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Teaching as Inquiry

From the Education Gazette:


The New Zealand Curriculum describes teaching as inquiry as a process that involves teachers investigating the impact of their decisions and practice on learners. The primary purpose of teaching as inquiry is to bring about improved outcomes for learners through a cyclical process that is guided by questions around focusing inquiry, teaching inquiry, and learning inquiry.

In the initial evaluation, the schools were selected from those scheduled for an education review in term 3, 2010. A further group of schools was selected to be included in this evaluation as part of their scheduled education reviews in term 3, 2011. In the 2011 evaluation, 82 primary schools, 26 secondary schools and five composite schools were selected. 
 
Findings
In the 2011 report, ERO found that in 72 per cent of the schools, processes had been put in place by school leaders that were either highly, or somewhat informative and supportive in promoting teaching as inquiry. In its 2012 report, ERO found there had been a drop in the extent to which schools’ systems guided and supported teachers to inquire into their practice; from 72 per cent to 58 per cent.
To look into possible reasons for the decrease, ERO analysed samples by schools’ type, location, decile, and size, and found that there were no statistical differences between them. While the samples differed in terms of ratio of primary schools to secondary schools, this was not found to contribute to it.
Where inquiry was working well, all phases of the inquiry cycle were happening. However, teachers and leaders were better at the focusing inquiry phase (identifying which learners need help), than they were at planning how to respond to them (teaching inquiry) or evaluating how well programmes impact on learners (learning inquiry).
ERO found that when inquiry worked well, learners needs and strengths were responded to quickly and more precisely, because teachers had up-to-the-minute information on which to base their teaching decisions. Also, the feedback loops established when teachers observe, respond and evaluate in ‘real time’, improved their teaching practices.
Leaders have a critical role in fostering teaching as inquiry as an ongoing tool for learning. In schools that were somewhat informative and supportive of teaching as inquiry, ERO found that leaders had established systems for inquiry.
For example, they had established expectations that teachers would engage in teaching as inquiry through their performance management system.
Leaders can also help to embed inquiry practice among teacher communities by helping teachers to make links between the theory of inquiry and the contexts in which it can be applied.
In the 21 per cent of schools where teacher inquiry was highly informative and supportive, school leaders had established processes for professional learning and reflection. In these schools, there was a sense that inquiry was well on the way to being embedded and sustained within the school culture.
One challenge highlighted in ERO’s evaluation is for teachers to adopt teaching as inquiry as a constructive process in which their continuous deep thinking about students’ learning and their responsive actions pave the way for all students to succeed.
 
Making it work
To make teaching as inquiry a useful and integral part of everyday teaching practice in New Zealand schools and classrooms, ERO recommends that schools:
Review, periodically, the extent to which teaching as inquiry is being used in the school, with the purpose of identifying inquiry practices that are positively impacting on learners’ learning, and aspects of practice that could be improved.
Extend teachers’ understanding of inquiry approaches and the ways these can be used to improve learning and teaching, particularly for learners whose learning should be accelerated.
Establish expectations and guidelines for planning and evaluation that have a clear focus on using analysed assessment information to bring about improved learning outcomes for learners.
Access support to further develop teachers’ understanding of The New Zealand Curriculum. ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education continues to support school leaders and teachers to carry out robust and effective teaching as inquiry practice.
In schools that were somewhat informative and supportive of teaching inquiry, ERO found that leaders had established systems for inquiry. For example, they had set up the performance management system.
One challenge highlighted was for school leaders to consider how information about learners’ learning needs can be used to focus on building the capacity of teachers to improve their learners’ learning.
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