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Inquiry-based Learning and Teaching for Understanding

The TfU framework has been used widely at very different educational levels (k-12 classrooms, higher ed, teacher ed, professional development) to nurture inquiry-based learning and teacher learning about inquiry. In many ways, Teaching for Understanding provides a useful scaffold for inquiry approaches. Both share a performance view of learning, which is at the heart of an inquiry approach (learning through active, reflective doing). TfU goes further in providing structure by asking teachers to:

  • think hard about what they want students to learn from their inquiry experience (UGs), then
  • think even harder about where to aim inquiry in the service of getting at those learning goals (Performances of Understanding), and
  • think even harder still about how teacher and student will both gauge that learning as it’s taking place in ways that deepen and extend that learning (Ongoing Assessment).

Moreover, TfU’s take on performances of understanding helps teachers discern different kinds of performances appropriate to different stages of inquiry (messing about, guided inquiry, culminating).

Useful sources: San Francisco’s Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry Research has a page on Inquiry Education Research. Four of 18 articles listed for further reading about inquiry learning are from the Teaching for Understanding Project. These include:

Brandt, Ron “On Teaching for Understanding: A Conversation with Howard Gardner” Educational Leadership, v50 n7, April 1993.

Perkins, David and Tina Blythe “Teaching for Understanding: Putting Understanding Up Front” Educational Leadership, v51 n5, February 1994.

Perkins, David “Teaching for Understanding” American Educator: The Professional Journal of the American Federation of Teachers; v17 n3, pp. 8,28-35, Fall 1993.

Wiske, Martha Stone “How Teaching for Understanding Changes the Rules in the Classroom.” Educational Leadership; v51 n5, pp. 19-21, Deb 1994.

Examples of Inquiry w/ TfU

“Try Science” designed with teaching for understanding Best Practices Applied in Online Science Teacher Education by June Talvitie-Siple, ABD University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, USA

Treagust, D. F., Jacobowitz, R., Gallagher, J. L., & Parker, J. (2001). Using assessment as a guide in teaching for understanding: A case study of a middle school science class learning about sound. Science Education, 85, 137-157.

Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning (National Research Council, 2000) provides an overview of inquiry-based teaching strategies and examples of what inquiry teaching and learning look like, both inside and outside the classroom. Underlying all of this work is the notion that teaching for understanding requires more in-depth treatment of a smaller number of key ideas, which is sometimes summarized by the slogan “less is more.”


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