Category Archives: Teacher Inquiry

Everything and Nothing

One of my Grandad George’s favourite sayings is that “if you are too open minded, your brain will fall out.” This quote can be attributed originally to Lawrence Ferlinghetti (I encourage you to check him out, he’s a pretty interesting individual).
One of my concerns that I have around education and with some educators, in particular some Twitterati, is that they think that any and all new innovation must be the answer to improving the education system. An example of this is the “Teach like Finland” catch cry. Why? What does that even mean? How do we know that this approach will be effective for the ākonga in New Zealand? Is it because it fits with a particular philosophy about what education *should* look like? I believe that, while it’s important that we embrace change and look to ‘disrupt’ (yes, I realise the irony here) the education system we must do so from an evidence based approach.
There is a sense of duty for educators to have pedagogy which is grounded firmly in research. We need to be able to point to a body of research and says it has worked in this context so therefore it should work in my classroom, educators must become more results driven. A recent change to education that I thoroughly enjoy is the of Teacher Inquiries. Educators, using measures to critically examine their work, to change and adapt their practice to help better meet the needs of learners will fundamentally change education for the better. I believe we are beginning to already see the fruits of this approach in the education system. If a newly implemented approach isn’t delivering the results which were expected, educators must recognise this quickly and be prepared to fail fast.
Fail fast is a philosophy that values extensive testing and incremental development to determine whether an idea has value. An important goal of the philosophy is to cut losses when testing reveals something isn’t working and quickly try something else, a concept known as pivoting.
A danger is, with so many points of view about what will improve schools, educators try to focus on everything and achieve nothing. It is important to remember the reason we joined the profession, to raise standards and help students have a better shot at being successful in the future – whatever that may look like.

Who’s in the driving seat?

During our second Teacher Only Day, Anna Stephenson who was our facilitator gave out a reading by Watkins (2009) entitled ‘Learners in the Driving Seat’. The reading looks at who is responsible for students’ learning and how young students can take the lead in their own learning. You can view the article here: Learners in the driving seat – Watkins (2009). I am looking forward to trialling an idea with my class on day one – Ask the students to point at the ceiling with their index finger and then ask them to point at who is responsible for their learning. I am looking forward to taking pictures of this that we can, as a class, reflect back on later in the year. It is my hope that some of the students that I had last year point at themselves, but time will tell:-)

Watkins’ reading was a confirmation of sorts that the professional development/leadership that I had been planning for my team was heading in the correct direction. Last year, after reading about student agency, visiting various schools that promote student autonomy and attending educamp2014 I decided that I wanted to give students greater control over what they learnt in my classroom.

During Term 4 I trialled running small groups where students could opt into what was being taught. If the students decided to attend the small group and realised that they new the content they were free to leave. Of course, there were varying degrees of autonomy depending on the student; however, I felt that this approach worked very well. It was interesting to anecdotally note that motivation of the class improved as a result of being able to choose when and what they studied within the context of a wider topic.

Following on from this, I decided that I would like to try this approach on a wider scale. As part of our team teacher inquiry, which each teaching team has control over, I decided I would like to look at creating greater student agency/autonomy in 2015.

Aa part of the session with Anna, we were asked to think about what our team inquiry would look like. I was conscious of wanting to develop interest and motivation for the topic with the rest of my team members rather than telling the team what we would be inquiring about. I think that team ‘by in’ is massively important when looking at new initiatives/ideas.

After some explanation of my thinking and showing the rest of the team The Learning Pyramid they were excited about the idea of creating greater student agency across the team.Learning-Pyramid

Realising that this could be a massive inquiry for a team which has a third year teacher and a PRT 1 we decided to narrow our approach to the maths curriculum. Hopefully this would be beneficial from two aspects, firstly it will give us a more focussed approach and secondly it will give us concrete data to use and compare when studying the effectiveness of our inquiry.

I am thoroughly looking forward to implementing some of the ideas, readings and thinking that I have done over the Christmas holidays within my class and team.

PS: I tried the activity today from Learners in the driving seat (Watkins, 2009) with the students in my class and interestingly there was a correlation between the contributing schools my Year 7 had attended previously and who/where they ended up pointing. I was pleased that about 80% of my Year 8 students pointed at themselves. When asked to discuss who they pointed at and why, one of my Year 8 girl’s said that she pointed at herself because “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” which I thought was very insightful comment/reflection.

Teacher Inquiry

Over the course of the year, the staff at Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School, have been working alongside Anna Stephenson from Massey University to help develop Teacher Inquiry further within the school. The decision was made that the staff would all look at the same aspect of practise to help consolidate understanding of the inquiry method. The aspect that was selected by Senior Management was to focus on raising achievement levels of Māori and Pasifika boys in writing.

After ‘playing’ with several different inquiry models over the course of the year I attended a course on mentoring a PRT and the facilitator showed the following as an example.

Teacher Inquiry Model

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I particularly liked this approach as it incorporated the RTCs and I think that I suitable next step for the model would be to include the relevant aspects on Tātaiako as well. The model clearly outlines the Inquiry model in a clear and concise way.