Philip Purnell, from The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Center for Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO INNOTECH), discusses new approaches to education, such as Inquiry-Based Teaching Learning (IBTL) and the so-called “Five E’s” Instructional Model, a constructivist model of learning based on five stages of learning: engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate.
Philip Purnell, Director for Programmes, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Center for Educational Innovation and Technology.
Historically, in the areas of fostering critical thinking, creative thinking, and so forth, there’s a tendency to focus on the sciences as the entry point for promoting skills development. Even the traditional inquiry-based teaching and learning approaches came out of a science focus. Numeracy, numbers management, literacy, the ability to read and comprehend text, social/emotional skills, the ability to manage yourself in your relationship with others, the ability to think and reflect on your thinking skills and promote your thinking skills – all these are foundational. You need to nurture them throughout your entire life, even as an adult, but particularly during the period of formational education, at the start of the learning journey.
We fear there is not sufficient attention on these early years. The research is already pointing to four to eight as the window of brain development where there’s the greatest opportunity for the development of these foundation skills, which are necessary to be effective, critical and dialectic learners.
When we look at the existing models related to inquiry-based teaching and learning, there’s a number out there: project-based learning has been around for quite some time. The model which we ended up using as the frame for our research was one developed by Rodger W. Bybee from the National Research Council on the United States. It is called the “Five E’s” Instructional Model. It is a framework for pedagogical practice which promotes inquiry-based learning. It is called the Five E’s because there are five critical phases of a teaching-learning process, which can be called: engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate.
With the first phase, engagement, we are trying to capture the students’ interest, their curiosity and attention on whatever content or topic is being introduced. This is critical because all the research uses students at risk of dropping out globally. All point to a lack of engagement in the content as one of the important drivers for why students lose interest in learning, or drop out of school. Here, it is important to build knowledge: what students know already, their experiences in daily life, as the springboard for introducing new content in order to make it meaningful, in order to build on the known to move to the unknown and to make it relatable. They can relate to the content being introduced, and so it links past and present learning experiences and real life context so students are engaged.
The second phase is exploration. This is the core learning experience, where students get a deeper understanding of the coping or the learning area, creating new ideas, investigating new possibilities, and developing their critical thinking through hands-on learning activities such as experiments, games, simulations, and other forms of inquiry. In this phase, teachers really encourage students to gather observations, gather evidence, analyse information from various sources including books, the real world, and real objects… in order to answer and pose questions which are related to the inquiry. Of course, the teachers can also select resources to support the inquiry process. But the students are really encouraged to be owners of their information generation, so they are the ones seeking information to answer questions and think creatively and critically.
Following exploration comes explanation, in which the teacher has a bigger role. The teacher has an opportunity to provide students with a deeper understanding of their topics, either through explicit instruction or the use of probing questions, or additional research activities which are learner-led. This is a phase where teachers start asking students: you’ve explored new ideas or new knowledge, now how do you use that to interpret the topic? What does it mean? Why is it relevant? What is it telling us about the question or the problem we are exploring? At that point, students are expected to seek clarification, and explain or demonstrate their understanding to their peers, as well as to the teacher, and perhaps to others as well.
The next phase is the elaboration where, having listened to that presentation in which teachers have explained how this particular issue works in a given situation, the students now have to apply it to a different context. It involves the ability to apply thinking approaches to a different concept, context and problem. This is often what is lacking in traditional approaches to critical thinking. Problem solving is definitely being promoted, but the application of problem-solving skills to other contexts is sometimes not given as much attention. Therefore, is from that application to different contexts that students would be able to understand the concepts they wrestle with.
The last and final phase is evaluation, where teachers and students monitor student understanding. It is not simply a test, or quizzes of content recall, but actually engaging students as partners in their own assessment. We get them to discuss the outputs among their peers, reflecting on their own ideas, the ideas of others, giving critical feedback to their colleagues and themselves, being able to be retrospective and introspective. Then teachers provide reflective questions that might guide students in that process.
Within that frame, the approach has to be contextualised based on the actual learning context of that learning community; the actual available resources accessible to the teacher; the teacher’s readiness to apply the techniques; their level of experience; or the country context. Definitely, the approach needs to be contextualised, but the Five E’s have a solid frame that can be followed in most contexts.