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Teaching as inquiry

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Teaching as inquiry (TAI) is a process that encourages teachers to change their practice in order to enhance success for students. It involves inquiry into the impact of teaching and the teaching–learning relationship. TAI is "not a ‘project’, an ‘initiative’ or an ‘innovation’ but a professional way of being." (Timperley, Kaser, Halbert, 2014, p. 22)

This section provides ideas, resources, and tools to support your inquiry journeys, as well as school stories to inspire and promote discussion.

About teaching as inquiry

Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences/Tikanga ā Iwi: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (2003)

The New Zealand Curriculum (2007)

The release of the above documents brought Teaching as inquiry (TAI) to the attention of many teachers.

Since then, the TAI model has been used effectively in many schools, both as a whole school approach, and as individual classroom inquiries.

Two frameworks for TAI

Teaching as inquiry cycle
Framework for teaching as inquiry

This NZC-developed framework is cyclical and involves four main components:

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. 

Teaching inquiry - Teachers select teaching strategies that will support their students to achieve identified outcomes. This involves asking questions about how well current strategies are working and whether others might be more successful. 

Teaching and learning - Putting new strategies into action. 

Learning inquiry - 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.

Teaching as inquiry model.


Innovation and the spiral of inquiry 
Work by Timperley et.al proposes a fresh rethink on the structure of teaching as inquiry.

The model is a spiral, illustrating the constant revisiting and questioning that characterises an effective inquiry. It 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.

There are no hard and fast rules to the spiral of inquiry. While it is natural to read the steps in a clockwise direction, it is important to remember that these are less like phases, and more like “modes” of thinking. 

Once you are familiar and comfortable with the inquiry process, you will find that each part of the spiral framework is something you can dip in and out of as needed.

The parts of the spiral framework include:

  • Scanning - Finding out what is happening for all students.
  • Focusing - Asking yourself which area you could focus on in order to make the most substantive difference.
  • Developing a hunch - Identifying what you can change or do differently in order to improve learning experiences and outcomes for students.
  • Learning - Acquiring new knowledge and skills that lead to new actions.
  • Taking action - Putting something different in place.
  • Checking - Collectively checking to see if you have made enough of a difference. 

School story

Spiralling into collaboration at Otago Girls' High School
In this blog Rowan Taigel, Deputy Principal at Otago Girls' High School, shares her knowledge around collaborative spirals of inquiry drawing on her journey leading this framework at her school.

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Scanning: What is going on for your learners? (PDF)
This guide explains the different phases of the spiral of inquiry.

The role of leadership

A key driver of the inquiry process is school leadership. It is school leaders who are able to:

  •  foster a culture of inquiry across the school
  • provide the space, time, and mentorship for teachers to inquire and reflect on their practice
  • make changes, both small and significant.  

In some schools, the teacher inquiry process is built into the teacher appraisal systems, both formalising the process and acknowledging its importance for teacher practice and student achievement.

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.

School story 

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

Have you seen?

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

Published on: 18 Dec 2020