This pedagogical model comparison project will center round elementary literacy, which includes pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Pedagogy, as defined by Watson and Wildy (2014), is the “set of instructional techniques and strategies which enable learning to take place and provide opportunities for the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions” (p. 83). It is important to recognize that literacy acquisition in the early elementary grades focuses on children learning the foundational skills required to engage meaningfully with text. Watson & Wildy (2014) suggest, “A variety of pedagogical methods are employed by early childhood (EC) educators to maximize learning opportunities” (p. 83).
Most literacy instruction during the pre-kindergarten through second grade includes activities to teach phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, although the fluency and comprehension skills are often secondary focus areas to the building of phonics and vocabulary skills. As children move into the upper elementary grades, the focus shifts to reading to learn content over learning to read. Phonological processing is not usually addressed very often, if at all, during grades three through five. Phonics is usually integrated into the vocabulary instruction and fluency and comprehension become the focus. Children in the upper elementary grades should spend the majority of their literacy block engaging in connected texts and reading a wide variety of narrative and informational books.
They should be encouraged to connect their reading and writing by citing textual evidence when summarizing the information learned. There are a variety of pedagogical methods that can be utilized to address both elementary learners and literacy within those grades as well. During this pedagogical model comparison project, the three models that will be compared are inquiry-based learning, student-centered learning, and situated cognition learning. Model 1 Overview: Inquiry-based Learning
Inquiry-based learning originated during the 1960s discovery learning movement as an alternative to traditional instructional methods. It draws upon a constructivist learning theory foundation built upon Dewey’s experiential learning pedagogy which is an instructional approach based on the idea that ideal learning occurs through experience. Guccione (2011) explained, “Dewey emphasized the importance of motivation, social interaction, and collaboration, preparing students to support a democratic society; and helping students to learn through problem solving” (p. 515). Inquiry-based learning allows teachers to provide the means for children to become life-long learners. Learners glean understanding through active development of conceptual mental constructs as they engage in developing their questioning skills, making observations, and tackling real-world problems.
Maniotes & Kuhlthau (2014) explain, “Through inquiry, students discover real questions about academic topics; these questions blossom into research. In this context, inquiry supports students in building deep understandings within the content of the curriculum” (p. 11). The power in utilizing an inquiry-based pedagogical method is that it can increase engagement and understanding by incorporating tasks that require both constructive and reflective thinking and active participation on the part of the student and teacher. It is through the inquiry process that our students begin to form and answer, as Diggs (2009) shares, “questions that will lead them to turning information into knowledge and, subsequently that knowledge into wisdom for a lifetime” (p. 32). Model 2 Overview: Student-centered Learning
Student-centered learning, also built from a constructivist perspective, places learners at the center of the learning process and focuses on teaching for understanding by having the students justify their thinking. This pedagogical method builds from a Piagetian, Bruner, and Vygotskian foundation that stresses active engagement and social interaction in the students’ own construction of knowledge (Çubukcu, 2012, p. 50). These theorists are just some of those who stressed the benefits of “using student interest to drive curriculum and projects” (Çubukcu, 2012, p. 50). Student-centered pedagogy utilizes a variety of instructional methods to help students make the content their own, develop an organizing framework, and connect the learning to the real-world.
The power in utilizing student-centered learning is that it requires students to engage in and navigate the content and pace their learning so they understand and can communicate their learning with others. As Çubukcu (2012) shares, “For student-centered learning to take place, exemplifying, discovering, researching, and learning based on problem-solving are vital” (p. 52). Teachers must be open to considering the child’s interests, allowing these interests guide the activities in the classroom, and providing access to tasks that will challenge learners to continue to grow and develop.
Crain (2003) states, “If the child is enthusiastic about learning, she works at it very hard” (p. 12). By increasing student engagement, teachers will be providing students the opportunity to become a self-directed learner who strives to make connections and develop a deep understanding of the content. Student-centered education includes increased motivation for learning and an overall greater satisfaction with school in general. Çubukcu (2012) explains, “Student-centered teaching provides opportunities to develop students’ skills of transferring knowledge to other situations, triggering retention, and adapting a high motivation for learning” (p. 52). Model 3 Overview: Situated cognition Learning
Situated cognition recognizes that cognitive processes are influenced by the social, cultural, and physical contexts in which they occur. This pedagogical model was developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the early 1990s and has become more recognized in the 20th century. This approach is basically creating meaning from the real activities of daily living and shares many principles with critical theory, such as analyzing behavior within a community of practice. Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) state, “Communities of practice are connected…They are bound by intricate, socially constructed webs of belief” (p. 33). Knowing is viewed as action with specific contexts and thus the expectations for classroom practices should include offering students the opportunity to engage in real-world problem solving and anchoring instruction to a question which requires learners to engage in their environment, set goals, sustain attention to meet the goals, and communicate with others in a variety of contexts.
Griffin and Griffin (1996) discuss that “Knowledge is not an objective entity distinct from the context in which it is learned but rather is an integral component of the context in which it is constructed” (p. 293). By recognizing the importance of the social context, teachers need to provide situations where learners can engage in meaningful knowledge building and skill acquisition with their peers. As Corte (2012) explains, “A powerful innovative learning environment is characterized by an effective balance between discovery and personal exploration, and systematic instruction and guidance, while being sensitive to learners’ individual differences in abilities, needs, and motivation” (p. 36). It is critical for educators to recognize how culture and collaborative learning will influence the construction of knowledge for students. Nature of Learning
In inquiry-based learning pedagogy, learning is viewed as a complex combination of tasks carefully structured by the teacher. It outlines four different levels of inquiry including confirmation inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and open inquiry. Confirmation inquiry is used to reinforce concepts, introduce procedures, collect and record data, and deepen learning. Structured inquiry occurs when the teacher provides the question and outlines the procedures for the students to follow. Guided inquiry results when the teacher only provides the question and the students take the responsibility for designing their own procedures and communicating their results.
Open inquiry is when the students form their own questions, design their own procedures, and communicate their results. The level of inquiry will depend on the comfort level of the teacher in implementing inquiry-based learning, the students’ level of development in devising questions and conducting their own investigation, and the content being learned. Inquiry-based learning, which is an intricate system of structured learning opportunities, should not be confused with discovery learning, where students are left to explore and develop understanding on their own. When focusing on literacy for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, it is important to recognize that students will need explicit instruction in the skills necessary to build the phonetic and vocabulary knowledge base needed to decode and understand new words. However, teachers could incorporate inquiry-based learning to have students reinforce concepts introduced or to answer specific questions.
Students could also be guided to use inquiry-based learning to devise the process they will use to answer the questions posed by the teachers. Questions for inquiry-based literacy instruction provide a perfect structure for integrating content and helping students see a natural connection between the academic domains. Student-centered learning pedagogy empowers students to take responsibility for their learning and make decisions about the routines, procedures, content, grading, and deadlines. Educators following student-centered pedagogy believe the focus of learning should be on helping the child develop as a complete individual. Teachers allow students’ interests to guide the learning and provide scaffolding as needed to support them as they seek to make sense of the tasks they attempt.
Cain (2003) states, “We need to pay close attention to children’s spontaneous interests and give them opportunities to pursue activities that are most meaningful to them” (p. 9). Montessori classrooms are student-centered and allows each child to be an active participant in the classroom, selecting materials and concepts to utilize as they move to develop deep understandings. Torrence (2012) explains, “Students make active choices about the work they find most compelling at a given time” (p. 21). The nature of the learning in student-centered learning is directly a result of the students’ interests. Situated cognition is structured around the belief that the nature of learning is dependent upon the social context in which learning occurs. As other constructivist views, situated cognition seeks to help students become lifelong learners who can monitor the processes the use to gain knowledge and skills.
As Cortes (2012) explains, “The situated view stresses that learning is enacted essentially in interaction with, and especially through, participation in social and cultural activities and contexts” (p. 36). Knowledge needs to be presented in an authentic context and requires social interaction and collaboration with others. Students are constructing their own knowledge as they are actively involved in addressing real world problems. The nature of learning is shaped by the relationships between the learners and connecting prior knowledge with authentic learning that is applicable and transferable to students’ homes and communities. In summary, the nature of learning in inquiry-based, student-centered, and situated cognition pedagogical models is constructivist in nature with students developing their own understanding.
Each of the models recognizes the importance of learning requiring collaboration with others as meaning is constructed. Inquiry-based learning can vary in the level of guidance and support offered by the teacher depending on how much they direct the questioning and procedures used in the inquiry. Student-centered learning focuses on the student selecting the learning they wish to engage in and pursue. Situated cognition puts a focus on the context in which the student driven learning occurs. The essence of these pedagogical models is that learners must discover and transform information so they make meaning that is relevant to them. Sources of Knowledge
In inquiry-based pedagogical models, the sources of knowledge includes the content knowledge and skills as well as the questions used to guide the students in their quest for understanding. Teachers use the academic standards to guide their instruction and design of questions to use throughout inquiry processes. During the inquiry, students are encouraged to use a variety of materials, including textbooks, trade books, and technology, to gather information and share their findings with their peers. Collaboration with peers allows the learner to glean knowledge from considering others’ perspectives and firm up their own understanding as they justify their thinking to peers and teachers. Incorporating a reflective journal also learners to synthesize the new information they have learned as well as document their new level of understanding and can then also be a source of knowledge.
Student-centered pedagogical models encourage using students’ prior knowledge to help determine the type of tasks that should be offered. This background knowledge determines what new information is assimilated and what information is deemed important. Sources of knowledge should include “spiraling, interconnected curricula that begins with the youngest child’s experience of concrete materials and advances, one awareness and skill at a time” (Torrence, 2012, p. 22). Ultimately, the student-centered educator sees the child as determining the sources of knowledge because they are afforded the chance to learn about the topics that interest them. Crain (2003) explains, “The most important variables are children’s attitudes and feelings toward learning.
Children’s attitudes are the principal indicators of natural development” (p. 12). Instruction should be meaningful to the student and incorporate their strengths and interests into the learning activities of the classroom (Turner, 2011, p.125). As Crain (2003) states, “Young people need opportunities to pursue their interests and passions, to develop their powers of concentration and independent judgment, and to experience inner peace and a sense of grace” (p. 13). In situated cognition pedagogical models, the sources of knowledge include the social and physical contexts in which the learner is engaged. Language, a strong tool from which culture is shared among its participants, helps demonstrate the social context of learning because meaning is shaped by the people engaged in the learning. Brown et al. (1989) share, “People generally learn words in the context of ordinary communication” (p. 32).
School can be viewed as a culture within the larger culture because students are expected to “adopt the behaviors and belief systems of members of the culture with which they interact” (Griffin & Griffin, 1996, p. 294). The sources of knowledge shifts from the academic content to the social interaction and collaborative discussion the learners engage in to make meaning. Learning is social because people learn while interacting with others through shared activities and through language as they discuss, share knowledge, and problem-solve with others. In these three constructivist pedagogical models, knowledge has many sources. Although the focus is on the learner, these approaches do not discount the academic standards as guiding the quest for knowledge.
As students engage in active exploration and discovery, they are encouraged to use sources of media, technology, books, magazines, and journals to explore and form connections between prior understanding and new knowledge. Students must have clear and planned objectives to guide their experiences as they discover principles for themselves. By utilizing a multitude of sources of knowledge, learners are afforded the opportunity to analyze information to determine what is important for the task at hand. They gain exposure to a variety of perspectives and distinguish when to implement specific strategies. Students can learn from material sources, technological sources, adults, peers, self-perceptions, understandings, formative and summative assessments. Role of the Teacher
Traditional classroom regarded the teacher as the dispenser of knowledge who would provide direct instruction to students so they could learn from the master. However, this perspective about teaching has changed tremendously throughout the years. Teachers now want students actively engaged in learning and the pedagogical decisions they make in the classroom, influences how the students approach tasks and what that means for their role. Watson and Wildy (2014) state, “Early childhood teachers regularly schedule and plan instruction that explains and guides learning about specific content or topics” (p. 83). Teachers must decide how to deliver the instruction most effectively—whether it be individually, in small groups, or whole class settings.
Effective teachers differentiate instruction which “consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom” (Tomlinson, 2000, p. 2). By using a repertoire of pedagogical strategies, teachers make every effort to best suit the learners’ needs. Each of the three models selected for comparison visualize the educator as more of a facilitator and guide rather than the controller of learning. Inquiry-based learning requires the teacher to engage in pre-assessing students and asking them to self-assess. Then, teachers needs to hook the students into the content and use questioning techniques to formatively assess the level each student has of the material. Next, the educator must structure the learning environment to encourage the students to ask their own questions and utilize higher-order thinking to begin reasoning and investigating the content.
During the development phase when students are implementing their plan, the teacher works to scaffold students by providing a variety of tasks and teaching directly on a needs-to-know basis. Additionally, teachers must be diligent in “moving from meandering wonders toward focused questions while maintaining the student’s motivation” (Abilock & Williams, 2014, p. 49). As the teacher embraces this role of supporter and facilitator of student learning, their focus becomes ensuring the children has access to materials and resources to conduct effective inquiry. In student-centered learning, the teacher is responsible for creating a learning environment that fosters students’ learning and accommodates different learning styles and needs. The teachers must be able to align the curriculum, instruction, and assessment tools used when planning instructional content.
They need to design activities that incorporate multiple teaching techniques and challenge students to question, make connections, and engage in discussions with their peers. The instructor takes on the role of a facilitator who scaffolds the students’ learning, guides the discussion, and delves deeper with targeted questions to enhance student learning. Teachers in student-centered classrooms guarantee that students have the time needed to discuss the standards and make the necessary connections to gain meaningful understanding of the content. Finally, it is the teacher’s job to maintain an effective learning environment but modify expectations as needed to ensure student success. Situated cognition, similar to both inquiry-based and student-centered learning, also views the teacher as a facilitator and creator of an effective learning environment. Teachers should provide authentic tasks to help children acquire the knowledge and skills of various disciplines.
An important component of the instructional process in situated cognition is providing anchored instruction using a situated context for solving realistic problems. Educators need to develop learning communities which require a different learning culture within the classroom. The teacher should work collaboratively with the learners to achieve important goals. They should help guide students participate in knowledge-building within the learning community where they engage in discourse, reflection and peer review. It is the teacher’s job to select the situation and provide scaffolding to the students so they become comfortable generating ideas and the teacher can constantly assess the interaction and ensure students are paying attention to the environment. Assessment
Assessment should provide some insight into the learners’ knowledge and the methods and processes they are using to grapple with the meaning of the content being taught. In the three models being compared, assessment includes both formative assessment and more summative measures. Teachers use a variety of tools to assess students’ progress including performance tasks and rubrics, discussions, journaling, presentations, and portfolios. By incorporating authentic tasks in the learning activities, teachers have the opportunity to assess if students are able to apply the skills and concepts being learned. Through conferencing and feedback, teachers share with the students how they can improve their processes to gain a deeper understanding of the content and make connections to previous knowledge and real-world situations. In inquiry-based pedagogical models, assessment is part of the natural learning process.
Students receive formative assessment information through teacher scaffolding and conferencing to help them continue along the path of discovery. Teachers encourage students to communicate their findings with their peers which allows for self and peer assessment. Conferencing affords the teacher to discuss the inquiry and discover where the students are in their learning and understanding. This also provides the opportunity to ask guiding questions to ensure students continue to probe deeper and reach the level of knowing that the teacher wishes them to achieve. In the student-centered learning pedagogical model, assessment is integrated within the learning process. Educators are “consistently using diagnostic teaching, meaning that teachers determine the gaps in student knowledge or understanding about a concept” (Turner, 2011,p. 126) so they can provide instruction to build understanding. Teachers provide students with formative feedback to foster improvement and encourage the students to persevere with challenging tasks.
Students also participate in peer assessment as well as self-assessment. By providing multiple opportunities for students to engage with content, teachers are ensuring they have the opportunity to learn and improve from mistakes and demonstrate mastery of the content. Authentic assessments throughout the course allow the students and teachers to have a firm understanding of what knowledge the children have mastered. Assessment shifts from only assigning grades to more formative feedback opportunities to assist the student in improving their performance and bridging the gap between assessment and instruction. In situated cognition pedagogical models, assessment is viewed within the social contexts of the learning. Again, the goal is to determine the level of understanding that children have achieved.
Teachers seek to assess the process and problem solving that the students are engaging in while continuing the shape the child’s learning. Nonjudgmental questioning allows the teacher to probe students for them to clarify and express their thinking to peers and adults. Feedback allows the children to refine their skills and processes while continuing to explore and discover. In conclusion, the three models all use authentic assessment opportunities within their classroom to gather pieces of information about the learners in the classroom. Teachers want their assessments to be valid and reliable and provide quality information about their students. For the constructivist educators engaged in assessment, the challenge is to ensure the tools they use will demonstrate that students have met goals and standards while continuing to push them to grow as learners. Pros and Cons of Effectiveness
Integral attributes of inquiry-based learning include that inquiry promotes and supports research for all students and provides opportunities to learn and reflect on their learning. Maniotes & Kuhlthau (2014) share how inquiry allows students the chance to “learn and practice literacy, social, and information literacy skills and content knowledge in an authentic context” (p. 14). Additional positive aspects include how versatile the process is because it is applicable across content areas and is suitable for both individual and group explorations. Inquiry-based learning also encourages students to be more creative as they decide many of the aspects of the inquiry. It encourages students to become actively engaged as they take ownership and responsibility for their learning. Finally, inquiry-based learning helps students integrate multiple skills and prepare for real-life situations where they will be reading, exploring, and problem-solving.
The concerns with implementing inquiry-based learning in the classroom is that true inquiry-based learning requires extensive teacher training prior to implementation so that teachers understand best practices and their role in the classroom environment. Also, currently there is not much empirical evidence that an inquiry-based pedagogical model provides effective instruction to novice learners. Younger students may find it difficult to find the information they need to answer the guiding questions. Some schools may lack the resources and tools that students need in order to engage in true inquiry. Administrators may not appreciate the inquiry-based learning pedagogical model due to the focus on test data and accountability issues.
Student-centered pedagogical models allow teachers to meet the needs of a diverse group of students because it is adaptable because it is not focused on the content, but rather on the students. Student motivation usually increases because the learning is developmentally appropriate for the student and they experience success with the material. Because students actually engage with the learning material, they have the opportunity to gain confidence in their ability as a learner. Student-centered pedagogy also allows students to incorporate their prior knowledge and experiences as they improve their skills as a learner. To demonstrate their understanding in a student-centered classroom, students have some freedom and creativity as they devise ways to showcase their learning.
Issues with a student-centered pedagogical model are that teachers must be trained to recognize challenges facing the learners in their classroom and how to accommodate for their different learning styles and challenges. Teachers must also be open to changing their teaching style and habits so they can provide structure without taking control away from the students. Educators must learn questioning techniques so they can guide students during the exploration of content while maintaining a facilitator’s role and remaining respectful of their ideas. Like inquiry-based learning, student-centered learning may be more difficult for younger children to navigate and some schools may lack the resources to implement this pedagogical model effectively. Benefits to the situated cognition pedagogical model include that the knowledge and skills are learned in context which reflects the way they will also be used outside of the school setting.
By incorporating the social context into the learning, students learn the relevance of the knowledge they are learning. They also become better at communicating their thinking and reasoning to others as they work within a community of practice to share their understandings. Students become effective at encouraging and coaching others by providing peer feedback and working through tasks together. Situated cognition allows students to participate in asking questions, exploring materials, connecting knowledge, and assessing progress. Motivation and engagement increase because students are asked to collaborate with their peers throughout the learning cycle. Challenges to using situated cognition in the classroom include that knowledge learned in one context may not transfer easily to other contexts. Newcomers may not be willing to take an active role in the learning community due to a lack of confidence or uncomfortableness. Again, the schools may lack the tools and resources needed to fully implement a situated cognition model of pedagogy. Concluding Summary
Teachers often resort to utilizing more traditional research projects because they either are uncomfortable incorporating inquiry projects into the classroom or lack the understanding of how to establish inquiry learning in their classrooms. Naluai (2014) states, “The word inquiry means to seek or request truth, information, or knowledge” (p. 39). Maniotes and Kuhlthau (2014) discuss the importance of assisting students in moving from traditional research to more guided inquiry learning. Educators want students to use inquiry to learn about the larger world surrounding them and encourage them to delve deeper into academic content. Maniotes and Kuhlthau (2014) explain, “Traditional assignments don’t allow for the complex, constructive process of learning through two important phases of research: exploring and collecting” (p. 10).
Attributes of inquiry-based learning include a focus on process rather than product and is carefully planned. Students’ high level of questioning helps drive the quest to make sense of the content and connect the new information with previous knowledge. Because of the way inquiry is driven by the students’ desire to know and understand as well as the collaborative nature of the learning environment, the learning goes deeper and provides for a richer understanding that can then be shared and discussed with others. Maniotes and Kuhlthau (2014) share, “Through inquiry students engage in discovery, ask real questions about academic topics, and are interested to learn more and to share with others” (p. 12). Student-centered pedagogical models also focus on the student as the main driving force behind learning.
Consideration is given to the students’ preferred learning style and modalities. Teachers need to be trained to identify student misconceptions and intervene when students struggle. Additional training for teachers would involve questioning techniques to assist in probing students to continue the learning. Key to student-centered learning is the creation of an open learning environment where students are encouraged to pursue their interests and take responsibility for their learning. Students are encouraged to think and talk creatively and use higher-order thinking skills as they refine their work habits and gain new knowledge. Situated cognition pedagogical models focus on the social situations in which learning occurs. Similar to inquiry-based and student-centered learning, situated cognition encourages students to actively construct knowledge as they engage in exploration, discovery, and collaborative conversations.
Teachers must ensure the classroom is a positive, supportive, learning environment where mistakes are seen as ways to continue growing so students feel comfortable taking risks. Educators must teach children how to collaborate with their peers and adults in a respectful manner. Students will also need assistance in developing interpersonal and conflict resolution skills so time is not wasted handling minor disagreements when varying perspectives are shared. Historically, education has been a means of transmitting knowledge from the teacher to the student.
Teachers often used direct instruction to provide students with the information that society deemed as critical for the times. However, as the world has become more complex, education has had to change to help students meet the demands of society. Students cannot learn all of the information they will ever need during their time in school but they can develop skills to become more self-sufficient and life-long learners. It will take educators who are willing to establish classrooms that place more responsibility for learning on the students; design collaborative classrooms that motivate and engage students; and challenge students to develop as a learner.