This study aimed to examine high school teachers’ beliefs about inquiry instruction and determine how their beliefs influenced their use of inquiry after a professional development program.
The participants were 36 high school science teachers (28 female, eight male).
The professional development program consisted of a 2-week summer institute as well as academic year support.
The summer program included discipline-specific content lessons that utilized inquiry-based instruction, pedagogical practice involving the use of a summer high school enrichment program, and reflection on this practice-teaching in content area groups.
Data were collected through both in-depth qualitative interview and written reflection data as well as data from the teachers’ classroom implementation of inquiry.
The authors used Windschitl’s (2002) Constructivist Dilemmas framework as a framework to understand the teachers’ enactments.
The authors found that the teachers were placed into four enactment categories: Integrated, Emerging, Laboratory-based, and Activity-focused.
Teachers in three of these four enactment categories (Integrated, Emerging, and Laboratory-based) were able to verbally communicate an approach to teaching.
The teachers’ interpretation of three elements from the PD distinguishes the Integrated teachers from the other teachers:
(1) they believed they learned new content through inquiry,
(2) they observed students learning content through the use of inquiry teaching strategies during the practice-teaching, and
(3) they were willing to experiment with the inquiry strategies and lessons learned during the PD in their own classrooms.
In the Integrated Enactment group, the teachers all noted that they had gained new knowledge during the content sessions.
They valued the fact that the content sessions, which modeled inquiry, pushed them beyond their current content understandings.
In the Emerging and Laboratory-based Enactment groups, the teachers placed less emphasis on their own conceptual change and instead described how the PD content sessions reviewed information they had previously learned.
The emphasis on gaining new content was even less pronounced for the Activity-focused teachers who described only small changes in their own knowledge, such as clearing up some minor misconceptions or learning vocabulary, rather than learning in-depth knowledge from these content sessions.
This close association between student learning and inquiry was reinforced for the Integrated Enactment teachers during the practice-teaching and reflection sessions.
In discussing what they valued from the practice-teaching and reflection sessions, the Integrated Enactment teachers described how inquiry practices helped improve students’ thinking and explanations related to the science content that was taught.
In contrast, teachers in the other three groups focused less on student learning and thinking (although these ideas were not completely absent) and more on student engagement (Emerging and Activity-focused), teacher actions (Laboratory- based), or teaching strategies (Activity-focused).
Finally, when the Integrated Enactment teachers attempted the inquiry lessons and strategies from the institute with their own students, they continued to associate inquiry teaching with student learning.
The teachers in the Integrated Enactment group expressed either no constraints or only minor pedagogical constraints that were within their control such as needing more planning time or refining their inquiry techniques to ensure better student learning.
The Emerging and Laboratory-based teachers questioned whether their students were really learning more through their use of inquiry lessons while the Activity-focused teachers used inquiry to engage their students and often equated learning with engagement.
All these teachers wrestled with significant pedagogical, and political constraints that impacted their attitudes towards implementing inquiry more consistently across their practice.
Thus, teachers may need to be guided through structured reflections on how they can overcome student learning constraints.
Developing a focus on student learning is an important step in moving teachers toward implementing reform teaching practices that emphasize student development of knowledge.
The authors suggest some implications for professional development.
First, teachers must gain a clear conceptual understanding of inquiry teaching that differentiates this instructional practice from other student-centered activities that might not incorporate data collection, analysis, and student-to-student argumentation.
Furthermore, teachers must be provided with experiences that help them link inquiry teaching with effective and efficient methods for learning science content.
The PD model provided teachers with several strategies that they were able to easily experiment with in their own classrooms.
For all but the Integrated Enactment teachers, additional classroom support in the form of lesson modeling, co-teaching, or other onsite coaching strategies was perceived as necessary in order to move the teachers toward greater inquiry enactments.
For the Integrated Enactment teachers, the formation of collaborative inquiry groups that provide opportunities for like-minded teachers to share new inquiry lessons and student learning successes and failures through in-school or online meetings may be all that is required to sustain this group’s inquiry teaching success.
Finally, the authors conclude that professional developers need to do a better job assessing the needs of their teacher participants throughout the PD process, to better guide the scaffolds that are needed for teacher growth in the use of inquiry practices.