I am often faced with an internal “ideological battle” about my instruction in my World History class especially towards the end of the semester. Coincidentally enough, this ideological battle seems to “heat up” around Unit 8, the Cold War. Do I rely on direct instruction to make sure I “cover” the final content (Cold War to present) before the North Carolina Final Exam? Or should I continue to facilitate engaging, student led learning activities for the remainder of the semester?
Direct instruction, just like the Soviet Union’s command economy, has some advantages. For example, the teacher can quickly make decisions about content and control all aspects of learning. The teacher controls the pace, scope, and what content is delivered. Essentially, the teacher dictates the classroom. Additionally, students often receive equal instruction regardless of skill or ability.
The Inquiry Design Model (IDM), on the other hand, has advantages that are comparable to the advantages the U.S. capitalist system had at the close of the Cold War. Over time, the inquiry model leads to increased motivation, engagement, and student learning. IDM encourages teachers to take on the role of the facilitator which is a paradigm shift. The teacher sets up some regulations for the inquiry, but is relatively laissez faire allowing students to construct their own learning. This gives students freedom to draw their own conclusions. A key component of an inquiry is the compelling question which leads to healthy competition between students. Just like in the capitalist system, competition can be a major motivator and can foster innovation!
At the end of the semester, I was feeling wiped out and exhausted much like an allied power after World War II. However, I had some supports in place to motivate me to utilize best instructional strategies like inquiry. This past summer, I served on a district committee focused on inquiry and had just designed an inquiry on the Cold War. Prepping inquiries in advance is essential as they require lots of design time and effort. Just like a western European country who received Marshall Plan money to resist Communism, I was not going to fall to merely using direct instruction at the end of the semester since I had supports in place.
Through the analysis of primary and secondary source documents, my students constructed arguments responding to the compelling question: Was the Cold War avoidable? Students analyzed the complex relationship between the United States and Soviet Union leading up the Cold War, compared the fundamental differences between the two superpowers, and evaluated the importance and intensity of a variety of Cold War events. Students annotated and read closely excerpts from the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, NSC-68, the Long Telegram as well as relevant interviews, speeches political cartoons, and maps. They used textual evidence to support their positions.
In my opinion, the inquiry model won and it will ALWAYS win because it is a better system of teaching. Inquiries allow students to construct their own meaning out of primary source documents which makes history more relevant and engaging. My students took ownership of their learning and understanding of the Cold War. I cannot “contain” my excitement for this method!