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Teaching as inquiry

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.

Where are my students at?

For this phase of inquiry, ask:

  • How engaged are my students?
  • What are their learning needs?
  • Which learning needs are most important? 
  • Which modifications to teaching and learning might work best?

Student engagement

A lack of engagement can be one of the first signs that a student is not going to experience success with their learning and may be a strong signal that the way you are teaching is not working for that student, or group of students.  

Engagement can be loosely divided into three types:

  • Cognitive engagement, where students are engaged with the processes and progressions of their learning
  • Behavioural engagement, where students show they they are ready and willing to learn
  • Emotional engagement, where students feel secure in their relationships with their teachers, classmates and the school. This can be particularly important for Māori and Pasifika students.

Factors influencing student engagement
A range of factors impact on how well students relate to and are engaged by what they are learning at school. These include the:

  • nature of relationship with the teacher and other students in the class
  • perceived relevance of the learning material
  • level of knowledge and skills that students bring into each learning situation
  • intrinsic interest of the subject or activity to a particular student
  • extent to which there is variety in the teaching approaches
  • nature and extent of teacher feedback on students’ progress
  • extent to which students are able to take responsibility for their own learning.

Checking student engagement

The following questions can be used to prompt thinking, discussion, and inquiry in your school:

  • What should engagement in learning look like? Is this the same or different for all learning areas?
  • What does disengagement look like? Is this the same or different for all learning areas?

Are students in our school:

  • persistent in their work, despite challenges and obstacles?
  • motivated to finish their work and feel accomplished when they do?
  • able to verbalise that they feel valued and understood in the classroom?
  • given the opportunity to have input into the classroom programme and planning?
  • always interested in their learning and want to find out more?
  • offered tasks and topics that are relevant and meaningful, and relate to their own lives?
  • aware of the purpose and expected outcomes of the learning tasks that we set?
  • receiving quality feedback and feed-forward?

Two New Zealand standardised tests have been developed to assess levels of student engagement.

Me and my school
This research-based student engagement survey is designed for New Zealand students. Me and my school offers a snapshot of the learning culture in your school, standardised data to track progress over time and a nationally referenced gender, ethnicity, and year level comparison. 

SATIS - Student Attitude Information System
This tool assesses factors that affect learning progress for year 7–10 students.

School story 

Putting students first
To improve student engagement and achievement at Taihape Area School the staff have put students first; structuring their school curriculum around the students' aspirations, interests, and preferred ways of learning. 

Collecting evidence

Gathering evidence about student achievement helps to identify learning needs and allows teachers to consider which modifications to teaching and learning approaches might work best. 

A variety of high quality evidence will give you the best information on student progress and success. Data can be gathered from:

  • classroom engagement and participation
  • patterns in student achievement data
  • teacher documentation and observation
  • teacher planning showing alignment and intention, and reflections on progress
  • student feedback.

Assessment tools

Assessment tool selector
The assessment tool selector is a resource for teachers and schools to help them select the most appropriate assessment tool to suit their particular purpose. The selector gives you information about assessment tools most frequently used in New Zealand schools, in every area of the curriculum up to and including Year 10. You can also compare tools to see which one is the most suitable.

Outcomes and indicators
This matrix is used to guide student self-evaluation. It provides a way to collect evidence about student perceptions and enables students to track their progress.


Learning analytics
Mark Osborne believes the data we collect about learning must be relevant, reliable and meaningful, and that it’s pointless to gather data if we’re not going to use it. Mark asks what the 'teaching as inquiry' processes are like in our schools, and how well is data used when making decisions about what needs to be learnt next and how students might best learn it. 

School stories

Tawa Intermediate
Tawa Intermediate teachers asked their 21st century learners what they want from their 21st century school.

Using data to inform school development at Mairehau Primary School
Principal John Bangma, and Deputy Principal Jenny Washington discuss data driven decision making at Mairehau Primary School, where learning walks and reciprocal visits are used to collect data at a whole school level. This data can then inform school development as well as feed back into classrooms.

Enhancing learning with assessment
James Rasmussen discusses assessment for learning at Newlands College. James challenges educators to look at what assessment is being done in schools, and if this is really getting to the heart of the teaching as inquiry cycle and changing teaching practice to meet the needs of students.

Published on: 18 Dec 2020