Deepen Teacher Inquiry Series - Part 22

The important thing is not to stop questioning.
— Albert Einstein

The name of the game is - Deepen teacher Inquiry.

The outcome of the game is - Empowered teacher learning - which all going well will lead to improved impacts on student learning.

This week we will explore the idea of an inquiry question.  I am going to share a story of an inquiry journey one of the teachers I have had the privilege to work with went on to focus her inquiry question.

The first phase of an inquiry is the explore phase. The phase in which teachers explore what they know - be courageous with the data they have, identify the learning gaps of their students, ideate what's sticking to get deep into what's happening with the learning for the students, look for clarity and come up with a specific inquiry question that is sharp.

Leah, when she started her inquiry explored the evidence she had about the learners in her class. She was armed with personal observations and students work, as well as student voice and assessment data upon which to base her wonderings.

Leah’s initial inquiry question was  “How can I improve my students writing?”

Many teachers I work with start with such a question. Questions like this one are far too open and are not focused enough to make a deep teacher inquiry. A question like this one gives context for an inquiry but no more.  Other examples of BIG BROAD inquiry questions are the inquiry questions that are derived from strategic goals.
For Example:- Strategic Goal:- To increase the number of E endorsements in our Level Three  [insert subject here] for 2019. In many cases, I have seen this goal turn into an inquiry question for teachers. “How do we increase the number of E endorsements in our [insert subject here] for 2019?”
Now there are so many questions I could ask before I even got to an inquiry question. This question is far too broad to be an inquiry question.

An inquiry should be about the impact of one strategic change made by the teacher and its impact on students learning. With some refining, exploring and connecting with all of the data we were able to identify that, specifically it was the use of capital letter and full stops that was the learning gap for Leah’s Students. We then wondered if it was laziness or a lack of understanding that was causing students to not use their punctuation correctly in their writing. We looked at student work and connected all of the evidence about the students that wrote this piece of work to build a bigger picture. A picture that was more than just a hunch.

With all of the wondering and connecting with the evidence, we began to see what was happening. It became clear that some of the students in Leah’s class could use capital letters and full stops correctly, but were merely lazy,  while there were a few, that lacked understanding.

At this point, she began to think about teaching and learning strategies she could use to bridge this learning gap for her students. Leah decided to design a writing check pencil. On a pencil-shaped card, she wrote a checklist of rules for correct use of capital letters and full stops. Each student was given a check pencil and began to use it with their writing. She decided that she would use students writing before and after the inquiry period to see what the impact of the writing pencil had been for students and their use of the check pencil.

So Leah - for her inquiry had:

  • Identified a learning gap. - identified through exploring the evidence and connecting to the data to gain clarity.
  • Designed a strategy to overcome the learning gap. (the check pencil)
  • Made decisions about how she would measure the impact of the check pencil. (Using samples of the student writing before and after the inquiry).

As a result of exploring deeply - Leah's inquiry question morphed from “How can I improve my students writing?”  to "How does the use of a check pencil for writing improve students correct use of capital letter and full stops in writing?”

This question is specific and has a sharp focus - It has an element of what is being changed - use of the check pencil and an element of what is being measured - the correct usage of capital letters and full stops in student writing.

A specific question for a teacher Inquiry consists of what strategy they are going to use and how they are going to measure the impact of that strategy. Designing a specific question for a teacher Inquiry allows teachers to sharpen their Inquiry sword. A specific inquiry question helps keep the Inquiry focused. It facilitates intention measures and enables teachers to identify - with clarity - a teaching strategy that they are going to design to improve student learning.

Questions like these keep a teacher inquiry focused. I have found - without a carefully crafted inquiry question - teacher inquiries tend to explode outwards to epic-sized projects that put teachers into overwhelm.

So make your inquiry question sharp. A bite-sized change that is measurable it the key.You can always leverage off one inquiry into another as your curiosity grows and you become energized by the knowledge that comes out of a sharp but impacting teacher inquiry.

Until next week - go well

Tabitha - signature 2.png

A little something for your relievers and returning to the workforce teachers.... please forward this onto them. - Thank You

Teachers who are returning to Teaching - This is a great way to get reacquainted with Teacher Inquiry - After all - Teacher inquiry is - The most powerful learning tool…...For teachers!

Tabitha Leonard