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Abstract

This paper explores a highly polarised debate in the literature on teaching methods: the effectiveness of inquiry-based science instruction and teacher-directed science instruction in raising students' scientific competences and wider dispositions towards science. Using PISA 2015 data from a large, representative sample of 15-year-olds, the paper also provides insight into how the use of these teaching practices in New Zealand compares in an international context. Key Findings • New Zealand students experience high rates of teacher-directed science instruction. Teacher-directed science instruction appears effective at raising students' scientific literacy. • The effectiveness of inquiry-based science instruction appears highly variable. Moderate use is unrelated to lower student performance, although not as effective as teacher-led methods. • At high levels of use, inquiry-based science instruction shows a problematic relationship to achievement and the precautionary principle suggests this level of use should be discouraged. • Inquiry-based methods show value in helping students develop positive attitudes to science. • There is a generalisable 'sweet spot' combining both methods, with teacher-directed methods in most to all classes and inquiry-based in some, with the inquiry-based instruction supplementary-e.g., as an end-of-module extension-to a general strategy of teacher-directed instruction. • To be effective, inquiry-based instruction relies on good school discipline, pre-teaching of key content, as well as adequate teacher guidance, teacher planning time and school materials.
Teaching in New Zealand: findings from
international studies
Inquiry-based or teacher-directed science?
Evidence from PISA
Summary
This paper explores a highly polarised debate in the literature on teaching methods: the effectiveness of
inquiry-based science instruction and teacher-directed science instruction in raising students’ scientific
competences and wider dispositions towards science. The paper also provides insight into how the use of
these teaching practices in New Zealand compares in an international context. These findings will be of
interest to teaching professionals as well as providers of teacher education.
Key Findings
New Zealand students experience high rates of teacher-directed science instruction. Teacher-directed
science instruction appears effective at raising students’ scientific literacy.
The effectiveness of inquiry-based science instruction appears highly variable. Moderate use is unrelated
to lower student performance, although not as effective as teacher-led methods.
At high levels of use, inquiry-based science instruction shows a problematic relationship to achievement
and the precautionary principle suggests this level of use should be discouraged.
Inquiry-based methods show value in helping students develop positive attitudes to science.
There is a generalisable ‘sweet spot’ combining both methods, with teacher-directed methods in most to
all classes and inquiry-based in some, with the inquiry-based instruction supplementary e.g., as an
end-of-module extension to a general strategy of teacher-directed instruction.
To be effective, inquiry-based instruction relies on good school discipline, pre-teaching of key content, as
well as adequate teacher guidance, teacher planning time and school materials.
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
1
Background
As the Prime Minister’s former Chief Science Advisor explained, “science education is not just for those who
see their careers involving science but is an essential component of core knowledge that every member of
our society requires” (Gluckman, 2011). Scientific literacy underscores myriad everyday decisions about our
health and our use of technology and our treatment of natural resources. It gives us tools to understand and
predict the world around us and to recognise and reject false theories.
Written for policy makers with influence in science teaching as well as providers of Initial Teacher Education
and Professional Learning and Development, the key findings will also be of interest directly to science
teachers.
Results
Science Instruction Methods
The main message that emerges … is that the quality of the material and human resources of a science
department, and the kinds of science activities offered to students have a weaker impact on student
performance than how much time students devote to learning science and how teachers teach science
(OECD, 2016b, emphasis added).
In 2015, as part of the three-yearly research study PISA (the Programme for International Student
Assessment), 15-year-old students around the world were asked questions designed to gauge how often
they experienced ‘inquiry-based’ and ‘teacher-directed’ instruction methods in their science lessons.
Teacher-directed science instruction involves the teacher providing explanations, demonstrations and
extensions of content, and leading discussions to direct what students learn.
Inquiry-based science instruction involves the teacher having less control of the lesson, often only minimally
guiding the lesson, while students explore processes of science for themselves.
There is an active debate in pedagogical circles about which of these two methods is ‘better’ (eg, Bennett,
2018), a debate which has been ongoing, in one form or another, for a great many years (eg, Stone, 1996).
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
2
Frequency of exposure to these methods
New Zealand 15-year-olds experience comparatively high rates of inquiry-based science instruction,
according to the PISA index of inquiry-based instruction. Some inquiry-based activities are more common
than others; however, patterns of use are similar to the international average (Figure 1). The one exception
is that New Zealand students are more likely to report that they are asked to do investigations to test ideas
(36%) than are their counterparts across the OECD1 (26%).
Interestingly, students in Year 10 (i.e., pre-NCEA ‘core science’) also report slightly higher exposure to
inquiry-based science activities, on average, than students in Year 11.
Figure 1. Percentage of students reporting that these inquiry-based instruction methods happen in ‘most’ or ‘all’
science lessons
The use of inquiry-based methods is especially high compared to most countries in the quarter of our
schools with the most disadvantaged students (Figure 2). In many countries, inquiry-based methods are
more frequently used with the more advantaged students, who tend to be higher performers on average than
disadvantaged students, irrespective of instructional style, due the head start afforded by their background.
Figure 2. Comparison of disadvantaged students’ exposure to inquiry-based instruction methods
1 The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
Students are
given
opportunities
to explain their
ideas
The teacher
explains how a
science idea
can be applied
to a number of
different
phenomena
The teacher
clearly explains
the relevance
of science
concepts to our
lives
Students are
asked to draw
conclusions
from
an experiment
they have
conducted
Students are
required to
argue about
science
questions
There is a class
debate about
investigations
Students are
asked to do
an
investigation
to test ideas
Students spend
time in the
laboratory
doing practical
experiments
Students are
allowed to
design their
own
experiments
Percentage of students
New Zealand OECD average
-0.80
-0.60
-0.40
-0.20
0.00
0.20
0.40
0.60
Japan
Korea
Finland
Austria
Netherlands
Spain
Iceland
Hungary
Belgium
Slovak Republic
Estonia
Germany
Czech Republic
Norway
United Kingdom
Italy
Ireland
Poland
France
Luxembourg
Greece
Latvia
Australia
Switzerland
Sweden
Slovenia
Chile
Israel
Canada
Denmark
New Zealand
Portugal
Turkey
United States
Mexico
PISA index of inquiry-based instruction
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
3
Students in New Zealand experience high rates of teacher-directed instruction, as defined by PISA, in their
science classes and higher than the OECD average. Rates of use of these methods in New Zealand are
similar to rates of use in Australia and the United States. New Zealand students are exposed to similar rates
of teacher-led, whole-class discussions in science compared to the OECD average, but higher rates of the
other teacher-led behaviours (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Percentage of students reporting that these teacher-led instruction methods happen in ‘many’ or
‘every or almost every’ science lesson
This relatively high rate far teacher-directed methods may be partly a result of the inclusion of questions
about teachers interacting with and responding to students (ie, leading ‘whole-class discussions’ and
‘discussing student questions’). These practices are uncommon in some countries because of very large
class sizes or cultural expectations that students should not disrupt the class with their questions. Classes in
such countries may revolve around the teacher substantially more (essentially ‘teacher-delivered’ instruction)
than classes rated high for ‘teacher-directed’ instruction in PISA. It is therefore useful to understand ‘teacher-
directed’ here to mean teacher-centred with responsiveness to questions from the class.
How these methods are linked to students’ scientific literacy
Based on the PISA index of teacher-directed instruction, frequent exposure to teacher-directed methods (ie,
in most or all science lessons) is linked, on average, to higher scientific literacy. In New Zealand, the
increase is seven PISA score points, equivalent to about one school term 2, after accounting for student and
school factors3.
Not all teacher-directed methods that students were asked about are associated with performance in the
same way (Figure 4). The more teacher-centred methods are linked to higher scientific literacy, whereas the
frequent use of whole-class discussions are linked, on average, to lower scientific literacy.
Figure 4. Difference in PISA score points associated with these teacher-led instruction methods in ‘many’ or
‘every or almost every’ science lesson
2 Thirty PISA score points are roughly equivalent to one school year. For more detail, see OECD (2016a), box I.2.1.
3 Such as the socioeconomic background of the student and the average socioeconomic background of the school.
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
The teacher explains scientific
ideas
The teacher discusses our
questions
The teacher demonstrates an
idea
A whole class discussion takes
place with the teacher
Percentage of students
New Zealand OECD average
-20
-10
0
10
20
30
40
50
The teacher explains scientific
ideas
The teacher discusses our
questions
The teacher demonstrates an
idea
A whole class discussion takes
place with the teacher
Score point difference
New Zealand OECD average
+1 year of schooling
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
4
Based on the PISA index of inquiry-based instruction, frequent exposure to inquiry-based science instruction
is linked, on average, to lower scientific literacy, after accounting for student and school factors. In New
Zealand, it is associated with a decrease in science performance of 14 points, equivalent to about half a year
of schooling the second highest negative association with performance among the PISA 2015 countries.
Some inquiry-based activities are associated with lower science performance equivalent to a year or two of
schooling (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Difference in PISA score points associated with these inquiry-based instruction methods in ‘most’ or
‘all’ science lessons.
Note: For New Zeala nd, all statisticall y significant chan ges from the natio nal mean of PISA score points are shown in blue. For the OECD average, all poi nts
represent statistic ally significant ch anges from the mean.
Not all inquiry activities students were asked about are associated with performance in the same way. The
frequent use of the less teacher-guided inquiry methods, such as students designing their own experiments,
is related to much lower scientific literacy, whereas teachers
frequently explaining the applications of scientific ideas is
linked, on average, to higher scientific literacy.
Moreover, although we would expect high exposure to inquiry-
based methods to be linked to higher performance in at least
the PISA ‘procedural knowledge’ subscale, this is not the
case. The relationship between high use of inquiry-based
science instruction and lower scientific literacy holds across all
PISA subscales of science competency, scientific knowledge
types and content areas. This negative relationship also holds
true for all groups in New Zealand: advantaged/disadvantaged
students, advantaged and disadvantaged schools, ethnic
groupings and genders.
Other studies have reached similar conclusions. In 1970-71,
the first multi-country education research project, the First
International Science Study (eg, Comber & Keeves, 1973)
found that, across the 19 participating countries including New
Zealand, ‘inquiry learning’ was not linked to higher
achievement. Moreover, international data also attests to a
high level of positivity towards inquiry-based instruction
methods in New Zealand (Box 1).
-80
-70
-60
-50
-40
-30
-20
-10
0
10
20
The teacher
explains how a
science idea can
be applied to a
number of
different
phenomena
The teacher
clearly explains
the relevance of
science concepts
to our lives
Students are
given
opportunities to
explain their ideas
Students are
asked to draw
conclusions from
an experiment
they have
conducted
Students are
required to argue
about science
questions
There is a class
debate about
investigations
Students spend
time in the
laboratory doing
practical
experiments
Students are
asked to do an
investigation to
test ideas
Students are
allowed to design
their own
experiments
Score point difference
New Zealand OECD average
-1 year of schooling
-2 years of schooling
93% of Year 7-10 teachers in New
Zealand agree or strongly agree that My
role as a teacher is to facilitate students’
own inquiry’.
94% agree that Students should be
allowed to think of solutions to practical
problems themselves before the teacher
shows them how they are solved’.
82% agree that Thinking and reasoning
processes are more important than
specific curriculum content’.
79% of Year 7-10 teachers in New
Zealand agree or strongly agree that
Students learn best by finding solutions
to problems on their own’.
Source: Teaching and Learning International
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
5
Are all of these items ‘inquiry’?
It is debatable whether all activities asked about are ‘inquiry’ methods. A factor analysis4 suggests there are
three items (‘The teacher explains…’, ‘The teacher clearly explains…’ and ‘Students are given opportunities
to explain…’) that, in the context of New Zealand teachers, align better with the ‘teacher-directed’ items.
Interestingly, these are the only three items not related to lower science performance (see Figure 5).
However, even after removing two non-contentiously ‘teacher-led’ items (‘The teacher explains…’ and ‘The
teacher clearly explains…’), there is virtually no change in the relationship to lower achievement. That is,
there is effectively no issue with these items being included in the index of inquiry-based science instruction.
A non-linear relationship with achievement
Further analysis shows that the relationship between inquiry-based instruction and scientific literacy is not a
straight line, not a dose-response relationship. It is only at high frequency rates of exposure to inquiry-based
instruction the top quintile, equivalent to the use of inquiry-based methods in most (or more) science
lessons that inquiry-based instruction is statistically related to lower science literacy. This is true whether or
not we include the two ‘teacher-led’ items in the inquiry scale the drop at the top end is similar (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Quintiles of mean exposure to inquiry-based science instruction (averaged across all inquiry-based
activities), with the related mean score for PISA scientific literacy
The teacher-directed and inquiry-based ‘sweet spot’
Analysis of this data by international consulting firm McKinsey (Chen, Dorn, Krawitz, Lim & Mourshed, 2017)
revealed a ‘sweet spot’ combining teacher-directed instruction in most to all science classes and inquiry-
based instruction in some to many classes. This was linked to the highest score-point differences from group
means across all geographic groupings (North America, Europe, Oceania, ‘high-performing Asia’).
The below analysis suggests this mix is generalisable across New Zealand contexts: one or both of the
‘sweet spot’ (middle-right quadrant) and ‘danger zone’ (bottom-left quadrant) are evident across
socioeconomic and cultural groups (examples in Figure 7). Statistically significant differences from the mean
(at the .05 level) are shown in bold. This analysis compares score-point differences to the group, rather than
the national, average.
Fifteen percent of low-decile students experience low use of inquiry methods and low use of the ‘teacher-
directed’ practices (top-left quadrant), suggesting stricter ‘traditional’ instructional methods than the PISA
indicator of ‘teacher-directed instruction’ is measuring. For low-decile students, these practices are also
associated with higher than group-average science competences, though not as high as the ‘sweet spot’.
Eight percent of disadvantaged students and 12 percent of advantaged students experience this sweet spot.
4 A statistical method of determining how well individual items hold together to describe elements of the same factor.
430
450
470
490
510
530
550
570
Mean PISA science score
Never or hardly
ever
In some
lessons
In most
lessons
In all
lessons
Without the 2 'teacher-
led' inquiry items
With the 2 'teacher-
led' inquiry items
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
6
Figure 7. Difference in PISA score points associated with different balances of instruction methods
Teacher-directed science instruction
Low decile
(compared to average
performance of students
in low decile schools)
None to a
few
Some to
many
Most to
all
Inquiry-based
science
instruction
None to a few 31 25 28
Some to many 19 19 66
Most to all -5 7 25
Teacher-directed science instruction
Disadvantaged
students
(compared to average
performance of
disadvantaged students)
None to a
few
Some to
many
Most to
all
Inquiry-based
science
instruction
None to a few 20 25 45
Some to many 11 26 56
Most to all -27 -7 11
Teacher-directed science instruction
Advantaged students
(compared to average
performance of
advantaged students)
None to a
few
Some to
many
Most to
all
Inquiry-based
science
instruction
None to a few -14 2 -7
Some to many -25 -1 14
Most to all -67 -37 0
Teacher-directed science instruction
Māori students
(compared to average
performance of students
who identify as Māori)
None to a
few
Some to
many
Most to
all
Inquiry-based
science
instruction
None to a few 28 43 6
Some to many 9 20 56
Most to all -34 -7 15
Teacher-directed science instruction
Asian students
(compared to average
performance of students
who identify as Asian)
None to a
few
Some to
many
Most to
all
Inquiry-based
science
instruction
None to a few 19 38 25
Some to many -47 30 47
Most to all -45 -21 2
The ‘sweet spot’
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
7
How these methods are linked to students’ dispositions toward science
Controlling for the five different science instruction methods that students were asked about in PISA 2015 5 ,
the use of inquiry-based science instruction is weakly to moderately linked to more positive attitudes and
dispositions towards science, on average, across the OECD (Figure 8). That is, inquiry-based methods are
related to engagement and dispositions more than teacher-directed methods. This holds true even after
accounting for students’ socioeconomic status (SES), gender, year level, science performance and number
of science subjects studied. The change in attitudes towards science related to inquiry-based instruction is
slightly stronger for girls than boys.
Broadly, the same pattern is true of teacher-directed instruction methods, though the relationship is weak.
Attitudes examined were students’ enjoyment of science, interest in broad science topics, science self-
efficacy6 and science epistemic beliefs7 . Also, on average across the OECD, though not in New Zealand,
the use of inquiry-based methods is linked to slightly higher odds of girls (but not boys) expecting a career in
a science-related field.
Figure 8. Change in attitudes toward science associated with higher use of these instruction methods
Note: White bars denote statistically non-significant changes.
After controlling for student characteristics and school factors, New Zealand has the strongest relationship
between higher use of inquiry-based science instruction and student-reported enjoyment of science,
although the strength of this relationship is still modest. New Zealand also has one of the strongest
relationships between higher use of inquiry-based methods and students’ epistemic beliefs (Mostafa,
Echazarra & Guillou, 2018). However, the strength of these relationships in New Zealand are not significantly
different from those seen in the UK, Australia and Ireland.
After controlling for student characteristics and school factors, New Zealand has one of the strongest
relationships between higher use of teacher-directed science instruction and student enjoyment of and
interest in science. However, here too the strength of these relationships is modest.
The use of inquiry-based science instruction also appears to be linked to students feeling a stronger sense of
agency in being able to influence environmental issues (see Jang-Jones & Webber, 2019).
5 Teacher-directed instruction, inquiry-based instruction, adaptive instruction, teacher support and teacher feedback. (The questions
asked are designed to allow analysis that can isolate the use and effects of each method.)
6 That is, their self-belief in their ability to solve science problems or achieve science goals.
7 That is, their appreciation for the cumulative nature of the scientific method and valuing of scientific approaches. (See Kirkham & May
(2016) for more data on science self-efficacy and science epistemic beliefs.)
-0.05
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
0.20
0.25
0.30
Change in disposition indices per one-unit
increase in the indices of teaching practices
Interest in broad science topics Enjoyment of science Science self-efficacy Participation in science-related activities
Teacher-directed instruction Inquiry-based instruction
Boys
Girls
Girls Boys
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
8
Discussion: Why is frequent inquiry-based instruction linked to lower science competences?
One possible explanation for this negative relationship between inquiry-based instruction and science
literacy is that inquiry-based activities are difficult to do well. This is a demanding teaching strategy that
requires specific resources and school climates for it to work well (Mostafa, Echazarra & Guillou, 2018).
The minimally guided inquiry methods are especially well suited to contexts where students have a high level
of prior knowledge and self-discipline to provide ‘internal’ guidance (Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006).
Supporting this hypothesis, across all countries in PISA 2015, students in science classes with a ‘poor
disciplinary climate’8 performed worse in science when exposed to inquiry-based activities. This suggests
that using inquiry-based learning to try to ‘engage’ students in classes where noise, disorder and wasted
time are the norm is unlikely to raise the science performance of these students.
It appears that inquiry-based science instruction is less effective in disadvantaged schools and works best
for advantaged students in advantaged schools. Further OECD analysis of the PISA 2015 data shows that
on average in Australia, and therefore likely similar in New Zealand, inquiry-based methods are linked to
slightly higher scores among top performing students yet to lower scores among lower performing students
(Mostafa, Echazarra & Guillou, 2018). Similarly, Hattie and Yates (2014) also caution that while lower-
knowledge students often express a preference for low-guidance, inquiry-based lessons to lessons based on
direct instruction, these students learn less from inquiry lessons than their higher-knowledge peers, thus
increasing the knowledge gap.
The demanding nature of inquiry-based science instruction raises the question of whether teachers who use
inquiry-based activities very regularly have adequate time to plan these activities well. A review of science in
New Zealand primary schools by the Education Review Office came to similar conclusions about the difficulty
of integrating science content well into inquiry-based methods:
An inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning in primary schools has become increasingly common
in recent years. … In the hands of a confident and capable teacher, inquiry learning provided
opportunities for students to develop valuable thinking and questioning skills for scientific investigation.
However, in some schools the approach risked losing the integrity of science in the process. … High
quality examples of successfully integrating science into inquiry-based teaching and learning were limited.
(Education Review Office, 2012)
Another possible explanation is that teachers may be overusing inquiry activities that provide too little
guidance to students. A meta-analysis of inquiry-based methods by Lazonder and Harmsen (2016) suggests
that inquiry-based science instruction is most effective when it is supported by adequate amounts of
guidance from the teacher. Similarly, a broader meta-analysis by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) found
that minimally guided methods, including inquiry-based learning methods, were consistently less effective
than approaches that strongly emphasise teachers guiding the student learning process. A meta-analysis of
experiments into inquiry-based science teaching (Furtak, Seidel, Iverson & Briggs, 2012) found that student-
led activities had mean effect sizes of .50, whereas teacher-led activities had mean effect sizes of .90.
Furthermore, even well-used inquiry methods, when used frequently, may simply be slower at building
students’ knowledge and skills. That is, having students inquire into and reach accurate and well-
developed conclusions about any element of scientific knowledge, process and procedure are, by
definition, more time-consuming than more direct teaching and learning of the same.
8 A poor disciplinary climate includes: there is noise and disorder, students don’t listen to what the teacher says, the teacher has to wait
a long time for students to settle down, and students cannot work well.
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
9
Conclusion
Based on the analyses here and the wider literature on inquiry-based science instruction, teacher-directed
science instruction appears, on average, effective at raising students’ scientific literacy. By contrast, the
effectiveness of inquiry-based science instruction appears to be highly variable.
Many inquiry-based activities appear perfectly fine in moderation, although not as effective on their own as
teacher-led instructional methods. However, rather than a straight-line ‘dose-response’ effect, there is a ‘too
much’ effect. That is, at high levels of use, inquiry-based science instruction shows a problematic
relationship to achievement and the precautionary principle would suggest this level of use should be
discouraged.
A lot of factors need to be aligned for inquiry-based methods to be effective. Inquiry-based instruction is
resource intensive in terms of teacher planning time and school materials, and relies on productive learning
behaviours in class (ie, low on noise, disorder and wasted time), pre-teaching of key content to students, and
the right amount of teacher guidance.
A high use of inquiry methods has the potential to decrease equity when used with students who don’t have
the necessary strong understanding of key content to bring to the activity, and more so where school
behaviour systems aren’t effectively developing positive learning behaviours. That is, frequent use of inquiry-
based instruction methods appears unlikely to meet the needs of disadvantaged students. Similarly, the
evidence doesn’t support there being cultural ‘preferences’ between ethnic groupings in what works to raise
achievement. Indeed, based on this data such a belief may have the potential to hold back disadvantaged
groups.
In New Zealand, a relatively high proportion of disadvantaged students experience high exposure to inquiry
methods. Conversely, in many countries inquiry-based methods are used more frequently with more
advantaged, higher-performing students.
Inquiry-based methods have a place in schools, and show value in helping students develop positive
science-related attitudes. A little high-quality inquiry, in some classes, goes a long way. However, using
inquiry-based learning simply to try to ‘engage’ students in classes, although intuitively appealing, is unlikely
to raise their science performance, especially in classes where noise, disorder and wasted time are the
norm.
Relatedly, a generalisable ‘sweet spot’ exists that combines the use of both methods, with teacher-directed
methods in most to all classes and the use of inquiry-based activities in some classes. There are a plethora
of ways that teachers can and do create such blended approaches. Evidence from recent meta-analyses of
research into the effectiveness of inquiry-related methods can provide insight into which types of blends hold
the most promise for raising student learning, competences and dispositions. For instance, just-in-time
teaching of content to quickly provide students enough domain knowledge for an inquiry, just before an
inquiry, places a high load on students’ working memory and is therefore unlikely to be an optimal
instructional strategy.
Most promising are approaches that blend some inquiry into a primarily teacher-directed teaching and
learning programme as a supplement at the end of the learning module, when students have a deeper
proficiency with the domain knowledge. It is reasonable to use inquiry learning once sufficient domain
knowledge has been developed, for instance to cap a culmination of prior learning and knowledge
development with a related inquiry project, thus expanding on that strong foundation.
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
10
Research methods and data sources
To assess science performance, PISA 2015 used 184 science test items of varying difficulty. Students also
filled out a detailed context questionnaire, which included questions on their experiences of teaching
practices in their science classes, their enjoyment of and interest in science, and their expectations of a
career in science.
This paper examines teaching practices mainly from the point of view of students’ experiences of these
practices. Although instruction methods used in the classroom are often nuanced and interlinked, the
questions asked of students allow us to analyse specific aspects of instruction individually or in combination.
Students don’t require any understanding of pedagogical theory to accurately report on how often they
experience specific activities and behaviours in their classes.
Teacher data included here is from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS 2013/14), a
large-scale international research study of teachers and teaching, in particular teachers of students in Years
7 to 10.
Authored by Adam Jang-Jones
Disclaimer: Opinions, findings and conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the author.
Published August 2019 by:
Evidence, Data and Knowledge
Ministry of Education
ISBN (web): 978-1-77669-829-5
For further data and information on the international studies, please visit
https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/topics/research
.
For further information, questions or discussion around additional analysis and potential topics
please contact Requests.EDK@education.govt.nz
Teaching in New Zealand | Inquiry-based or Teacher-directed?
11
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Chapter
This chapter describes my first encounters with constructivism in the science education community, the topic being elaborated by Ernst von Glasersfeld in a plenary lecture at a NARST meeting. I identified it as updated Bishop Berkeley’s radical empiricism. Apart from philosophical criticism, the deficiency of constructivism as a teaching method is documented. My two-year period (1992–1993) as foundation professor of science education at University of Auckland is elaborated, including a significant national debate with New Zealand’s powerful constructivist lobby. The origins and contents of the 1994 Routledge Science Teaching: The Contribution of History and Philosophy of Science are given; and its functioning as somewhat of a ‘roadmap’ for the discipline, being translated into five languages and reissued 20 years later in a revised and updated edition. My pendulum studies (a book and papers), and the large International Pendulum Project and subsequent anthology, are outlined. These demonstrate that HPS can enliven and transform even the most routine topics in science programmes.
Article
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This report uses data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to examine the awareness of a range of environmental issues in New Zealand English-medium secondary students and how this has changed in the last decade. Key findings: » New Zealand 15-year-olds report low awareness of key environmental problems compared with most other countries. » New Zealand students’ reported awareness of environmental problems fell between 2006 and 2015. » In New Zealand and around the world, students who are more aware of environmental problems tend to be more pessimistic about these problems getting better ‘in the next 20 years’, and New Zealand students’ level of optimism about the environment hasn’t changed since 2006. » However, New Zealand is one of the few countries with both low awareness and low optimism. » Awareness of environmental issues is positively related to students’ scientific literacy, socioeconomic status, and engagement in science-related topics and activities, as well as with science teaching practices. » New Zealand students’ drop in environmental awareness between 2006 and 2015 can be entirely explained by a corresponding drop in general science ability over the same period. » 15-year-olds report that schools and media are the main sources from which they have learnt about environmental issues. A comparative lack of media coverage of environmental issues appears to be a major driver in the New Zealand context.
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Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert–novice differences, and cognitive load. Although unguided or minimally guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half-century that consistently indicate that minimally guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide “internal” guidance. Recent developments in instructional research and instructional design models that support guidance during instruction are briefly described.
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Although previous meta-analyses have indicated a connection between inquiry-based teaching and improved student learning, the type of instruction characterized as inquiry based has varied greatly, and few have focused on the extent to which activities are led by the teacher or student. This meta-analysis introduces a framework for inquiry-based teaching that distinguishes between cognitive features of the activity and degree of guidance given to students. This framework is used to code 37 experimental and quasi-experimental studies published between 1996 and 2006, a decade during which inquiry was the main focus of science education reform. The overall mean effect size is .50. Studies that contrasted epistemic activities or the combination of procedural, epistemic, and social activities had the highest mean effect sizes. Furthermore, studies involving teacher-led activities had mean effect sizes about .40 larger than those with student-led conditions. The importance of establishing the validity of the treatment construct in meta-analyses is also discussed.
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Discovery learning approaches to education have recently come under scrutiny (Tobias & Duffy, 2009), with many studies indicating limitations to discovery learning practices. Therefore, 2 meta-analyses were conducted using a sample of 164 studies: The 1st examined the effects of unassisted discovery learning versus explicit instruction, and the 2nd examined the effects of enhanced and/or assisted discovery versus other types of instruction (e.g., explicit, unassisted discovery). Random effects analyses of 580 comparisons revealed that outcomes were favorable for explicit instruction when compared with unassisted discovery under most conditions (d = –0.38, 95% CI [−.44, −.31]). In contrast, analyses of 360 comparisons revealed that outcomes were favorable for enhanced discovery when compared with other forms of instruction (d = 0.30, 95% CI [.23, .36]). The findings suggest that unassisted discovery does not benefit learners, whereas feedback, worked examples, scaffolding, and elicited explanations do. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Despite continuing criticism of public education, experimentally demonstrated and field tested teaching methods have been ignored, rejected, and abandoned. Instead of a stable consensus regarding best teaching practices, there seems only an unending succession of innovations. A longstanding educational doctrine appears to underlie this anomalous state of affairs. Termed developmentalism, it presumes "natural" ontogenesis to be optimal and it requires experimentally demonstrated teaching practices to overcome a presumption that they interfere with an optimal developmental trajectory. It also discourages teachers and parents from asserting themselves with children. Instead of effective interventions, it seeks the preservation of a postulated natural perfection. Developmentalism's rich history is expressed in a literature extending over 400 years. Its notable exponents include Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget; and its most recent expressions include "developmentally appropriate practice" and "constructivism." In the years during which it gained ascendance, developmentalism served as a basis for rejecting harsh and inhumane teaching methods. Today it impedes efforts to hold schools accountable for student academic achievement.
Article
Research has consistently shown that inquiry-based learning can be more effective than other, more expository instructional approaches as long as students are supported adequately. But what type of guidance is adequate, and for whom? These questions are difficult to answer as most previous research has only focused on one type of guidance and one type of learner. This meta-analysis therefore synthesized the results of 72 studies to compare the effectiveness of different types of guidance for different age categories. Results showed facilitative overall effects of guidance on learning activities (d = 0.66, 95% CI [0.44, 0.88]), performance success (d = 0.71, 95% CI [0.52, 0.90]), and learning outcomes (d = 0.50, 95% CI [0.37, 0.62]). Type of guidance moderated the effects on performance success but not on the other two outcome measures. Considerable variation was found in the effects of guidance on learning activities, but the relatively low number of studies do not allow for any definitive conclusion on possible age-related differences.
Article
On publication in 2009 John Hattie’s Visible Learning presented the biggest ever collection of research into what actually work in schools to improve children’s learning. Not what was fashionable, not what political and educational vested interests wanted to champion, but what actually produced the best results in terms of improving learning and educational outcomes. It became an instant bestseller and was described by the TES as revealing education’s ‘holy grail’.
Article
The goal of the Inquiry Synthesis Project was to synthesize findings from research conducted between 1984 and 2002 to address the research question, What is the impact of inquiry science instruction on K–12 student outcomes? The timeframe of 1984 to 2002 was selected to continue a line of synthesis work last completed in 1983 by Bredderman [Bredderman [1983] Review of Educational Research 53: 499–518] and Shymansky, Kyle, and Alport [Shymansky et al. [1983] Journal of Research in Science Teaching 20: 387–404], and to accommodate a practicable cut-off date given the research project timeline, which ran from 2001 to 2006. The research question for the project was addressed by developing a conceptual framework that clarifies and specifies what is meant by “inquiry-based science instruction,” and by using a mixed-methodology approach to analyze both numerical and text data describing the impact of instruction on K–12 student science conceptual learning. Various findings across 138 analyzed studies indicate a clear, positive trend favoring inquiry-based instructional practices, particularly instruction that emphasizes student active thinking and drawing conclusions from data. Teaching strategies that actively engage students in the learning process through scientific investigations are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, which are often necessary in the current standardized-assessment laden educational environment. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 47: 474–496, 2010
The skepticism threshold: Is there any evidence for inquiry learning? Education Review
  • T Bennett
Bennett, T. (2018). The skepticism threshold: Is there any evidence for inquiry learning? Education Review. Retrieved from http://educationreview.co.nz/the-skepticism-threshold-is-there-any-evidence-for-inquirylearning/