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2.1 What Does it Mean to Teach and Learn Science as an Inquiry?

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Though definitions of what precisely constitutes inquiry-based science education have historically varied, most appear to converge on a view of inquiry in school science as a pedagogical approach that reflects the nature and practice of science, in that learners engage with scientifically oriented questions, formulate explanations from evidence, connect explanations to scientific knowledge, and communicate and justify explanations (NRC, 1996, 2000). However, what exactly inquiry might look like in practice is frequently left implicit with no precise operational definition (Anderson, 2002; Crawford, 2000). For some educators, it is no more than one instructional genre, the components and sequencing of which constitute a recommended method for teaching a specific topic. For instance, the position paper on ‘Teaching of Science’ by the National Focus Group (NCERT, 2006), posits that a “good pedagogy must essentially be a judicious mix of approaches, with the inquiry approach being one of them” (p. 5). Others take a much broader view of its scope, like Harste (1993) for example, who argues that when education as a whole is viewed as inquiry, it is not a method to be used on particular occasions, but a particular orientation to learning, in which the task of teaching becomes that of supporting the inquiry process (Wells, 2007)?. We are inclined towards this broader view in which inquiry is multi-faceted and subsumes the use of different strategies. As NRC (1996) puts it “Conducting hands-on science activities does not guarantee inquiry, nor is reading about science incompatible with inquiry” (p. 23). It would be valuable to further examine inquiry-based teaching-learning to identify its core elements (Pedaste et al., 2015)?.
2.2 Complexities in Teaching Through Inquiry: Need for Further Characterisation
Even where the curriculum explicitly requires them to adapt inquiry-based approaches, many science teachers find it difficult to implement it in their classrooms (McNeill & Pimentel, 2010); Choksi, 2007). Many barriers to implementing inquiry – personal, cultural and technical – have been described in the literature (Anderson, 2002; Crawford, 2007; Smithenry, 2010; Tobin & McRobbie, 1996). Speaking particularly of classroom practice, it is messy, requiring that teachers attend to students, materials, tasks, and ideas, often simultaneously, as well as to the social context that serves to shape the overall climate of the learning environment (Bevins & Price, 2016; Harris & Rooks, 2010)?. Inquiry requires that teachers choreograph the sequence and flow of activities in a manner that guides students to move towards understanding the key science ideas in an investigation. This involves building and sustaining coherence within and across lessons. Teachers may struggle to engage students in complex reasoning (Driver, Newton, & Osborne, 2000); it is challenging to focus not just on students collecting data or completing procedures but more on analysing the data, generating conclusions or synthesizing the new findings with students’ previous ideas (Jimenez-Aleixandre, Rodriguez, & Duschl, 2000).
One among the many areas of science education research that has attempted to diagnose and address the challenges in implementing inquiry at the instructional level is discourse analysis. With its analytical lens zooming in and out of macro- and micro-level structures in classroom discourse, researchers have attempted to use discourse analysis in order to identify the discourse moves, conversational turns and linguistic features that appear to either promote or constrain science teaching and learning. Though broadly discourse is understood as the use of language within social contexts, within science education research, the concept of discourse is more complex in meaning. Gee (2001) defines discourse as an interplay between ”words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities” (p. 526) within a group of individuals who jointly attempt sense-making and construction of meaning. Thus, discourse is more than classroom talk; it is the complex interaction between the teacher and students, and their unique perspectives manifested in verbal communications.

The seminal work on classroom discourse like those of Mehan (1979) and Lemke (1990) highlighted the ways in which norms of communication are constructed in the classroom through discourse moves that the teacher makes and how these often implied rules for verbal interactions may constrict student talk, serve as a barrier in the process of students taking personal ownership for science learning and, in essence, in making the language of science their own. The role of the teacher in facilitating effective discourse in the science classroom continues to be a salient focus in science education research, especially teacher questioning and their level, complexity, and ecology (Chen, Hand, & Norton-Meier, 2016; Chin, 2006; Smart & Marshall, 2013)?, classroom communication patterns (Mortimer & Scott, 2003; Jin, Wei, Duan, Guo, & Wang, 2016), and classroom interactions (Van Booven, 2015)?.
Traditional, teacher-centered discourse patterns are inconsistent with an inquiry-learning philosophy (Polman & Pea, 2000) wherein role of the teacher is to encourage student voice and dialogical argumentation. In inquiry, teachers are required to relinquish, at least partially, their expert role by forfeiting some interactional rights such as providing the right answers and evaluating students’ ideas. At the same time, students are encouraged to partially relinquish their science novice roles and take on expert interactional rights such as asking questions, responding to others in the classroom, proposing and revising their own answers (Oliviera, 2008). Orchestrating such inquiry-based instruction is complex (Anderson 2002; Assay & Orgill, 2010), and teachers need examples of its successful implementation and rich descriptions of teachers’ roles in the process (Crawford, 2000; Keys & Bryan, 2001). Given the importance of sustained dialogue, there is another clear gap and opportunity in current research to study the ways in which whole-class dialogue in a science classroom develops over an extended period of time (Benus, 2011).
Teacher questioning is a major contributing factor shaping the role of teachers in facilitating classroom discourse (Chen, Hand, & Norton-Meier, 2017; ?Chin, 2007; Roth, 1996; Zhai & Tan, 2015) and there is limited amount of literature investigating teacher questioning in constructivist learning environments such as inquiry (Erdogan & Campbell, 2008; Roth, 1996). Previous studies have shown that the purpose of teacher questioning in traditional science classes is often to evaluate what students know and the predominant pattern of discourse is Initiation–Response–Evaluation (IRE) or the triadic dialogue (Lemke, 1990) in which the teacher typically initiates an interaction with a question, a student responds and the teacher evaluates. However in inquiry-oriented science classrooms the role of teachers’ questions is to move away from this simple recollection of the ‘right answer’ towards coherent explanations of the phenomena in context. In the present study, we look closely at the various ways in which the teacher initiates dialogue as well as sustains it through her feedback in the form of questions.
Furthermore, in order to gain further insights into scaffolding students’ co-construction of conceptual knowledge and bolster their ownership of learning, we need to deepen our understanding of what ignites and sustains students’ full engagement in inquiry. Missing from many narratives of inquiry-based classrooms are the details of student-teacher interactions during the course of teaching (Reinsvold & Cochran, 2012); especially, the affective dimension of these interactions has been left largely unattended (Oliviera, 2008). Other aspects that require more attention include the beliefs and pedagogies of teachers who appear successful in engaging students in inquiry-based lessons (Crawford, 2000). On the other hand, Zhai, Jocz, and Tan (2014) outline the need to investigate students’ perceptions of their inquiry learning experiences and how these shape their conceptions of school science. Thus, we need the voices of the teacher and also the students, as we attempt to developing a holistic understanding of the nature of an inquiry-based classroom.
2.3 Effects and potential of teaching science as inquiry and need for comparative studies
While much research has been done on the effectiveness of inquiry-based science teaching (see meta-analyses such as the one by Shymansky, Hedges, & Woodworth (1990) and review studies such as those by Colburn (2008) and Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn (2007), the results are not as definitive as one would hope. In general, the evidence from studies on outcomes of inquiry teaching suggest that the support for it is well grounded (Sadeh & Zion, 2009), although this evidence is not unequivocal including mixed and negative results (Colburn, 2008; Wilson, Taylor, Kowalski, & Carlson, 2010)? or equivalence, at least in terms of conceptual learning (Cobern et al., 2010). Supporters claim that positive effects on cognitive as well as attitudinal outcomes in science have been associated with inquiry-based science teaching (Cheng, Wang, Lin, Lawrenz, & Hong, 2014; Marshall & Alston, 2014; Wilson et al., 2010). Another critical finding reported is that it may play a role in narrowing the achievement gap in science achievement (Geier et al., 2008; Marshall & Alston, 2014) suggesting that it might have a potential to make science accesible for all learners – an important goal for science education. However, there are also critics who have questioned the effectiveness of inquiry claiming that many of the minimally led inquiry learning experiences do not work (Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006)?. Researchers have responded to this argument by detailing the kind of guidance and support involved in inquiry-based science teaching (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn, 2007). However what kind of guidance is adequate, and for whom? These questions need further investigation (Lazonder & Harmsen, 2016)?. There are also doubts whether the outcomes justify the time and effort (Jenkins, 2000).
Minner, Levy, & Century (2010), in their synthesis of research on effectiveness of inquiry-based science teaching point out the need for investigating a wider range of outcomes of inquiry teaching. There is also a paucity of research involving real-world classrooms to assess and compare the impact of learner-centred teaching with more traditional ones, on students’ perceptions of learning, actual content learned and depth of thinking about (and understanding of) the conceptual underpinnings of science (Wohlfarth et al., 2008).

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