fostering inquiry-based pedagogy in primary school: a longitudinal study into the effects of a two-year school improvement project

Tim Post is a PhD student in the ELAN department of Teacher Development. His supervisor is prof.dr. J.H. Walma van der Molen from the Faculty of Behavioural, Managment and Social Sciences.

The dissertation describes the results of a two-year school improvement program in which the complete school staffs of six Dutch primary schools were trained to integrate inquiry-based pedagogy into daily school practice. In the last two decades, the Dutch government has promoted the widespread implementation of science and technology (S&T) teaching in primary education. There is increasing consensus in the scientific literature that primary S&T education should be understood as a transdisciplinary form of inquiry-focused teaching and learning linked to all school subject areas and lesson activities.

However, descriptions of longitudinal and experimental intervention studies on the (school-wide) implementation of S&T education in primary schools have so far been scarce. The present study aimed to help fill this void in the literature. It mainly concerned the evaluation of the aforementioned school improvement program. In addition, preliminary research indicated a scarcity of research on the nature and dimensions of pupils’ curiosity in the school context. Because the stimulation of pupils’ curiosity was deemed a main objective of primary S&T education, and should therefore be included as an explicit measure for assessing inquiry-focused school improvement in this context, separate theoretical and empirical research was conducted first. Therefore, the first two studies of the dissertation focus on the operationalization and measurement of pupils’ curiosity. The last two studies focus on the evaluation of the school development program.

The main findings of the study indicate that a school-wide approach to the implementation of S&T education, coupled with extensive attitude-focused and didactical professional training, can help primary schools integrate inquiry-focused (S&T) teaching practice in their school organization. At the same time, our findings highlight that it is not easy for primary teachers to implement such teaching practice on their own. Foundations should promote research aimed at more clearly defining and developing assessments of relevant pupil qualities, initially for research purposes, and later for summative and formative assessment. Only when pupils’ inquiry is perceived by primary teachers as integral to school learning, no less so than literacy and numeracy, will we likely see significant changes happen in classroom practice.