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Since any teaching strategy works differently in different contexts for different students, effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students.
The New Zealand Curriculum, p.35

Teaching as inquiry, a process that encourages you to change your practice in order to enhance success for students, was brought to the attention of many teachers at the release of Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences/Tikanga ā Iwi: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration [BES] (2003) and The New Zealand Curriculum (2007). Since then, the teaching as inquiry model as been used effectively in many schools, both as a whole school approach, and as individual classroom inquiries. Teaching as inquiry is likely to be highly useful for teachers as they respond to the need to develop digital fluency across diverse learner groups and capabilities. 

The Education Review Office (ERO) recommended that all schools make “teaching as inquiry a useful and integral part of everyday teaching practice” (ERO, 2011). This resource will provide you with ideas, examples and inspiration to carry out an inquiry into your teaching practice. If you've completed an inquiry before, this will refresh you and inspire you to keep inquiring. If you haven't, you're about to start on a journey that will inspire you to try new things, reflect on your practice, and make a difference to the levels of success students experience in your class. 

Teaching as inquiry is not a linear process, and teachers, like students, all have different learning needs. Each step of the inquiry process is presented here on its own, so that teachers can choose what they need to know at the stage that they are at.

Two frameworks for teaching as inquiry

The teaching as inquiry cycle

The NZC has developed a framework for teaching as inquiry. It is cyclical by nature and involves three main components:

In the focusing inquiry, teachers identify the outcomes they want their students to achieve. They consider how their students are doing in relation to those outcomes, and they ask what their students need to learn next in order to achieve them.

In the teaching inquiry, teachers select teaching strategies that will support their students to achieve these outcomes. This involves asking questions about how well current strategies are working and whether others might be more successful. Teachers search their own and their colleagues’ past practice for strategies that may be more effective, and they also look in the research literature to see what has worked in other contexts. They seek evidence that their selected strategies really have worked for other students, and they set up processes for capturing evidence about whether the strategies are working for their own students.

The learning inquiry takes place both during and after teaching as teachers monitor their students' progress towards the identified outcomes and reflect on what this tells them. Teachers use this new information to decide what to do next to ensure continued improvement in student achievement and in their own practice.

The teaching as inquiry cycle in action

NZC Update 12 - Understanding teaching as inquiry
This Update describes observations made by the Education Review Office (ERO) in an evaluation of how New Zealand schools were using the teaching as inquiry process.

Innovation and the spiral of inquiry

A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry.
Helen Timperley, Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert, 2014

Inquiry is not a ‘project’, an ‘initiative’ or an ‘innovation’ but a professional way of being. (p.22) 

This recent work by Timperley et.al proposes a fresh rethink on the structure of teaching as inquiry. While it still stresses the importance of using teacher inquiry in the classroom, the framework is modified in the hope that the result will be the design of new more effective and powerful learning systems to cater for 21st century learners, school wide. This model proposes that inquiry be implemented across a whole school or even a cluster of schools, where change is likely to be more powerful, rather than in single classrooms. 

The model is a spiral, illustrating the constant revisiting and questioning that characterises an effective inquiry. It allows for interventions not to work and the need to keep trying until you find the things that stick. The central questions of the spiral of inquiry are "What’s going on for our learners?" and "How do we know?". By observing students (scanning) and then deciding on a focus area to change (focusing), teachers can check their intuition about what has led to the current situation (developing a hunch) and look to relevant research (learning) to help guide their actions of change (taking action). An important check (checking) is carried out during and after a course of action: "Have we made enough of a difference?". The small changes that you have made can lead to bigger changes, which the authors believe can then really promote innovative change across the school.

It is well within the capacity of all schools to make dramatic changes. We have seen it happen in a wide range of complex and challenging situations across different countries where educators, learners and their communities construct new and more innovative learning environments together. In the process, those involved have become re-energised and cannot think of going back to where things used to be. (p.4)

The spiral of inquiry in action

Utilising Spirals of Inquiry to develop students' emotional intelligence through digital story telling
Year one students at Lyttleton School share their learning through digital stories, which provide students, teachers, parents, and whānau with a common language to discuss relating to others and managing self.   

What's the difference between Teaching as Inquiry and Inquiry Learning?
There is sometimes confusion between the terms Teaching as Inquiry and Inquiry Learning.  This short article by Team Solutions (University of Auckland) includes a chart that clearly explains the difference between them, along with suggestions for further reading.

The role of leadership in teaching as inquiry

A key driver of the inquiry process is school leadership.  Schools can follow a standard model of inquiry or adapt it to suit their needs.  It is school leaders who are able to to foster a culture of inquiry across the school, and provide the space, time and mentorship for teachers to inquire and reflect on their practice and be able to make changes, both small and significant.  In some schools, the teacher inquiry process is also built into the teacher appraisal systems, both formalising the process and acknowledging its importance for teacher practice and student achievement.  In addition, while inquiry needs to be tailored to specific students and the pedagogy of a specific teacher, it will be more effective if carried out across a school context, where real change can be enacted.

Featured resource

Spiral of inquiry: Leaders leading learning
This resource promotes the leadership of collaborative, evidence-informed inquiry in ways that keep learners’ progress at the centre. It provides field-tested tools and ideas to support leaders and teachers to apply spirals of inquiry, learning, and action with their learners.

Leadership stories

How do you support teaching as inquiry in your department?
In this video, Carol Jarrett discusses how her department uses teaching as inquiry to investigate 'problems of practice'.

Accelerating Māori and Pasifika students
Wendy Kofoed, principal of Newmarket Primary School, Auckland describes how she introduced teachers to the teaching inquiry process, with a focus on raising the achievement levels of Māori and Pasifika students in her school.

The realities of supporting teachers' inquiries
Wendy Kofoed describes how she began by modelling the inquiry approach with teachers at Newmarket School. All teachers were involved in working through a classroom-based school inquiry. She and her school leaders then provided a supportive context for teachers to learn to inquire about the impact of a chosen teaching approach in their own classrooms.

Developing school-wide inquiry
Based on her experience at Newmarket Primary School, Wendy Kofoed shares some key messages about building inquiry approaches into school practices.

Leading inquiry at a teacher level: it’s all about mentorship
This article contains practice-based strategies for how inquiry can be made to function in schools at both a strategic and operational level. Mentorship of those facilitating the inquiry process is seen as key to it being initiated and sustained.

Where to next?

Now that you are ready to begin your inquiry, ask yourself the question: Where are my students at now?

Begin to find answers by collecting evidence and examining levels of student engagement.

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Updated on: 19 Dec 2017


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