Inquiry-based writing instruction is a form of gaining knowledge and skills through asking for information. It is a discovery method of learning which starts learning by posing questions, problems or situations rather than presenting facts directly to students. It involves students in making observations; posing questions; examining sources; gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing data; proposing answers; explanations and predictions; communicating findings through discussion and reflection; applying findings to the real situation, and following up new questions that may arise in the process. In the process of inquiry-based learning, students identify and research issues with teacher support to develop their knowledge, and the teacher facilitates the learning process (Sandoval, 2005; Hardin, 2009 & Marshall, 2013).
Inquiry-based writing instruction is a language learning methods under the umbrella of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) that drives learning through inquisition and investigation. Lee (2014) stated that inquiry-based learning is an advanced version of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), and it is an expansion of task-based instruction. It is an analogy for communicative approach that stresses discovery method using thoughtful questions to achieve learner cognitive development. The principles of inquiry-based writing instruction are compatible with CLT because the communicative approach focuses on communicative proficiency rather than mere mastery of structure to develop learners’ communicative competence as to inquiry-based instruction. Inquiry-based writing instruction is, therefore, a form of Communicative Language Teaching which serves to bring down the general principles of communicative approach, and implement in language classrooms in an inquisitive and discovery manner (Lee, 2014; Qing & Jin 2007; Richards & Rodgers, 2001).
Inquiry-based writing instruction is helpful for the improvement of English language learning in general and academic writing skills in particular since the method follows a discovery approach that students themselves discover knowledge. Particularly, inquiry-based writing instruction helps students get engaged in prewriting tasks through generating ideas, discovering and clarifying a writing topic, exploring information on their writing topics from various sources, explaining their discoveries or concepts gained from the exploration, and elaborate their thinking through transforming their understanding into their real world situation (Marshall, 2013; Wale, & Bishaw, 2020). When students come up through this distinct writing process in manipulating such writing tasks, their ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate issues can be empowered because this process can develop students’ academic writing skills.
The present study also showed that pharmacy students’ academic writing skills have been developed through using inquiry-based writing instruction because the method focuses on the process of knowledge discovery that involves students in self-inquisition. The study can contribute a lot to the field of English language learning by possibly leading teachers and learners into a discovery learning method. Consequently, the study has applicable significances to academic writing teachers to understand the nature and application of inquiry-based academic writing instruction.
The implementation of inquiry-based writing instruction in academic writing
The implementation of inquiry-based writing instruction incorporates engagement, exploration, explanation, elaborate, assessment and reflection (Marshall, 2013). In this learning model, Assessment and Reflection are regarded as integrated elements to be implemented in each of the following four phase. In other terms, students evaluate their performance and way of learning at each of the four steps, and reflect it to their colleagues, teachers, experts, and parents.
The first stage of inquiry-based writing instruction is the “Engagement” phase which sets out to arouse students’ interest and share their prior experience. This initiation-phase includes activating students’ prior knowledge or probing students’ pre-conceptions. The teacher facilitates the learning process in ways that enable students brainstorm possible questions, ideas and issues, to keep asking themselves, with each other, and with the teacher. The role of questioning is to arouse students’ interest and encourage responses which reveal what students know or think about their writing issue (Warner & Myers, 2014; Llewellyn, 2002; Owen, 2006; Marshall, 2013). Students visualize the whole inquiry process; determine topic areas for inquiry; discover possible sources of information; identify audience and writing format; assess and reflect on their engagement. In the process of inquiry-based writing instruction, at the engagement step, students get engaged in prewriting tasks using topic discovery Writing Process Sheets (WPS) which help them to activate their prior knowledge, and open up questions for writing topic discovery (Edward, 1983). In other terms, students initiate the learning process through generating ideas, and narrowing and clarifying writing topics using WPS that guide to discover, choose, and clarify a topic.
In exploration, students think about the information they have and the information they need, and actively search for information from different sources related to their writing topic. They manipulate materials, make interviews and observations, etc.; gather evidence, and discuss with colleagues. Students gather information on their academic writing topics from various sources with the help of WPS which guide them to discover and incorporate personal, social, and library sources (Edward, 1983). The teacher provides scaffolding to students by observing, questioning, and guiding. The students, then, think about the relevance of the information, evaluate it, and select the relevant information gathered on their writing topic.
In the explanation phase, students are provided opportunities to write their understanding, process skills, or behaviors. They write out their discovered concepts gained from the exploration using their own words. In their writing, students interpret and analyze data, provide evidence, communicate ideas, and justify conclusions. In other words, students organize the information gathered and produce their written texts considering their audiences. They thoroughly write drafts by evaluating, selecting, combining, and synthesizing the collected data. The inquirers compare, contrast, organize and sort, make connections between ideas, and draw inferences from their findings (Alberta Learning, 2004; Wale & Bishaw, 2020). They revise and edit their written product to make their creation clear, concise, consistent and appropriate for the audience. Students revise their drafts for unity, coherence, and completeness, and proofread for mechanical problems (Edward, 1983). In doing so, students work with peers, teachers, and experts to develop their written text with feedback. The teacher provides feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of their draft; comment on what things would further develop the text and why (Alberta Learning, 2004). The teacher introduces relevant concepts, principles, and theories to help students develop deeper understanding (Llewellyn, 2002; Dawit, 2013; Warner & Myers, 2014). Then by incorporating the feedback gained from others, students complete their final written essay.
In the Extension stage, students are provided opportunities to elaborate their thinking, transfer learning to their own real world situations beyond the school settings (Marshall, 2013; Alberta Learning, 2004). The extension phase helps students to set their conceptual understanding and develop a more permanent mental representation. Students; thus, identify alternative explanations; create connections between new concepts, principles, and theories to the real-world experiences, and apply them into new situations. The teacher facilitates the extension process while students extend their learning into real world situations. The application of this new knowledge provides an opportunity for students to move beyond memorization to deeper understanding of what they have learned, and become lifelong learners. The assessment in the extension phase is both summative and formative because students are required to assess the whole process of the inquiry learning, and at the same time they need to think more deeply about their academic writing and address weaknesses seen in the application of the new knowledge into the real life situation. In this extended stage; therefore, students produce sound academic texts on their own real life situations like what researchers and/or professional writers produce academic texts.
The need for inquiry-based writing instruction
The need for inquiry-based writing instruction is to fill the gaps of the existing learning methods. Various studies in English language instruction have revealed that most students are less effective in their English language academic achievement in general and academic writing skills in particular (Mohamed, 2015; Harris, 2015; Abdullah, 2014; Muhaimeed, 2013; Mesfin, 2013; Dawit, 2013; Bekele, 2011; Hamid, 2011, & Hamid, 2010). Writing is a demanding task that challenges students to set goals, generate and organize ideas, and produce texts with appropriate language considering their readers (MacArthur, Philippakos, & Graham, 2016). Hamid (2011) & (Hamid, 2010) also found that planning, organizing, revising, and editing were the main problems of students who participated in the studies. Students faced difficulties in writing introduction, thesis statement, topic sentence, conclusion, and encountered cohesion and coherence problems. Likewise, Mohamed (2015) found that students have various problems including usage and mechanical mistakes, like spelling, punctuation and capitalization, and lack of several writing development skills.
According to Heather (2015) & Birhan (2018), students’ common pitfall in writing academic texts is the attempt to write a thesis statement before searching for information. At times, students become unable to present solid arguments due to lack of sufficient evidence for the proponent and opponent arguments. When students attempt to begin by writing a claim rather than gathering data as a part of an inquiry process, they often use claims that are based on hunches. This in turn creates problems for students as they attempt to substantiate their claims with no adequate evidence. Students also face challenges in identifying claim and evidence. While a claim is an arguable statement, evidence is the information that supports the claim. However, when students work through the inquiry process, they primarily identify what they know and what they want to know on their writing topic. Singman (2017) states that though the recent view of language learning has focused on how student-centered approaches can be applied in foreign language classes, the knowledge base for inquiry-based writing instruction is not firmly established in academic writing settings.
It has been noted by earlier scholars that conventional teaching methods are still in use though teachers are expected to use active learning methods (Daniel, 2004, and Dawit & Yalew, 2008). The lecture method which is considered as the conventional method of teaching is used in colleges that teachers usually focus on giving lectures, and students depend primarily on lecture where discovery or inquiry is not that much encouraged. The product approach to teaching writing, specifically did not mostly encourage students to observe their environment critically, inquire or question things, investigate problems, and create new knowledge (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2013; Graham, MacArthur; Fitzgerald, 2013 & Yen, 2014).
Nevertheless, it does not mean that the conventional method of teaching writing skills is not totally irrelevant because it has significant features which are helpful to develop writing skills. Atkinson (2003) and Sarala et al. (2014) stated that the product approach which is the conventional method encourages students to produce an end product which is likened to a model essay. The main aim of the approach is to provide linguistic knowledge to the students. The students are expected to have knowledge about language in general and producing texts in particular. As a result, students merely imitate sentences to get familiarity with the content. The teacher’s feedback is also based on the grammatical and lexical errors. Thus, the students use model texts as the basis for their own writing. Using model texts give students confidence, and guarantee them to produce texts with fewer grammatical mistakes. The product approach is essential to get students focus on using specific piece of grammar in their writing. Therefore, the approach is useful when form is important in writing classes.
As it is stated above, however, the approach does not fully enable students to write texts independently because has little emphasis for creativity and personalization. It is also too prescriptive and lacks practical application. The process skills of writing, such as planning a text are less emphasized in the product approach. The writing tasks become decontextualized where the contexts and audience are often neglected (Sarala et al., 2014). Thus, the inquiry-based writing instruction is essential to fill the gaps of the conventional method. This points to the need to promote inquiry-based writing instruction which is based on a discovery approach that involve students in seeking, collecting, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information based on students’ interest.
However, the inquiry-based writing instruction also has its own limitations though it makes students active, problem solver, autonomous, and lifelong learners. In theory, inquiry-based writing instruction maximizes engagement and gives students a chance to extract meaning and purpose from their education. However, it does not always stand the test of real-world application due to poorer standardized testing performance, student embarrassment, teacher unpreparedness, pursuit of greater engagement, and time (Awada et al., 2019; Demircioglu & Ucar, 2015 & Ulfah, 2012). When too much time is dedicated to student inquiries, there is often the risk that core writing topics could be left out. As a result, it hurts standardized testing performance in schools where standardized exams play a key role. In inquiry-based learning, students are required to be active participants. However, there is a risk of embarrassing students who may not be quick thinkers to process issues. Besides, for unprepared teachers, inquiry-based learning is too haphazard. It prevents them from being able to prepare properly, which hurts their ability to engage students on a meaningful level.
Inquiry-based learning maximizes student engagement in ways that the conventional method do not. However, motivating all of the students in each writing lesson is often difficult since some students are naturally smarter than others. Ulfah (2012) stated that inquiry-based learning is inappropriate for unmotivated students. When the students are familiar with conventional way, they tend to write texts in the way they experienced in the conventional method of learning rather than the inquiry techniques. Finally, using inquiry-based writing instruction needs a longer time especially to discover writing topics, collect and synthesize data, and produce drafts. As a result, it is not easy to use this method in a limited time.
In sum, the literature shows that though both the conventional and the inquiry-based writing instructions have their own pros and cons, the pros of the inquiry-based learning outweigh its cons compared to the conventional approach. The inquiry-based writing instruction which is a discovery approach enables students produce their own academic texts independently, and makes them lifelong learners though it is not easy to implement. Nevertheless, the conventional approach to teaching writing skills is most likely unable to improve students’ academic writing skills.
Studies revealed that students with the conventional approach faced difficulties in writing due to several factors including poor writing instruction, and inadequate writing practice. Several researchers investigating academic writing (e.g. Harris, 2015; Mesfin, 2013; Dawit, 2013; Bekele, 2011; Alamirew, 2005; Wale & Bishaw, 2020; Birhan, 2018; Alemu, 2004, & Italo, 1999) found that college level students’ scores in writing tests were very low, and students were not able to meet expectations in writing tasks because of different reasons including poor writing instruction. Harris (2015) revealed that there were English language proficiency problems in students ranging from their ability of English language to their view of the language. In support of this claim, Dawit (2013) discovered that university students’ level of English is plummeting very dramatically.
More specifically, Bekele (2011, p.16) stated:
Most university writing teachers mainly give notes, and sometimes models, and ask students to read the notes and produce a written text in line with the notes or the models given. They do not seem to be familiar with emerging techniques and approaches that could make students more active, responsible, confident, and eventually successful.
The current researchers’ teaching experience also confirmed that many students have writing pitfalls in writing thesis statements, providing evidence, and identifying claims and evidence. They were also in difficulty to produce effective written texts that fulfill adequate content, organization, language usage or accuracy, vocabulary or diction, and mechanics. Moreover, the students were not adequately improving their academic writing skills using the conventional method of learning. This is because the students mostly did not engage to discover their own writing topics, search for information, evaluate the collected information, write up their texts based on the information they gathered, discuss with colleagues and experts, and produce their final text considering the given comments.
Thus, the literature and the researchers’ teaching experience show that the existing teaching writing methods do not seem to be able to address the challenges of academic writing tasks that many students appear to face. Consequently, it is needed to consider discovery learning methods (such as inquiry-based writing instruction) that focused on learning by doing. This is reminiscent of the study of Alberta Learning’s (2004) claim that inquiry-based writing instruction is indispensable to develop students’ academic writing skills because the method focuses on the process of knowledge discovery that involves students in seeking, collecting, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information; creating ideas, and solving problems through communication, collaboration, deep thinking, and learner autonomy, and ultimately helps them improve academic writing skills.
Even though there have been previous studies such as Boudreau (2017), Lee (2014), Ulfah (2012), Godbee (2016), Escalante (2013) and Ismail and Elias (2006) that conducted on the use of inquiry-based learning, there is still limited research regarding the effects of inquiry-based writing instruction on students’ academic writing. Particularly, in the study area, inquiry-based writing instruction seems to have been a missing feature of English language writing. Therefore, in order to fill this research gap, the present study was conducted to investigate the effects of using inquiry-based writing instruction on students’ academic writing skills.
The study was conducted to answer the following research question: What are the effects of using inquiry-based writing instruction on students’ academic writing skills?