Week 7 – REALs and Inquiry Based Learning

REALs

REALs is of course an acronym for  Rich Environment for Active Learning and is related to the work of Vygotsky who is a Russian teacher and psychologist involved in developing social learning theories. Social learning theories help us to understand that we learn from each other and the impact that  learning communities have on us.  The social learning theory dictates that  we learn through our interactions and communications with our peers, teachers and other experts. Since the environment is very important, it should be rich with opportunity to interact with others and have discussion.  Consequently, teachers would want to create a  learning environment that maximizes the learner’s ability to interact with each other through discussion, collaboration, and feedback.  So I think of this not so much as a model but more of an environment that can be used with a constructivist approach.

Inquiry Based Learning

This has the most appeal to me and our group and will most likely be the method that we use for our project.  This is also know as Guided Inquiry Learning.  I have found two really good books that are recently published that demonstrate the value of this approach.  Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century and Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School .  These were written by a mother and her two daughters, all of which have many years of accumulative knowledge and expertise in this field.   In their book, Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2007) confirm the origin of Guided Inquiry Learning (GIL) is based on the solid theoretical foundation grounded in the constructivist approach to learning.  The constructivist approach is based on Dewey, Bruner, Kelley, Vygotsky and Piaget.  The constructivist approach holds that learners impose meaning on the world and construct their own understanding based on their unique learning experiences.

There is an eight-phase framework as the elements of the GIL design process.

1.) Open – this simply means to get the students attention and get them thinking.
2.) Immerse – requires building background knowledge to generate some interesting ideas to investigate.
3.) Explore – the ideas.  The concept of exploring means to ask and inquire.
4.) Identify –and clearly articulate the exploration question.
5.) Gather – the relevant information that is needed to learn.
6.) Create – organize the information so it can be developed into a creative presentation.
7.) Share – with others what you have learned.
8.) Evaluate – to reflect on content and process that you experienced.

Each of these phases in the framework helps to reinforce a connection and continuity between the curriculum and the student’s experiences outside the school.  The intent is to establish a framework that learning is a lifetime proposition.  It is not just something to do in order to get ready for a test.  When the student is encourage to think deeply on a subject and become actively engaged, they are more likely to stay motivated and pursue further learning.

GIL comes in flexible and can be used with a lot of flexibility.  The key ingredients have the students explore, reflect and accomplish as they learn.  This learning process should allow them to connect with the real world and not be limited to the classroom.  The key ingredients for the teacher is to guide, direct and coach the students.  This process of encouragement and empowerment established a basis for critical thinking and analysis.

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