The problem with our profession is it’s so damn confusing

“… inquiry-based learning is wrong” says John Hattie in this clip, “inquiry-based learning is wrong”. If I knew how to edit the clip so he just repeated that line about 20 times… I would, but I don’t. I bet I could find out though – whoops, that would be inquiry-based learning wouldn’t it?

The “effect” of inquiry-based learning is being measured, for Hattie’s purposes, by some sort of system that pumps out a magic number, in this case .31. This number is then being used to make a madcap statement, like “inquiry-based learning is wrong”.

No wonder teachers are so confused, constantly being questioned and judged by outside forces and so emotionally drained by the constant pursuit of a “right way” that is perpetually changing.

Its so dangerous when someone comes along, someone like Hattie… whom everyone now believes speaks the gospel truth, and makes a statement like “inquiry-based learning is wrong”. How exactly do we know what is right and wrong? Who is qualified to tell us? What system of calculation do we rely on to tell us if learning has “happened” or “not happened”. Hattie’s system? Who says?

As OllieOrange says:

“In Mathematics, new or unproven work is handed over to unbiased judges who go through it with a fine tooth comb before it is considered to have the stamp of approval of the Mathematical community. Who is performing this function for the Educational community?”





  1. kellijelli

    “it is introduced before the students have the ideas”????? Babies use inquiry based learning before we even realise that is what they are doing. “The child has a hundred languages ( and a hundred hundred hundred more)” they are inquiring through these hundred languages in everything they do. The children have the “ideas” , we have to be clever enough to see those ideas and facilitate and guide the ideas down a path of learning where skills and deeper understanding walk hand in hand. Grrrr

    • sherrattsam

      Isn’t it infuriating? And this guy is being upheld as the new Messiah of education… things are being named after him and everytthing.

  2. lsacker

    Why can’t the content be explored through inquiry? Surely connection, interest, motivation provide a really valid and powerful pathway for meaningful content. That is where you observe carefully and introduce content where timely. What does he mean by content..? Skills???? Facts???? Can anyone clarify what that word means according to Hattie.

    • sherrattsam

      He only seems to give half-explanations. I mean, is he saying you can’t learn to play snooker through inquiry or that you can learn to play snooker through inquiry? I’m not sure he really knows where he’s going with that one as he immediately flicks over to the much-researched and evidence-based statement that “sometimes, work is just hard”.

  3. lararonalds

    This is such a key conversation and your point of who and what to listen to is an issue! The problem we all have is that every professional we are listening to has a specific lens they are speaking through and this is not necessarily clear. I agree with you Sam, inquiry based learning is key!! But as an industry we must be so careful that as teachers we continue to be knowledgeable in ALL the other aspects of learning (how to read, write, strategise on the theories of Mathematics, the application of skills, design cylcles etc….all those aspects of teaching that are at risk of being condemned for being too structured….) as these can be missed. As a teacher only pushing inquiry, without the knowledge to scaffold the other learning areas and ensure skill development within a child’s inquiry, means there are missed learning opportunities AND the foundations can be missed. This is NOT the fault of inquiry but a lack of knowledge by the teachers. I have seen beautiful inquiry teachers miss key opportunities to be teaching and making connections to other key learning areas (ie: Exploring the elements of perspective and ratio in their design of a Minecraft project, or not utilising the engagement of an inquiry project to write with expression utilising key vocabulary learnt and missing the opportunity to learn authentically the structure of language) but they did not have the knowledge of this foundational learning to take advantage of the opportunities within the inquiry. By missing these opportunities they are failing to ensure the development of key skills and knowledge that will bind a students education……This is my concern. (I suspect Hattie’s apprehension). Please know I am a huge advocate and have a personal passion for inquiry/project based learning. But as teachers we HAVE to keep learning and maintaining an understanding of what foundational learning must occur, in order to take advantage of the opportunities through every inquiry. This helps to ensure our students develop on the continuum. (Please know I refer to this continuum as each child’s developmental continuum, not external standards). This is a our job, to make these links and connections from where the children are engaged and motivated in their learning, to the learning and skill development that we know must occur to build these foundations for continued growth. I am not sure all teachers of inquiry know this……But Thank You, once again, for expressing my current quandaries in listening and engaging with the many educational speakers sharing their knowledge. I hope you read this as a supportive comment as it is definitely intended to be.

    • sherrattsam

      I totally agree with you, Lara. But also I know that those explicit teaching moments can happen at any stage in the process of learning. Hattie’s most scary statement is that you have to teach first… and then you can let inquiry happen. This is not only a complete misunderstanding of how we learn, it also implies that the teaching – at some point – is done. It implies a finite body of predetermined knowledge that must be delivered to all the students. Once that body of knowledge is delivered and all students have – of course – consumed and memorized it – the “teaching” ceases and the “inquiring” begins!

      It harks back to the worrying days of “front-loading” or the misunderstanding of “tuning-in” where teachers tell students all the stuff they need to be interested in for a few weeks before getting them to ask questions about it.

      Have no fear, I love all comments – we need to be having these conversations to stay relevant.

      • lararonalds

        Yep absolutely….The implicit teaching moments can happen in the exact moment of true engagement and that is the beauty of inquiry. We get to work to the child’s rhythm of learning not the other way around. hattie’s work I guess like everything needs to be considered in it’s parts with a careful analysis of the total. Thank you for the conversation….these are important topics to be discussing and ultimately help to build a broader base of understanding.

  4. Rafael Angel

    It is interesting to wonder whether Hatties’ ideas are to be believed if we are to base our opinion on the data he produced, considering the amount of articles and analyses that assert that half the statistics in Visible Learning are wrong.

  5. Catherine

    I listened to Hattie speak recently… his comment…inquiry based learning is great at the right time of the learning cycle- when we want to develop deep and transferable knowledge, understanding and skills. Those of us who truly know and understand inquiry based learning know how powerful it can be but I’m also sure many of us have seen teachers who ‘do inquiry learning’ with no idea of the complexity, thinking, skills, structure, questioning and deep learning that real inquiry takes.

    • sherrattsam

      Totally… we must not confuse genuine, guided inquiry with the vague, openness of some inquiry pedagogy. Where inquiry is continuously being mapped with curriculum and where next steps – in terms of knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes are being identified and worked towards, Hattie’s argument is meaningless.

      • sherrattsam

        As with all pedagogy, it comes down to the skill of the teacher. A teacher who delivers content ineptly will be just as damaging – possibly more so – than a teacher who delivers inquiry ineptly.

  6. kathmurdoch

    Oh BOY could I leave a lengthy comment on this Sam!! I found myself (again) watching this and saying things out loud like.. ‘HUH? … umm but that’s not…wait…What?…but we don’t….that’s not how it actually works…’ etc. One of the enormous frustrations for me about Hattie’s work is the very definition/characterisation of inquiry from which this meta-research is drawn. When Hattie describes the supposedly counter-elements of pedagogy that DO “work”…they are all the things we see in high quality, contemporary inquiry classrooms! Putting it simply, what I think of as ‘inquiry’ is at odds with what is often described as ‘inquiry’ by critics like this. I have learned a lot from Hattie’s work – but when we drill down…we actually agree on more than we disagree: it is the language that gets in the way. I also think there is such an arrogance in ANY of us saying ‘X doesn’t work’….when we all know the nuanced and highly complex nature of teaching. Even I will argue that direct instruction has an important role to play – but it is all about the timing, skill and understanding of the teacher. I am SO puzzled by the way inquiry is framed in this clip (and a little annoyed by the very absolute, dogmatic discourse). The notion that it happens ‘after’ the ‘teaching’ is odd. As if it is without support/scaffolding…a kind of 1970’s idea that inquiry is about letting kids go off and do research for themselves. At least, if that what people still think inquiry is all about – then it is a good reminder that it is far more sophisticated! *sigh* …I could go on…. thanks for stimulating important discussion with this post!

    • sherrattsam

      and thanks for adding your wisdom to the discussion, Kath. I think you’re right, it seems as though Hattie is basing everything he says about inquiry on an extremely rudimentary understanding of what it is. Almost as if he hasn’t experienced, been involved in or even just witnessed inquiry learning at its best? Perhaps everybody working with teachers who are enabling students to learn this way should invite him in to take a look so that he has the opportunity to revise his dogma!

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