Inquiry-Based Learning for Students with Disabilities

Test-based assessments discourage inquisitiveness; Removing the Stumbling Block

Children are naturally inquisitive. Young children are curious about their environment and want to know all they can about how the world works and why. They do this by asking questions and exploring their surroundings. Asking questions is the way children get someone’s attention and engage them in conversation.

And yet we discourage children from asking questions when we consistently reward those students who find answers and solutions on their own. Think about it, how often do teachers or peers inwardly groan as the stereotypical child raises her hand to ask yet another question? How often do we praise a student’s problem solving abilities, especially when he has made independent discoveries?

In inquiry-based classrooms, the process of asking questions for greater understanding can be its own reward. And yet, unfortunately, the test-based assessments used by most modern schools employ a measurement mechanism that discourages the very kind of pure inquisitiveness we seek to cultivate. We must find the balance.

Further, question-rich learning can benefit children of all abilities. Research shows us that inquiry-based education “affords students the chance to decide how they go about understanding concepts which may have been hard to grasp in the context of someone else's explanation,” (Melber, 2004*) and “an inquiry-based learning environment was shown to have a positive effect on not only students with learning, mental, and physical disabilities, but also on an academically gifted student who was socially challenged. (Rapp, 2005*)

Reform Judaism emphasizes the premise of informed choice; of learning and understanding our rituals, practices and teachings as a means to intentionally choose the way they fit into our modern lives.  At the core of informed choice is inquiry – we are encouraged to ask questions, so much so that there is a Jewish proverb that states, “No one is without knowledge except he who asks no questions.”

We have the power to stimulate our students’ curiosity or stifle it.  How will you find the balance?

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*Melber, L. (2004). Inquiry for Everyone: Authentic Science Experiences for Students with Special Needs. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus1(2).
*Rapp, Whitney H. "Inquiry-Based Environments for the Inclusion of Students With Exceptional Learning Needs." Remedial & Special Education 26.5 (2005): 297-310. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

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