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Deflections - Inquiry Based Learning: Part 1


Ask a teacher, especially an elementary or middle school teacher, if they use inquiry based learning and heads will nod. At least they do when I bring it up at coaching clinics or workshops. Everyone else sort of sits there looking blankly ahead.

After all, unless you’re in the education world, why should you know about it? It’s not taught nor even suggested in most coaching programs. Yet it’s one of the most effective ways to teach.

Inquiry based learning means using questions to draw information or analysis from the learner so they are at the centre of the process. Notice the use of the words “draw from.” It’s quite different from the typical sport teaching approach, particularly in hockey, in which the “sage on the stage” coach constantly drills home information on what to do, when and how. Rather than draw from, we tend to “pour in” as if children’s heads were vials we could fill with information, with no chance of leakage. 

The modern catchphrase for hockey these days is the development of the vaguely defined Hockey IQ. At the upper and older levels, people bemoan the lack of it, that coaches don’t teach players how to think or be creative.

Perhaps most don’t. Then again, we haven’t exactly shown them how either. Inquiry based learning is a way to do it. It’s certainly not the only way. But if you’ve used this approach, you’ve probably discovered how players are able to come up with interesting solutions. Or, in the case of pure skills instruction, help kids improve their execution by asking rather than commanding.

As with most things slightly out of the norm in modern coaching, convincing coaches to try this approach is a challenge. It seems so much easier to just tell a kid to do what I showed you to do or copy a video. Or worse still, listen to my words then put them into action. 

There’s a time and place for those approaches. Bantam and midget AAA coaches, for instance, are more likely to use these more traditional methods because it’s how they themselves were taught and also because the players are used to it. Neither is necessarily the best way to get some messages across. For instance, you’re teaching a forecheck where F1 needs to funnel the puck carrying defenceman to the right wing boards. You could indeed tell – even demand – the forward exactly what he needs to do. Or, you could ask, “Where do you think that D is going to go when you move here… or here… or here…?” In fact, you’re allowing the F to experiment a bit with the playing system while forcing him to consider viable options only he can apply in the heat of the moment. 

The late anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote, “Children need to be taught how to think, not what to think.” Given hockey’s fluidity, how do we accomplish that? 

Next week: Ways to use inquiry based learning.

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