Case Study: The Relationship Between Curriculum Focus on Inquiry and Self-Directed Learning

Case Study: The Relationship Between Curriculum Focus on Inquiry and Self-Directed Learning

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2613-1.ch005
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Chapter 5 presents a case study that reports on the assessment of self-directed learning (SDL) in three schools categorized with the local curriculum framework, and three nearby schools with the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Programme. Results of the investigation indicate that there is a link between curriculum and students' knowledge of, as well as their response to, instruction about SDL. The chapter ends with a discussion of the implications of curriculum emphasis on inquiry for students' SDL, and the opportunities that exist for using the assessment of SDL with local curriculum documents that aim to promote effective learning in primary schools.
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The Relationship Between School Curriculum Focus On Inquiry And Self-Directed Learning

Inquiry is an important way to learn because it is through this process that students actively build understanding based on their experiences and the learning context (Schoenfeld, 1989). In addition, carrying out inquiry involves students in making meaning by interpreting and relating new knowledge to their prior knowledge (Resnick & Klopfer, 1989; Bruning, Schraw & Norby, 2011).

In South Australia, there has been an increasing number of government and independent primary (elementary) schools that have adopted the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that is based on constructivist views of learning and has an inquiry approach to much of the curriculum. At the same time, the constructivist-based local (and more recently the national) curriculum framework is being implemented in South Australian primary schools. The IB Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) (2010) has an explicit focus on inquiry, while the local and national curriculum’s focus on inquiry is less explicit. This could mean that schools with the IBPYP curriculum would be providing strong support for development of inquiry and students’ knowledge about SDL. On the other hand, schools with the local curriculum framework may be providing less support for teachers to develop inquiry and students’ knowledge of SDL, due to less explicit acknowledgment that students need guidance and instruction to do these things. Paying attention to the development of students’ knowledge about SDL is important for the implementation of an inquiry-based curriculum because students need to be able to manage their own learning as they inquire, and they need to use knowledge of SDL to be able to self-assess their learning progress.

This case study examines the relationship between school curriculum focus on inquiry and students’ knowledge of SDL. The data are analyzed for six schools categorized as having the local curriculum frameworks (less explicit focus on inquiry) or IB curriculum (explicit focus on inquiry). A brief intervention of four lessons on SDL was carried out, as described in Chapter 4, and data on students’ knowledge of SDL and its development were collected on four assessments using the Learning At School Questionnaire. They were analyzed in relation to the curriculum category to which each school was assigned. Ratings by class teachers of students as self-directed learners at school were examined at the level of curriculum.

Curriculum documents have an important influence on teaching activities and can assist teachers to assess students’ progress by providing explicit criteria to assess what has been learned. However, if the curriculum framework is broad and requires teachers to construct their own understanding of content, methodology and assessment practices (DETE, 2001), it may not be promoting an understanding of the concept of inquiry and teaching in an inquiry-based way.

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