Change to inquiry curriculum may only mean a different presentation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


My daughter's primary school has recently changed to an inquiry curriculum. I can see this encourages critical thinking and questioning skills, but the arts seem to have got lost. My daughter is not very academic, but she is very artistic and loves to do things like art, drama and dance. In her previous reports, this is what she excelled at, but they don't really seem to do these subjects any more. What can we do?

An inquiry curriculum integrates subject areas to make meaningful links and connections to the modern world and the children themselves, thereby making learning real and relevant.

This approach to learning is different from the way many of us were taught and can initially be confusing for parents. Be aware that subjects, in the traditional sense, are not usually seen and taught as separate entities nor are they necessarily called by their time-honoured names. For example: it may be harder for a child to depict a map-work activity in a unit of inquiry as 'geography' or constructing electrical circuits as 'science'. Hence, students may not be as aware of separate subject areas.

Of course, subject-specific skills still need to be taught explicitly if natural links to an overarching theme or central idea can't be made. And be aware that dance can sometimes be included under the umbrella of physical education, although this does not necessarily exclude it from classroom activities.

I sincerely hope the arts have not been sidelined at your daughter's school as you describe. The nurturing and development of creativity are vital in a busy and demanding modern world, not just as something that develops lateral thinking skills and individuality, but also as a way of achieving personal satisfaction and growth. It gives children opportunities to express themselves, stretch their imagination and gain a deeper understanding of the world and their places in it. Drama can help students explore and experiment with a range of social skills encouraging empathy with the emotions and perspectives of others.

For children who may have a flair for the arts but are not very academic, achieving success with one or more aspects of the arts can be a great confidence boost and release from the struggle of other curriculum areas.

The arts can be used to express almost any unit of study or inquiry in a variety of ways. Meaningful and appropriate links can often be made to individual subject areas; for example, gaining a deeper understanding of shape and space or co-ordinates in maths through dance and art. This helps children to visualise concepts more clearly and makes learning practical and fun.

The inquiry approach focuses on children leading their own learning with teachers being facilitators and guides rather than spoon feeders. It aims to develop students' higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, independence and co-operation with others, and initiative.

Most schools have curriculum overviews available for parents, and some give out information at the start of each unit of work that should give you some understanding of what your daughter is studying. Some units may be arts-based, and others may have a science, history or geography focus. Therefore, you may find she is doing more arts in some units and very little in others, although this should even out over the year.

If the information does not address your concerns, there may be an arts co-ordinator in the school you could talk to, or I'm sure the class teacher would be quite happy to answer any questions and refer you to an appropriate colleague. Also find out if the school has any parental information evenings.

Of course, extracurricular arts classes are always an option, but these can be costly, and every child should have the right to do these activities in school. Let's hope this crucial and enjoyable area of the curriculum is not being lost in the intense activity of a busy school day, regardless of whether it is an inquiry curriculum.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong