Why Direct Instruction Works Best With Inquiry-Based Learning

Why Direct Instruction Works Best With Inquiry-Based Learning

According to research findings, both student-centered and teacher-centered instructional approaches have a mixed impact on student learning. For example, the teacher-centered approach of exclusively lecturing has a negative effect on a student’s academic performance. In contrast, direct instruction, which is also teacher-centered, has a significantly positive impact on learning. It combines engaging the class with challenging questions, checking their understanding, and spending a lot of time on guided practice prior to independent practice.

Student-centered approaches observe the same pattern wherein discovery-based learning produces minimal net value, yet a problem-based learning strategy is highly impactful. The key difference lies in the degree to which instructors interact with their students with similar approaches to providing specific guidance, using questioning, and constantly verifying their understanding.

Striking a delicate balance between structured guidance and independent exploration starts with five key practices that allow the two to coexist in class each day.

5 Ways to Arrange a Learning-Centered Approach

One tried and true method of creating an effective learning environment involves blending direct instruction and inquiry-based learning. The former provides a solid foundation for learning with its structured guidance, clear explanations, regular comprehension checks, and adapting input to meet student needs while providing corrective feedback, which all come together to guarantee that students grasp essential concepts.

Upon gaining sufficient understanding, students require opportunities to connect their new learnings and ideas with real-world problems, which is exactly what inquiry-based learning provides. Particularly, it allows learners to deepen their knowledge, apply their understanding to real-life situations with authentic audiences, and present solutions to problems in various contexts.

The combination of direct instruction and inquiry-based learning fosters a learning-centered space where explicit content knowledge and exploration work side by side.

Here are a few tips on how you can sequence such a learning experience:

Start with Thoughtful Questions

Posing thought-provoking questions encourages students to seek out real-world problems that can be solved with their current knowledge and skills and drives them to reflect on their past knowledge. Student-generated questions and suggestions can also aid in building background knowledge and providing the next steps to answer said questions.

Build a Solid Foundation

Leverage direct instruction to instill a strong understanding of the fundamental concepts among your students. Direct instruction differs from lecturing in that students actively elaborate on and summarize their ideas, check their understanding, and work through problems with their classmates and teacher. This step is crucial before going any further into inquiry-based activities.

Encourage Exploration

As students learn new skills and knowledge, they need ample opportunities to compare and contrast new contexts and explore other perspectives. In addition, teachers should give them a chance to showcase their learning in other ways beyond what they learned in class.

Weave in Direct and Approximate Feedback

Instructors must assess their students’ understanding as they build background knowledge and solve problems through inquiry, and address any gaps or shortcomings with varying types of feedback.

When students learn something for the first time, consider offering them direct, corrective feedback and clarifying the learning intentions and success criteria they should focus on and reference moving forward. Then, once they develop more competency, give approximate feedback formatted in a series of questions that push them to monitor rubrics, models, and their peers’ work to determine the next steps they should take.

Foster a Culture of “We Do” Together

Both teachers and students have a responsibility in the classroom that, when gradually released to the other, results in a power differential that inhibits successful work environments and leads to impaired learning. In contrast, by working together across methodologies, teachers can better adapt to the needs of their students while the students achieve improved learning outcomes. One way to start this is by having students reflect on the level of shared work between them and their teachers in the learning process.


When teachers combine the best parts of direct instruction and inquiry-based learning, they create a learning-centered model that promotes skills and strategies for learner autonomy inside the classroom and out in the real world. Since this can be challenging for busy teachers, StrengthAsia’s workshop for teachers offers a fast track to improving your educators’ teaching practices and helping appeal to a wider range of student needs and abilities.

Based on the ground-breaking CliftonStrengths (StrengthsFinder) tool, we help educate and inspire teachers to tap into their strengths to discover the best ways to engage their students. By focusing on their strengths and recognising their students’ strengths, teachers are better poised to help them attain greater learning outcomes.

For more information about our other corporate learning and development services, such as leadership workshops in Singapore, feel free to contact us today.

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