how he explained the concept of urbanization. He particularly referred to a context that his students could immediately relate to -- the number of huge multi-storied buildings that have come up in the past three years on the busy Avinashi Road of Coimbatore city. He guided three students to talk to the builders to enable students to understand who purchased the flats and why. He further went on to explain how the mini-markets and the shopping malls are part and parcel of the concept of urbanization. The visuals on foreign locations helped the teacher to explain the connection in a very detailed manner.

This is exactly how the concept should work in schools. In engineering colleges and in courses in commerce and economics, for example, it becomes far easier to get this to work. For example, an electrical engineering student would be interested in solar energy. The trick is to give the project on solar energy in the first semester itself.

Encouraging peer-group learning

This follows from the previous paragraphs. In the B-School referred to above, I was able to get the group work working as a natural process. It was a bit difficult to break the lecture-method obsession of the teachers, but they also came around when they saw the benefits of group work. When the teachers changed. the students changed as well. Today, the B-School is at least able to survive, when many others are struggling to just admit even twenty students.

This is a really frightening scenario since the craze for the MBA qualification is now gone forever. Unless the students and the teachers change, the very existence of all educational institutions will not become irrelevant, but will also be questioned by society as well. Group work has to be institutionalized as a concept in all schools and colleges.

Enabling the interaction of successful teachers with students

In the best of CBSE schools in Chennai, this is done deliberately. The teachers are given additional responsibilities. Since the teaching has been only through the online method, the successful teachers have been able to motivate the students of all classes. For example, a highly successful mathematics teacher was able to impress on the students to read the extra lessons in history, though she was not the teacher. The teacher was the Chief co-ordinator. Since the teacher is personally known to me, she narrated the experience recently. She has now been given the responsibility of coordinating all special classes for the standard X and standard XII students, who would take the Public examinations this year.

This is a very important step. In every school or college, there will always be better teachers, who not only show initiative but can also motivate the students and sometimes, even teachers to perform better.

Being as original as possible

I would not repeat a single example from the Corporate world, to illustrate the practical applicability of any concept, for the same batch of students. MBA students would always be interested in new concepts. In fact, in the CBSE schools referred to above, the spirit of inquiry is well set and is bound to improve. The trick is to make the process of inquiry a very interesting proposition. Since the students are often distracted by so many things that they see around them, they are bound to not appreciate the traditional inputs in teaching. Anything new that keeps them interested is likely to succeed in both the short and the long-term.

Teachers always need to think out-of-the-box. They can emulate successful experiments from elsewhere, but also customize the same in the context of the particular educational institution he or she works for.

Conclusion

Based on feedback obtained from some quarters, and also my own experience in teaching, the process of making the spirit of inquiry work in the real world, is a continuous process. The basic framework explained above can hopefully add some value in the process.


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