Expert Methods of Inquiry
In curriculum differentiated to involve expert methods of inquiry, students learn with and about the methods and ways of being associated with experts in the discipline. High ability learners need knowledge of “how professionals learn and work in a particular field to enable them [students] to become independent investigators.” Younger students can learn these methods through simulations or role play in which case the classroom is transformed into a real-world workplace. Older students can engage, as novices, in real controversies and research with experts. These experiences enable students to better understand the disciplines and enhance their ability to contribute to the development of new knowledge. They will be better prepared to become producers of new knowledge rather than mere consumers of knowledge generated by others.
As students engage in work within a discipline with the goal of developing expertise, they should be learning to locate and manage resources, use equipment, interpret data, analyze and critique works of others. They should develop skills in the production and communication techniques required in a specific professional role, etc.
This differentiation strategy is closely aligned with one of the four “parallels” in the Parallel Curriculum Model, advocated by the National Association for Gifted Children. It is the “parallel of practice.” In it, students work with “the essential information, concepts, principles, and skills of a topic or discipline … as a practitioner or expert in the discipline would use them.” Students are given opportunities to develop their skills and understanding over time, growing from novice to expert problem-solvers and contributors to a field. Their work is to be taken seriously—this is not lightweight pretending. They are engaging in the process of becoming authentic disciplinarians. As they mature in this role, they should learn more than just knowledge and skills. They should also “examine the habits, affect, and ethics” attached to the work; investigating real, complex issues and controversies that arise in authentic events and dilemmas.
When Kanevsky asked students how they felt about developing expertise in their favourite subject, she found more learners identified as gifted (grades 3-8) were eager to “understand things the way experts do” than their age mates who had not been identified (67.8% vs. 55% respectively). The identified gifted students also liked learning “about real things that experts need to know to be experts” more than their age mates (60.4% vs. 54.3%).
Three of the authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model wrote a brief article describing how a teacher, Lydia Janis, gradually redesigned her unit of study on the Civil War so it involved all four “parallels” (core curriculum, curriculum of connections, curriculum of practice, and curriculum of identity). When working with the curriculum of practice, she shifted her perspective on her students. They were no longer classroom learners; she saw them as novice historians. As historians, they needed to work with authentic, primary resources like photos and written accounts of soldiers’ experiences. They developed their understanding of the methods used by historians while working with those materials. As a result of the changes in the unit, she found she was able to present her young historians with more complex challenges, such as preparing oral histories.