Inquiry-based learning in Literature - possibilities and challenges - A case study

Submitted by: Yael Poyas
Abstract: Inquiry-based learning is a process where students formulate a research question in the domain of Literature, conduct research and hand in a document that includes the central components of a research-based text (Ministry of Education, 2016). This approach was used in 10th grade classes in a large high school serving a well-off rural population in Israel, as a part of a reform of learning assessment. The reform aims were to raise interest, integrate varied oral and written texts in the learning process, and encourage higher order thinking skills and dialogic discourse in Literature lessons. The Inquiry process was accompanied by guidance both in the classrooms and virtually, including formative assessment.
The present study used a qualitative-phenomenological approach to examine the instruction to students, the student outcomes and the staff's reactions at the end of the year. The data included written documents provided by the staff, an interview with the project head, and students' learning outcomes.
The findings demonstrated disappointment with the project at several levels: (a) student guidance demanded more time of the staff than anticipated; (b) staff expectations of the students were high, causing disappointment with student outcomes; (c) the teachers felt that the core of literary dialogue gave way to a technical dialogue regarding the research and writing of a literary study; (d) the students' initial excitement regarding alternative creative assessment gave way to indifference and moving away from the literature. As the project head said, "We lost them".
After examining student reactions at the end of the project the staff decided to give up inquiry-based learning and focus on providing the students with creative-experiential encounters with more literary works, including extensive use of cooperative learning networks used to create discourse and creativity spaces common to all learners.
This case study raises several questions. (a) Is there a contradiction between inquiry-based learning and experiential approaches to Literature teaching? (b) How can we 'translate' academic research rules to make them more suitable to Literature teaching to teenagers?
Ministry of Education (2016). Integration of inquiry-based learning in Literature teaching. Retrieved from