Taming “Issue Investigation”: Singapore Secondary Social Studies Teachers’ Accounts of Challenges Encountered and Strategies for Coping, pp. 7 of 10

To achieve the simplification of II from “kind of grand things” to something “as simple as it is [possible] for the kids”, a number of specific strategies were typically used. As illustrated in the above quote, the scope of data collection was often significantly reduced (moving from ambitious plans initially to each student interviewing just one person). At Keith’s school, only students in the Express stream were required to conduct empirical data gathering in the form of a survey; Normal (Academic) stream students were instead only required to do internet-based information gathering and research. At Kali’s school, in fact, all data gathering for II were based on secondary sources readily available on the internet—as Kali put it, “it’s purely websites”. She further added that even the list of websites was provided to the students.

This move to reduce the scope and nature of II activities applied not only to data gathering, but extended to other stages of the investigation cycle. For example, most of the time, the investigation question was either simply assigned to the students, or offered as a small number of options—worked out also by the teachers—for students to choose from. This served to reduce drastically the uncertainty of formulating the II question, an otherwise complicated and time-consuming process. Some schools also chose not to strictly adhere to the prescribed II cycle, instead modified it to suit their circumstances. For instance, presentation of findings might be drastically simplified, or done away with altogether (as was the case in Cherie’s and Laura’s schools). As Laura put it, “we have truncated the II process to make it easier on the teacher”.

Another very common simplification strategy involved standardizing certain aspects of the II processes, so as to keep manageable the administrative and pedagogical burdens on the teachers. Most schools in the study reported having a highly coordinated approach to conducting II across the student cohort, where SS teachers worked closely as a team, used “a coherent set of resources”, and “assignments [were] all standardized across” (Keith). In short, doing so ensured an “economy of scale”. Standardization also characterized how teachers “scaffolded” the inquiry process for students, as illustrated in Cherie’s mention of worksheets that provided “step-by-step” guidance. Indeed, it was nearly a universal practice for teachers to develop “templates”—be it as physical print-outs or in digital form (in James’s case, Google Docs)—that basically turned II into a highly structured process with clear step-by-step instructions.

In short, there was a clear agreement among participants in the study that simplification in some form or other was necessary before II projects could be realistically carried out. Vividly capturing the teachers’ battle to tame the formidable Issue investigation, Kali said: “we always thought it was not possible. […] you can say [we] cheated, […] then we realized we can do a watered down II. And then at least now you see we are brave enough to try it” (emphasis added).

“Piggybacking” strategies

Since, as discussed previously, one major disincentive for schools to take II seriously was the perceived irrelevance of this inquiry learning activity to examinable skills, teachers from several schools tried to forge a link between II learning outcomes and exam formats, namely, the Structured-Response Question (SRQ) and Source-Based Case Study (SBCS).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!