Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Grade 4 Students' Development of Research Skills through Inquiry-Based Learning Projects

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Grade 4 Students' Development of Research Skills through Inquiry-Based Learning Projects

Article excerpt

Researchers like Harada, Yoshina, Donham, Bishop, Kuhlthau, and Oberg have pointed out the benefits for students to move from rote to inquiry learning. However, "the norm in many classrooms remains teaching practice that results in rote learning and regurgitated facts." In recent years, the Hong Kong government's Education Bureau has put inquiry-based learning as the first emphasis under the new General Studies curriculum for primary schools with the objective of "creating more learning space by removing obsolete content, allowing more time for inquiry-based learning." Many schools are now attempting to incorporate this mode of learning into their curriculum. This study reports on two phases of IBL projects undertaken by 242 grade 4 students, each phase lasting for two to three months. The projects were led by general studies teachers and heavily supported by Chinese-language teachers, the information technology teacher, and the school librarian. Through analyzing the lesson plans, in-class exercises, homework assignments, written reports, presentations by students, and data collected through surveys and interviews, this article focuses specifically on the role of the general studies teachers in guiding students through the inquiry process. It also analyzes the students' development of knowledge and research skills, as well as students' and parents' perceptions of the projects.

Introduction

Harada and Yoshina (2004a, 2004b), as well as Donham, Bishop, Kuhlthau, and Oberg (2001) have shown the benefits of inquiry-based learning (IBL) for students, as compared with rote learning. However, "the norm in many classrooms remains teaching practice that results in rote learning and regurgitated facts" (Harada & Yoshina, 2004b, p. 22). Harada and Yoshina might mainly be describing the situation in the United States, but this is in fact a worldwide problem. As in many other parts of the world, rote learning is still the dominant way of teaching and learning in Hong Kong primary schools (the equivalent of elementary schools in North America, grades 1-6). In attempting to change this situation, the Education Bureau (2002) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region introduced IBL into the general studies curriculum as a way to help students develop basic inquiry, investigative, and problem-solving skills.

This study reports two phases of IBL projects that were led by general studies teachers and heavily supported by the Chinese-language teachers, information technology (IT) teacher, and the school librarian. Each phase had 141 grade 4 students working on a research project lasting for two to three months. Through students' self-directed learning and support from the various teachers, school librarian, and parents (see Figure 1), students' research skills gradually developed.

Literature Review

What is IBL? The Education Bureau (2002) defines IBL as

a student-centered approach which helps students to integrate generic skills, knowledge and values in the learning of General Studies. In the inquiry process, students are active constructors of knowledge and the teacher is a facilitator of learning. Instead of the teacher giving the right answers, students have to raise questions, find their own answers and look for the necessary information. They are engaged in identifying problems, collecting information and solving the problems they encounter, (para. 1)

In the process of IBL, students are involved in cycles of questioning, investigation, verification, and generation of new questions (Harada & Yoshina, 2004a). It is also a kind of learning that "provokes deeper thinking and investigation and greater student motivation to learn" (Harada & Yoshina, 2004b, p. 22). Through this investigation, students are able to answer questions, develop solutions, or support certain viewpoints (Alberta Learning, 2004). In other words, interest and motivation are vital elements in inquiry learning (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007). …

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