At Indigo Schools, we believe that the key to personalised learning, or equipping students with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the ever-changing world of work and life, lies in mastering the process of systematic, independent inquiry. This occurs when students’ personal interests, potential, skills, knowledge, and aspirations become the foundation for designing personalised learning pathways. This commitment should be integrated into a school’s learning and assessment framework.
There is a way for schools to customize each student’s learning and assessment program while also preparing them for common assessments, examinations, and other standardized tests. Teachers who are change-makers within schools tend to thrive in two contexts:
- In schools that encourage continuous improvement in the quality of education they provide, showcasing what is involved in school-wide change.
- More commonly, enterprising teachers secure approval to innovate, and their successes expand the approach beyond their specific age group, grade level, or subject area.
In both cases, the growth of this approach follows a typical pattern of change. The innovators’ achievements attract a small following before reaching a “tipping point,” establishing a new norm.
Our approach combines meeting common assessment standards with encouraging exploration and discovery based on personal needs, interests, and aspirations. While most teachers strive for the common educational goal of achieving high levels of proficiency in prescribed content, it is crucial to recognize that the skills and knowledge acquired are often the essential foundation for inquiry-based or personalised learning.
In some cases, the content students study holds limited value by itself, as it is primarily focused on passing examinations designed to rank students on a normal distribution curve. Teachers are expected to transmit as much content as possible to all students, regardless of their individual interests or relevance to the material. In the digital age, the results of these traditional assessments are often even less relevant than they were in the industrial era. The exponential growth of information and data available on the internet necessitates that students:
- Understand the underlying challenges of a problem.
- Know where to search and what to consider when seeking a solution.
- Assess the relevance and reliability of their research.
- Communicate the outcomes effectively to interested audiences if necessary.
Upon completing an inquiry cycle, students’ outcomes should be captured in a portfolio that demonstrates their mastery of the inquiry process over time. This dynamic improvement and innovation cycle is similar to those used by engineers to maintain continuous improvement and by leaders in business and government responsible for adapting to changing technological landscapes and operating contexts.
Inquiry-based learning empowers students to explore subjects they are genuinely excited about, as well as topics directly related to their formal studies. The motivational shifts observed in schools that effectively implement inquiry-based learning are tangible. The portfolios that showcase students’ progress over time demonstrate their preparedness to tackle challenges beyond the confines of school, whether in further education, work, or life.
The role of the teacher evolves into that of a mentor and guide, focusing on managing the learning process and nurturing ongoing growth, rather than simply imparting knowledge in the traditional sense.
The ultimate goal of inquiry-based learning is to foster intrinsically motivated, self-directed individuals who are confident in their ability to solve the problems they will encounter in their education, work, and lives. Mastery of the inquiry process enables individuals to take a significant step towards self-sufficiency, flexibility, and a problem-solving mindset, which are essential attributes for success in the digital age.
Structured, Guided, and Independent Inquiry
Implementing inquiry-based learning in a school typically involves teachers guiding learners through multiple inquiry cycles in a structured process. As students gain confidence in their mastery of the process, they gradually transition, at different rates, to guided inquiries across various subjects, both within and outside the school context. The teacher’s role shifts to monitoring and supporting progress toward the goals set by students within timelines typically spanning 8 to 12 weeks or longer.
By the time students reach their final year of high school, they should have mastered the inquiry process and possess a portfolio containing direct evidence of their progress, achievements, and competencies.
Traditional test scores, such as grade reports, international assessments (like TIMMS and PISA), SATs, or regional, national, and international proficiency tests (e.g., Cambridge, A levels), categorize students as high, middle, or low achievers. These summative assessments do not serve diagnostic or developmental purposes. Despite decades of pushing students to memorize content, the same basic pattern of high, middle, and low achievement persists.
If the goal of education is to facilitate recruiters’ selection process, then summative assessments have a valid place. However, if the objective is to empower every learner to function independently and thoughtfully as a citizen, worker, and individual, then each student deserves support, guidance, and acknowledgment of their ability to undertake independent inquiries into topics relevant to their individual needs, interests, and aspirations.
Standardised assessments are not designed to highlight students’ specific abilities, interests, and aspirations. In the emerging digital world, adaptability is essential to continuously learn and relearn the skills, knowledge, and attributes that will shape the transformation of work and life. It is what will enable individuals to live responsible, self-sufficient lives, seize opportunities, and navigate the challenges of an ever-changing landscape.
If you’re interested in school organisation and management for the 21st Century and learning more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school, send us an email at email@example.com. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.