Inquiry is so often used in teaching job specs and educational journals. We see it in all its glory residing comfortably in a plethora of theoretical content, yet I have struggled to see it in practice across the curriculum.
Sure, plenty of learning involves inquiry as a method to transmit knowledge. Perhaps the science student will inquire by use of an experiment or an independent work task will brush with inquiry along the way in a humanities subject like religious education (my own specialism). But this is very much a secondary concept.
More than this, it isn’t a consistent approach that teachers take (in my experience of observation and shared practice).
To spend this blog post explaining why this skill isn’t prioritised would be both fruitless and lengthy, but the truth is we don’t have time, as classroom teachers, to prioritise this skill.
Most colleagues are still scratching their heads at the prospect of delivering the new GCSE and A level courses into two years, so there is certainly a good excuse not to place dedicated inquiry tasks at the top of the lesson plan.
Yet, pupils hunger for it. Pupils need it.
Problem solving is most often found in the top few "soft skills" desired by employers and is increasingly seen as fundamental to the changing landscape of industries of all types.
So how can educators take note?
Well, my view is that religious education can be the flagship for a whole school revolution of this skill.
English leads the drive for literacy, maths carries the banner of numeracy and they remain core subjects. Perhaps religious education can champion critical thinking in the same way?
At this point, I can see a series of RE colleagues closing the web page. I understand the sensitivity of the fear of RE being diluted by philosophy and thus being found to be impotent by school leaders, but I see it another way.
RE is the core of such skills that set up individuals for a life of inquiry and a unique mind-set which marries knowledge and tolerance and creates decent human beings.
This is the value of RE for me and can be harnessed to make decision makers in education sit up and take note.
Have a look at the International Baccalaureate. The central topic is theory of knowledge – the topic that belongs with RE, philosophy and ethics teachers.
I have spent time developing simple and gripping logic puzzles to generate this skill in lessons. These two are my favourite puzzles to give out as a focus task:
A fun logic puzzle to test all age groups
Critical thinking puzzles (and solutions)
I also tend to use these at a whole school level in form or in critical thinking group sessions. My entire set of 20 is available in my shop.
You will see that my puzzles are geared towards different learning methods, different thinking skills and can complement numeracy and literacy too. These have been incredibly popular and I realise some are well known, but the original presentation has been worked hard on and spawned out of student voice and evaluation.
Incidentally, the UK has been measured as being good at generating problem solving young learners and while this may give us a sense of relief that my message is not an urgent one, I disagree entirely.
It is something we need to build on and champion further. I hope that schools enlighten to the idea of inquiry as a core skill and support RE departments with training and time to deliver this successfully.
TeacherofThought teaches religious studies, philosophy and ethics in the North West of England. He tweets at @JonboyTeach
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