The Impact Of An Inquiry Culture

Kate, Michael and Julie were working on their inquiry plans together. They discussed – during the focusing part of their inquiry journey – the area of concerns they had about their students.

Here is a look into their wonderings and focus during the planning stage of their inquiry.

Looking at written work assessed using a Cambridge writing rubric:

“Why are our students generally scoring lower in the columns grading sentence structure, punctuation and vocab, but higher in content, audience, and text structure within the Cambridge Writing Narrative rubrics? Data shows that our students are weaker in those three areas. We are wondering whether a move from text level teaching to sentence level teaching will have a positive impact on their overall writing.

We wonder whether our Cambridge genre-based units are causing to us to focus on text structure and feature more than quality sentence structure and the punctuation involved in these.

Usage, while planning for, is often the first lesson to be omitted from the programme due to time constraints. Because of this, students may not understand the workings of key language features such as complex sentences, clauses, phrases, and different types of verbs. When we give students feedback they do not understand what is being asked of them. A lot of prior teaching needs to be carried out around key features before students can be expected to form a quality complex sentence.”

Further dialogue between these teachers drilled down into what they believed the real issue was and they came up with the following inquiry question:-

Will a targeted focus on usage teaching in literacy sessions improve sentence structure including punctuation and vocab?

Throughout the focusing part of the inquiry, these teachers went on a journey of wondering that had many twists and turns. The more they discussed ideas, the more specific the focus of their inquiry became. Without the opportunity to collaborate, the depth of the final inquiry may not have been as deep or as specific.

The power of collaboration was evidenced again for these three teachers during the data analysis and concluding phases of their inquiry. Each teacher – with the support of dialogue with her colleagues was able to draw reflective conclusions about the students learning in each class. Often what happens is that teachers don’t see the “forest for the trees” when they are analysing their inquiry data and making conclusions as to the impact of their actions on student learning because they are so invested in the inquiry and it’s outcomes that they struggle to be impartial.

When asked these questions about their inquiry journey:

  • HOW has the process of running an inquiry enabled you to reflect differently on your practice?
  • HOW has the process of planning and running an inquiry has resulted in you making changes to your practice?

 

One teacher responded with the following statement

“I think it made me think deeper into why I thought a change was necessary, what I was going to do to make the change and why that idea would possibly work.  Then I would actually monitor the process- I felt more aware of the intervention I was making, and how students were responding. Then the impact data helped to support and challenge my thinking around this. It was less assumption based and I felt I could support it more confidently with having some different types of evidence alongside my anecdotal observations and conclusions.

The inquiry process has challenged my thinking around who I am as a professional. My thoughts are always with my students and finding evidence can sometimes feel like irrelevant paperwork that I am obliged to do. I think this process shows that this process of evidence gathering and critical Inquiry can be solely focused on students and what supports them- it doesn’t need to be an annoying aside”.  

The inquiry is about teachers knowing they helped their students learn. By engaging with an inquiry, teachers shift their stance from “I think” I helped my students learn to “I know” I helped my students learn. “I Know” because the inquiry processes help facilitate the collection of impact evidence of students learning.

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An inquiry is the formula for success. Deep reflections, responsiveness to student learning needs, the gathering of data and data analysis with an inquiry lens will energise teachers to change their practice.  Teachers will KNOW they have helped students learn. It will be a known fact.

Rigorous and well-planned inquiry informs teachers of their impact on students learning. The information gathered during a rigorous inquiry process collates measured data from which teachers can draw valid conclusions as to their impact on students learning. The drawing of such conclusions about teacher impact on students learning energises teachers to keep making changes that will lead to improved learning outcomes. This means that inquiry WILL change teachers practice. Through planning a change in teaching strategy when undertaking an inquiry, teachers inevitably will change their practice. This is because inquiry facilitates the gathering of data and analysis of data to measure impacts on students learning.

The inquiry process – and the deep and personal reflection that occurs throughout the inquiry journey – encourages teachers to be more responsive to the needs of their students. Deep and personal reflection of the information gathered during a rigorous inquiry process encourages and allows teachers to be more responsive to student needs. The change that takes place due to the reflective process will lead to improved student learning.

Effective student learning + energised teachers → professional growth. When combined with effective student learning and energised teachers, inquiry results in professional growth by changing practice and informing as to the impact teachers are having on students learning.

The rigorous and well-planned inquiry is like adding manure to the garden. When the right combination of components are present there will be improved outcomes and teacher professional growth.

Are You Ready To Build The Capacity Of Inquiry And Find Your Inquiry Genius?  

Tabitha Leonard