The Three Modes of Teaching

Following a recent discussion after reading Lee Donaghy’s blog, ‘Building ‘abstract generalisations’ to help yr 8 write like historians’, I started to wonder if some of the disagreements we have on teaching methods are to do with a ‘misalignment’ of terms. By which I mean that we seem to have different meanings for the names we use to describe different teaching methods and confuse or conflate one with another. This seems to be particular true of ‘inquiry’ and ‘discovery’, which are often used interchangeably. To my mind they are quite different, since Discovery is about giving space to the students to find out things for themselves, whereas Inquiry is about working collaboratively with students to find out things together. Fundamentally they come from different theories of learning, Discovery is based on Piaget’s theory of Constructivism, while Inquiry is based on Vygotsky and Bruner’s theories of Social Constructivism. The similarities of the two names might be part of the cause for the confusion.

With that in mind, I started to wonder if it would be possible to create definitions we could all agree on. Ones that name the parts that constitute the different modes we generally use in the classroom (to a lesser or greater extent), which we could then refer to when discussing their merits. This blog represents an opening contribution and I am very much open to debate. Please let me know what you think.

(Note: I’ve chosen to represent the three modes of teaching in the form of a Venn diagram because after reading Lee’s blog I thought there were some significant shared elements between what he might call Didactic teaching and what I would recognise as Inquiry. However, it might be that a Venn does not turn out to be the best way to represent the three modes and I am happy to change. Once again, I welcome your thoughts.)









Didactic (metaphors: ‘Delivery’, ‘Transmission’) –

  • Teacher led
  • Formal
  • Instructional
  • Teacher is the instructor – ‘the sage on the stage’
  • Information comes from the teacher or a resource (text book, etc)
  • Emphasis on knowledge acquisition and memory
  • Testing to ensure information has been remembered
  • Questions come from the teacher
  • Questions are largely closed, single answer

Inquiry (metaphors: ‘co-construction’, ‘social construction’) –

  • Teacher led
  • Formal and informal
  • Teacher is the mediator – ‘the fellow traveller’
  • Sometimes involves group work
  • Starts from the students’ knowledge-base
  • Collaborative
  • Involves a question
  • Investigative
  • Teacher works with the students to explore possible answers
  • Teacher doesn’t always have an answer in mind
  • Information comes from the teacher, resources (text, pictures, diagrams, etc), and the students
  • Questions come from both the teacher and the students
  • Questions are mixed, both open and closed, and can have multiple answers

Discovery (metaphors” ‘discovery’, ‘exploration’, ‘construction’) –

  • Student led
  • Informal
  • Teacher is the facilitator – ‘the guide on the side’
  • Often involves group work or students working alone
  • Starts from the students’ knowledge based
  • Individual and collaborative
  • Teacher provides resources and opportunities for students to find out things for themselves
  • Resources are organised by the teacher
  • Information comes from texts, pictures, diagrams, and other resources provided by the teacher
  • Questions are open, multiple answer
  • Emphasis put on student autonomy

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