Many researchers and educators advocate for inquiry-based learning and argue that inquiry-based activities can boost students’ learning and develop students’ problem-solving skills. However, little research has compared the effects of inquiry-based instruction with traditional teacher-directed instruction on a large scale. Using data from PISA 2015 – an international comparative student assessment — Oliver and colleagues explored the association between students’ science performance and three types of instruction in science classrooms: inquiry-based, teacher-directed, and adaptive instruction. The sample includes 15-year-old students (N = 64,718) in 6 countries: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, UK, Ireland, and the USA.
After controlling for student socioeconomic status in the multivariate regression analysis, the authors found that, common to all 6 countries, students’ scientific literacy was negatively associated with inquiry-based instruction, so that increases in inquiry-based instruction were associated with lower scores. Teacher-directed and adaptive teaching were both positively correlated with students’ science achievement. Additionally, the authors disaggregated the composite variable of inquiry-based instruction and found that different aspects of inquiry, including different classroom activities and frequency of these activities, were differentially associated with students’ scientific literacy.
Noteworthy is that the variables used to measure the three types of instruction only reflect the frequency rather than the quality of different teaching activities. The findings, therefore, do not serve to invalidate the value of inquiry-based instruction in the science classroom. What they do serve is a reminder that, as the authors noted, improving student learning through an inquiry-based approach is not a question of whether to use inquiry-based instruction or not, but a question of how often and for what purposes a teacher might use this approach.
Oliver, M., McConney, A., & Woods-McConney, A. (2021). The efficacy of inquiry-based instruction in science: A comparative analysis of six countries using PISA 2015. Research in Science Education. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11165-019-09901-0