I am very interested in the idea of inquiry learning and fully understand the benefits it has for pupils but I was reticent about trying it out for myself in my own subject: MFL. This is because our aim is to teach a ‘foreign’ language, which by definition presents a barrier to pupil understanding. Indeed, there is little actual content to teach in the MFL classroom, most of what we do involves teaching skills, methods and patterns. The background reading I had done regarding inquiry-based learning and successful strategies to use rarely, if ever, referenced MFL or gave helpful examples. How, I asked myself would pupils be able to carry out independent research whilst ALSO extending their learning of the foreign language? What materials could pupils, particularly in phases 1-3 (beginners) access with limited vocabulary? How would we maintain their interest if all information was too complex for them to understand? I was prepared to explore all of these questions and to accept that the answers could probably be found with careful planning, good knowledge of my students and through trial and error. However, the question that actually dominated my thoughts most during the inquiry ended up being this one: How much are we as MFL teachers willing to sacrifice language acquisition and practice to allow for a proper investigation into culture?
I was very much aware before embarking on this project what the prerequisites are for a successful inquiry project. Research suggests that this involves a balance of teacher input and ‘upfront’ teaching, time taken to help pupils develop their research skills and actual pupil work of an independent nature. FOSIL related literature clearly explains why successful inquiry learning involves a mixture of all of these things and my plan was to try to encompass it all.