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Inquiry Based Learning in Special Education

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 2/8/2012

Many teachers and schools are heading down the path of inquiry based learning. But what does this mean? Is it one of the effective teaching strategies to use in special education? And can you structure a special education program to follow this format?

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    In many settings, inquiry based learning simply means that children and teachers work together to plan the direction and focus of their learning. From a learner responsibility point of view, it is certainly one of the more effective teaching strategies because it asks students to take more responsibility for their learning, and ensures they remain on task and motivated. In inquiry based learning, the direction of the learning is being controlled by the students.

    From a teaching perspective, inquiry based learning means talking to students about what, why, how and when they want to learn, and what they want to discover as part of the learning process. There is a focus on topics with this learning method, which means students are able to learn in various curriculum areas in relation to a single topic of inquiry. If you choose inquiry based learning as one of your special education teaching strategies, you need to ensure your students are able to process question based information, and to think ahead, plan, formulate questions, make predictions about outcomes and maintain interest in an inquiry based learning topic for at least the duration of a lesson.

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    Photos to Prompt Units of Inquiry

    how are our oceans changing with global warming?How are old buildings made?Let's find out about plants in the jungle.What do we know about Australian Aboriginals?Famous artists - maybe me?
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    Advantages

    So what are the advantages? What supports the notion that inquiry based learning is one of the effective teaching strategies to use in special education?

    • Students using an inquiry based learning approach take responsibility for their learning tasks
    • Students are actively involved in the planning and preparation phase, and so develop skills in these areas
    • Teachers are able to develop 'softer skills' in their students, such as cooperation, teamwork, planning and organisation and creativity, all of which are vital and are often the focus of many and varied special education teaching strategies used throughout the curriculum
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    Disadvantages

    Let's discuss some of the advantages to get a good overall picture.

    • There may be more preparation and 'thinking ahead' on the part of the teacher to ensure the outcomes of all curriculum areas are covered
    • Assessment and reporting can be a lengthier process
    • It can be challenging for a teacher to take on a new method of learning
    • It generally works best if the whole school is using an inquiry based learning approach, rather than just a single teacher
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    How Does It Relate to Special Education?

    Inquiry based learning can be a challenge in the special education setting. Teachers need to be enormously creative, not so much in prompting and developing topics, but more so in ensuring the topics and the direction of learning cater to individuals and their learning needs. It is all too easy to cover a large amount of content, but teach very little along the way.

    Teachers would do well to have a clear idea of their student learning needs, so they are able to use a checklist approach to ensure the outcomes which need to be covered. Think about curriculum areas as well as individual needs such as fine motor skills, communication, interpersonal skills, body language, self expression etc.in creating content for students.

    In a special education setting, teachers can take a more active role in directing the course of inquiry based learning. They may need to offer prompts or choices to help students decide on what they would like to learn. They could share examples of work done by other students in previous years. They could use their own observations of how students seem to prefer to learn to guide the planning and preparation phase of getting ready for a new inquiry topic. They could seek information from parents and care-givers about the types of activities or interests of their students and then use this information to guide their choices during planning.