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Teaching as inquiry at Koputaroa School

Koputaroa school.

Koputaroa School principal Regan Orr introduced and led teaching as inquiry throughout the school, resulting in a collaborative, supportive, and motivational learning experience for all.

Since undertaking the inquiry, classroom teachers have noticed significant improvements in their students' asTTle and running record data. This progress has also been reflected in the school wide data collected and moderated using the Koputaroa writing matrix.

Choosing a focus

The school had a clear focus on e-learning and the integration of ICT. They chose writing as the context for the e-learning implementation, as there had previously been a professional development emphasis on both reading and numeracy.

While writing was being taught well, there was no cohesive school-wide approach throughout the school. The leadership team felt the process would have greater impact if undertaken as a school-wide focus.

"Everyone sharing the same focus meant we were all on the same page." (Teacher)

Prior to introducing teaching as inquiry, the staff developed a writing matrix to support a school-wide approach using the same vocabulary at all levels. This encouraged greater consistency for students as they move from one class to the next. As staff unpacked The New Zealand Curriculum, they reviewed their teaching and learning programmes, and asked, ‘How do we know our students are engaged, motivated, and learning?’

Gathering evidence

To inform teachers about student achievement levels, an engagement survey gathered students’ responses about engagement, challenge, and motivation in learning. Staff completed a similar survey so their perspectives could be compared with the students’, highlighting any variance or misconceptions. Responses were collated and analysed, enabling staff to use the data to inform their plans.

This year Koputaroa are continuing to sustain the principles of formative practice, evolve the writing process, and integrate e-learning to support this. Evidence from a survey of children in term one showed that:

  • 66% felt the class nearly always or mostly used quality examples of writing to model effective practice
  • 62% indicated that they nearly always or mostly engaged in either self or peer assessment to support their learning
  • 63% responded that they nearly always or mostly go back to edit, improve, or amend their writing.

This shows an increase from last year, 71 percent of children responded that they nearly always use success criteria to guide their writing.

Leadership and staff meetings provided regular opportunities for conversations about the survey findings and students’ writing progress. Staff began to moderate students’ writing across the school to gain a better understanding of the current situation, and whether the perceived gaps were in fact accurate. They shared examples of work at each level, ensuring all agreed on what constitutes writing at a particular level. As new teachers join the staff, this process supports their transition, enabling them to take the same approach and maintain consistency.
Staff report that a number of factors have had an impact on developing their knowledge. These include:

  • sharing and discussing professional readings
  • promoting e-learning as a motivational tool
  • increased emphasis on observing and having conversations with students about what motivated them to write.

Getting started

The school brought in an expert facilitator, Carol Lynch, who worked with staff to unpack the teaching as inquiry process and challenged teachers’ current thinking and assumptions. She provided reflective evaluation along the way. As a result, the staff deepened their understanding of the process and grew their capability together.

The staff has continued these facilitated conversations. Individual teachers collaborated and supported one another as they shared experiences that related to their professional practice, resulting in developing an excellent support network within the staff.

Staff also visited a school where e-learning was well integrated into literacy programmes. This provided opportunities to talk to other teachers and to learn from students as they used a range of tools that enhanced their literacy learning.

Creating an inquiry action plan

Koputaroa school entrance.

The facilitator introduced a teaching as inquiry framework to enable each teacher to develop an action plan. This guided the development process and ensured everyone was clear and consistent about the purpose. The teachers identified a focus and justified their choice. They identified an outcome, who they would target, and how they would go about conducting their inquiry. The framework included a reference section where teachers recorded research they had drawn on to inform their inquiry. It also provided for reflection on their findings and how practice had changed as a result.

Throughout the inquiry, teachers had opportunities to have open, honest conversations with colleagues. A trusting environment meant they were unafraid to ask questions. They had regular opportunities for classroom visits that encouraged reflective conversations based on their observations within one another’s classrooms.

Sustaining the process

Staff attended dedicated meetings designed to ensure the work from the facilitated sessions was sustained. There was an expectation that teachers would keep a reflection log and share it with their team leader and principal at regular intervals. Time was provided during the meetings for teachers to update their logs and have a ‘space’ for quiet reflection. Once a term all teams across the school met for a half-day to reflect further on the big picture.

The school used a range of related resources to deepen teachers’ ideas and understanding of teaching as inquiry. The facilitator provided reflective prompts and questions for professional readings from a range of sources (BES, NZC, SET).
They set up Google Docs as an effective way to communicate and collaborate between staff, organise timetables, set staff, leadership, and team meeting agendas, and establish the special education needs register.

The conversations within and between all staff members grew within this supportive framework so that everyone involved saw the value of collaboration.

"People weren’t afraid to say when something wasn’t going right". (Teacher)

The school has implemented learning walks and walkabouts (adapted from ideas from Dr Cheryl Doig) to enhance the feedback and reflection process.

Learning walks provided an opportunity for the leadership team to observe teacher practice using a set of criteria agreed by staff. Brief visits occur frequently to build up a picture of the teaching and learning. The criteria are used to record evidence of what is happening in classrooms.

Walkabouts involve teachers working with a buddy to view and discuss practice. They have time to visit one another’s classes, observe practice, discuss the implementation of teaching as inquiry, and evaluate and refine the approach. After four or five observations have taken place, the leadership team meets for discussion. The outcome of this meeting informs ongoing observations. There is no set timetable developed for walkabouts, as they tend to happen as often as deemed necessary.

The school’s robust appraisal system (based on two dedicated school wide goals) supports this work. The goals are linked to formative practice and teaching as inquiry. Teachers are also encouraged to create a personal goal aligned to teaching as inquiry.

This year the school has joined a cluster with two other schools to develop their PLD approach further. The focus of the cluster is on the development and implementation of teaching as inquiry, with a focus on formative practice, quality writing, and the integration of e-learning to support and enhance learning.

Koputaroa is a decile six rural school located just north of Levin in Horowhenua with a roll of approximately 180 year one - eight students.

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    Published on: 24 May 2012


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