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Our inquiry framework

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Staff at Sylvia Park School are working together to build an integrated and connected curriculum for their students through an inquiry approach. In this story the inquiry planning team and students discuss what inquiry looks like in their school. They detail the processes they go through to plan a unit while supporting and scaffolding classroom teachers.  

There are three stories in this series:

  1. Our inquiry framework
  2. Using language, symbols, and texts to explore art and identity
  3. Effective pedagogy for our Māori and Pasifika students

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

What does a connected curriculum look like?

In 2011 the Education Review Office gathered data from over 200 schools to evaluate the extent to which the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum were evident in the interpretation and implementation of schools’ curricula. This resulting 2012 ERO report found that schools with a connected curriculum:

  • show consistency in planning, delivery, and assessment, including moderation of assessment practices
  • share a common language of learning and shared aspirations for students
  • make links to students’ prior learning and experience
  • make cross curricular links
  • plan collaboratively and use an effective curriculum tracking system to monitor the learning of individuals and groups.

Coherence checklist
The coherence checklist helps schools consider how they use the coherence principle as a foundation of curriculum decision making. By ranking yourself against the five statements listed under connections, you will be able to identify areas of strength and possible next steps for the development of a connected curriculum.

Word 2007 icon. Coherence checklist (Word 2007, 37 KB)


When you’re working with staff, it’s as important to get buy in across staff as it ever is to get same thing in your classroom you’ve got to try to get buy in and get people interested and getting them to want to get on board and then to generate some ideas and make some contributions so that we can continue to develop that whole richness around the inquiry plan. So what the inquiry team does in terms of building an overview for it is to make sure there’s a very clear sequence but also they have little tricks up their sleeves that really does get people interested and gets them thinking oh yeah you know I can make links to this and that and so they get interested and then we know that what’s going to happen is that will sort of create its own momentum. It’s one of those things we don’t take for granted; it’s one of those things you do have to plan for and you do need to be deliberate about in terms of hooking your learner and sometimes that first learning team is your colleagues.

And we found in our review teachers, that previously teachers wanted a stronger framework so a lot more support around planning and how to use resources.

We have an inquiry planning framework that we stick to, and we start with having an authentic question. We relate that to our curriculum needs, which we have which we are always reviewing and looking at, we relate it to our student needs, our community and the current issues - anything that’s current, that’s what we hook into, because we feel that’s going to be real and authentic to our students. For our triathlon, we started with - on our teacher only day we began with the opening scene of ‘Chariots of Fire’ with the characters running down the beach - and that awesome Vangelis music that everybody seems to relate to - and then we got the staff to share their personal experiences of what was their greatest physical challenge, to date? And that’s kind of hooked everyone in to oh okay, yes, we’re looking at our challenge, we’re looking at a physical thing and crossing the finish line which is how we got to our question.

Our focus has been on crossing the finish line - but how do we get there? And I think it’s good to cross the finish line because doesn’t matter if you come first second or third but you just feel good after you finish.

I’ve wanted to know why we need to carry on, to the finish line and I now know that if you don’t carry on to the finish line and you stop and you’ve started it’s a waste of time and effort because you just get tired for no reason and the pain of pushing yourself is better than the pain of regret.

So once we’ve formed this question, you know, crossing the finish line, how do we get there? and we’ve hooked everybody in with activities where they can start relating and really get a buy in and they might see familiar faces of people or places and then with the front loading we want to provide them with the strong models so something they can use as a structure, when finding out information, because when it comes to later on we give them the opportunity to choose their own athletes that’s a bit of student choice.

My chosen athlete, his name’s Jamie Soward he plays for the St George Dragons. A couple of things that I learned from him is that when he kicks the ball he never gives up, he knows what he is going to do. He like plans it, he knows where the ball’s going to go.

And we always have checkpoints all through, that’s built into the plan so that we are checking to see that everyone is keeping up with the pace and seeing where they’re supposed to be within the unit plan so that they are going to be able to achieve that tangible outcome within the timeframe. And the other reason we have our checkpoints is to support and scaffold each other so that if anybody needs any help or ideas - we always bounce ideas off each other and that’s really really helpful.

So we’ve got some flexibility but at the same time we have absolute milestones that need to be ticked off and achieved in order for us to get to the end because one of those things about our inquiry is that every term we have a big event or we have, we produce something that we do so it has this lovely tangible finish. And you know, if there’s a class that doesn’t have that lovely finish with everyone else, you know, that’s an issue.

The most exciting thing was going to the Weet-Bix Tryathlon in the weekend and I took part and it was really fun cos there was heaps of people supporting me and had lots of encouragement and I didn’t give up but I was tired, I was really tired, just wanted to stop just kept on pushing myself, just go, once I was next to the finish line I gave it all my best and I just crossed it and yep was sore. But I came first.

It’s been such a journey, really like as an inquiry team thinking about all the planning we used to do, lots and lots of details to make sure that nobody could kind of get it wrong really and everyone could complete things by certain dates and over time we’ve been able to scale back the amount of detail that goes in because we know that staff can contribute and go beyond that stuff now so it’s been a real journey to get to a real co-construction of the inquiry planning as it stands now. Good job girls!

Published on: 16 May 2011