Tag Archives: teacher inquiry

Teacher Inquiry – have we got the right timeframe?

We made a deliberate decisions this year to split our professional inquiries into two distinct parts, aligned to the professional development we were engaging in as a staff. Term 1 & 2 – an inquiry focused on literacy, Term 3 & 4 – an inquiry focused on maths. As we have wrapped up our literacy inquiries and transitioned from one inquiry to the next, the conversations have centred around the legitimacy of short term inquiries vs annual inquiries and whether either of these approaches are an authentic approach that really enables teachers to inquire into an aspect of their professional practice and result in embedded change. The question I pose is:

Are we limiting the effectiveness and impact of our inquires by constraining them to set timeframes?

Some background first… When I reflect on the professional inquiries I engaged in as a teacher, these were tied into the annual process of appraisal, starting in Term 1 and concluding in Term 4. The following year a new inquiry commences and so on. Similarly, as a principal I have facilitated teachers inquiring into their practice on an annual cycle as part of their performance management. I would suggest that this is a common approach in many NZ schools.

Constraining learning to time limits is a habit in education… but one that is increasingly being challenged in a more flexible and personalised approach to learning and how learning is managed. Not sure what I mean? Just think of your classic daily timetable in a classroom, 10 minutes silent reading, then 45 mins for reading, followed by 15 minutes of handwriting after which we go out for 15 minutes of fitness. Or perhaps think of the times your students are so engaged and focused on their learning only to be interrupted by the bell or ‘needing’ to move to the another area.

Sometimes time is the enemy, it constrains or limits what we can do. What we can learn.

Let’s transfer that thinking to our professional inquiries which generally go from Term 1 to 4, aligned to a similarly scheduled appraisal process. It makes sense, an individual inquiry is often focused on a target group of students which are in your class, its relevancy is based on the now, related to recently collected and analysed data. Its convenient, it fits with how we organise the school year, works with fixed term positions, allows us to come together as teachers on the same pathway and summarise our findings at the end of the year.

I just wonder though that we are pushing through inquiries too quickly and that changing the focus on an annual basis takes away what could be a richness and depth of inquiry leading to greater outcomes of effective teaching and impacts on student learning. That is not to say that a Term 1-4 inquiry does not have depth and impact, it is a prompt to consider what would happen if we keep building on our developing knowledge over time and at the saturation point we move on, not just because it is the end of the year.

So this may lead to a diversity of inquiries, with agentic teachers driving and managing their own learning. There would be multiple inquires, starting and finishing at different times, adapting to needs, responsive to mastery.

Sounds pretty much like our expectations for learners and learning in our future focused classrooms…

More questions than answers here but a good space for further thinking and investigation. Thanks to Bede for a conversation that prompted some of the thoughts above.

Appreciative Inquiry

As a national facilitator for the ICTPD programme, I am in a privaledged position, seeing the best of what is happening in schools around NZ. In most schools, teaching as inquiry is used to guide practice, in varying degrees, from the casual “our teachers are constantly inquiring into what they do” to the formalised approach and expectations that the inquiry is documented, mentored and reflected upon.

I favour the formal approach, prioritising teaching as inquiry and embedding it within a schools PLD programme. We know that the NZC outlines teaching as inquiry as being integral to effective pedagogy, well supported by research and it shouldn’t be left to chance.

As teachers inquiry into their practice they focus on 3 questions:

  1. What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at?
  2. What strategies (evidence-based) are most likely to help my students learn this?
  3. What happened as a result of the teaching, and what are the implications for future teaching?

Often this is interpreted as a deficit model, looking at under achieving students or a weak curriculum area within a class or school. Without question these students are priorities for any school and the responsibility to progress these students is non-negotiable.

However, an alternative approach to this is appreciative inquiry, which when embedded in classroom practice has the same intent of raising achievement and outcomes, but takes a different approach:

AI is based on the assumption that organizations change in the way they inquire — an organization that inquires into problems or difficult situations will keep finding more of the same, but an organization that tries to appreciate what is best in itself will find more and more of what works well. Source

AI is framed around a four step process…

  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well, focusing on strengths, best practices, and values.
  2. DREAM: The envisioning of future states and processes that could work well in the future, given the nature and capabilities of the organization.
  3. DESIGN: The planning, design, and prioritizing of processes and aspects of the organization that could realize the dream.
  4. DESTINY: Implementation planning of the proposed design and action planning to strengthen the capability of the system to sustain ongoing positive change. Source

This table compares a problem solving approach/deficit model to a AI approach, adapted here from a Wikipedia entry. The difference is in the way questions are asked about a situation, envisioning the future and building on what works rather than fixing what doesn’t.

Problem Solving Appreciative Inquiry
Felt Need: Identification of problem/s Appreciating: Valuing the best of what is
Analysis of causes Envisioning what might be
Analysis of possible solutions Dialoguing what should be
Action planning (treatment) Innovating what will be
Basic assumption: A problem to be solved Basic assumption: A miracle to be embraced

What could this mean for you as a teacher or school leader?

  • Both approaches of inquiring into practice have the same intent of improving achievement for both student and teachers.
  • Elements of AI can be embedded into a traditional inquiry into practice where  teachers identify their course of action i.e. What strategies (evidence-based = the best of what is… successful…) are most likely to help my students learn this?
  • AI is known primarily as a process for managing institutional change, so look at the potential of using it beyond classroom practice to the greater goals of the school i.e. appreciative inquiry could work brilliantly when visioning and looking at long term strategic direction for a school, complimented by classroom based teacher inquiries.
  • If you are a high functioning school and consistently have great achievement data try AI to really focus in on why this is happening and how you can build in it
  • Consider trying an alternating scenario where you have a more common deficit inquiry approach one year followed by an appreciative approach the next, or any similar schedule
  • Are your teachers lacking motivation or engagement in unpacking what they are not doing well…? Celebrate success through an AI approach to professional knowledge building

One ICTPD cluster has shared its approach to appreciative inquiry and drafted templates to mould the NZC teaching as inquiry into an AI framework. Have a look on the Te Apiti cluster site to find out more.

This post has only skimmed the surface of what is a really interesting and relevant context for approaching teaching as inquiry with direct links to effectively pedagogy. I would encourage you to explore it further.

Delicious is always a great place to start your search. Try the tags appreciativeinquiry, appreciative_inquiry and appreciative-inquiry & watch the video below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqHeujLHPkw

More ePortfolio Big Picture Questions…

Further to a previous post I have added three new discussion questions to use when thinking about some of big underlying themes surrounding eportfolios.

I can’t take credit for the thinking behind these questions as they have stemmed from comments left on this blog or through face to face discussions when visiting schools.

So here is the first one:

Thanks to Jamin Lietze, who left this comment:

…what measures is the school going to put in place so that there are consistencies between classroom ePortfolios? Parents will compare and complain if one teacher is not perceived as doing much.

I don’t know if my question reflects exactly the point Jamin is making, mine is more related to surface features but will recraft it at some stage. Jamin refers to the content and makes a valid point. Often in schools we ask for consistency and commonalities in ‘school-wide’ approaches to teaching and learning. There are core values and beliefs that guide what we do. At a different level schools may develop guidelines that describe expectations for such areas as planning and assessment. Is it therefore necessary to develop guidelines for eportfolios, what goes in them and how often? Or would this defeat the purpose of a student directed, student owned eportfolio that supports the learner and instead become a prescriptive teacher directed product?

Question 2:

A conversation with Deidre Alderson, principal of Willowbank School prompted this question. We were discussing eportfolios and getting parents online and involved in leaving comments and giving feedback to their children in these online spaces. I outlined how in my research parents of year 3 and 4 students showed a much higher involvement than those at year 5 and 6. We discussed a number of reasons why this may be which I also discussed in my research. Deidre had a new perspective on this. She suggests that how students want to get feedback and the form that feedback takes changes over time. For example, a younger student may really respond to and deliberately seek out feedback yet an older student may only want feedback when they specifically ask for it and perhaps not from you as a teacher or parent at all. While the eportfolio is only one of many ways to give feedback to students, is the feedback we are giving online inline with what they want, regardless of whether it is technically correct (purposeful, specific, related to criteria, includes next steps etc).

Question 3:

Thanks to Kathy Paterson and Carol Brieseman who both felt this question was worthy to be mentioned.Kathy asks:

perhaps there could be a question directed at the use and management of eportfolios for staff journeys?

Supported by Carol:

Staff documenting their own learning as an e-portfolio would help build confidence that may not be there at present.

I agree. As simple as the saying ‘walk the talk’ is, no more could it be truer here. And what a rich authentic alternative to an appraisal checklist type approach to teaching competency. Not to mention the reflective practice involved in an eportfolio that sits hand in hand with the teaching as inquiry approach to knowledge building. Why wouldn’t you want staff to have their own?

So there we go. Three more questions to discuss if you intend heading down the eportfolio route or if you are in the process of review how you are implementing them currently.

Once again, would love to hear of any questions or areas that I have not considered!

Special thanks to:

Photo 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/
Photo 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/raigverd/
Photo 3: http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/

Promoting Teacher Professional Learning and Development

ULearn09 Spotlight with Prof. Helen Timperley co author of the Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). The good news too is that this huge document has been synthesised into an brochure/pamphlet format to make it more accessible to educators, available here.

What are the kinds of teacher professional development and learning that leads to improved student learning?

Firstly, why do teachers need PD? Amongst other reasons, knowledge is changing and the way our students learn is becoming clearer as more research and information comes to light. Teachers learning from experience is not enough!

Four understandings about professional learning for improving student outcomes:

  1. Strongly influenced by what and how teachers teach
  2. PD cannot be an add on
  3. Effective PD responds to how teachers learn (too often we focus on how our students learn but not our teachers)
  4. Shaped by the context in which teachers practice. e.g. the environment, opportunities for PD and the students themselves.

What works?

Firstly formative assessment. Formative assessment works for teachers in the same way that it does for students. Teachers know why they are learning and what they are learning. They are in control of and monitor their own success. This is a key point as so often what we practice in the classroom is not mirrored in professional learning opportunities such as teacher only days or after school workshops. We need to adapt what we integrate into the classroom, and what we know works for our students, into our professional learning opportunities.

Secondly, effective professional learning is embedded in the teacher inquiry cycle (the following stages are adapted/revised from those in the BES).

>> What knowledge and skills do students needs? >> What knowledge do we as teachers need? >> Deepen professional knowledge and refine skills >> Engage in new learning experiences >> What has been the impact of our changed actions? >>

Principals of effective PD:

Focus on valued student outcomes: (matched to appropriate teaching activities or learning experiences). The success of any PD is determined by student outcomes NOT teacher skills.

Worthwhile content: known teaching knowledge and skills form the basis of effective PD, supported by research evidence.

Integration of knowledge and skill: essential to promote deep teacher learning. Deep knowledge of curriculum, how to teach effectively and how to assess. Integrating theory and practice.

Assessment for professional inquiry: a formative approach to what teachers need to know based on their analysis and information on student achievement.

Multiple opportunities to learn and apply: within a supportive and trusted and challenging environment.

Approaches are responsive to learning processes: different types of PD are required that relate to existing teacher beliefs. Teachers are as diverse as their students.

Opportunities to process new learning with others: teacher interaction, focused on student outcomes, helps teachers put new learning into their existing practice.

Knowledgeable expertise: to challenge assumptions and beliefs, develop new knowledge and skills.

ePortfolios: Parent Engagement 2

As I see it, trying to get more parents on board and participating in commenting and providing feedback in their child’s eportfolio has two distinct parts.

Firstly, and certainly a prerequisite to anything else, is getting parents online. Once they are online and viewing learning, then leaving any kind of comment is the first step. Then and only then can we begin to work on developing quality comments that provide feedback for improving learning.

Developing quality feedback in parents is the second part of the equation. Is it realistic? Achievable? Involving parents in elearning to support achievement has certainly been discussed in many reports and publications including Enabling the 21st Century Learner: An e-Learning Action Plans for Schools (PDF);

Research shows that parents who are involved in their children’s learning, and encourage their children to be the best they can be, make a real and positive difference to how their children learn.  The influence and involvement of parents and whanau, in addition to effective teachers, has a significant positive impact on how well students achieve.

It goes on to stay;

Schools need to work with families, whanau, and their communities to foster understanding of how to use ICT effectively in learning. ICT provides new possibilities for following students’ progress and engagement…

So the justification is there, and it perfectly compliments the principles of formative teaching and learning which is alive and strong in our school.

So where now? My first approach will be to use the students as teachers. By utilising their technical know-how, their understanding of the purpose behind the learning and the crucial component of them being their to sharing their learning with their parents, they are in the prime position for facilitating the change and making a difference. Here’s some of what I plan to do to make it happen.

  • Specifically plan for increased peer/buddy/critical friend written feedback in eportfolios. These strategies are well used in class already but making a conscious effort to plan for and make time for it to take place is necessary. Students (and teachers!) need plenty of practice in writing and giving quality feedback. If the students are going to guide their parents with this they need to be giving prompts, asking questions and other feedback strategies.
  • Continue to model effective teacher feedback on learning in class and through eportfolios. My role is ever important and as I model commenting and giving quality feedback this will set an example for both parents and students to follow and use when constructing their own feedback. Just as we use quality exemplars of learning to guide students to success in their learning, effective modeling will set the expectations for others to follow.
  • Facilitate/build capacity for students as teachers/guides in process. This is where I am aiming and the two previous points contribute to this. However I think more deliberate discussions around feedback, parent involvement, knowing how to get better at what you are doing, and students becoming teachers themselves will really build capacity in this area.

That’s what rolls off the top of my mind at the moment. Hopefully no glaring gaps in my thinking…

One thing I have failed to mention so far is that last year while I was completing my research, an honours student was simultaneously carry out a research project around our eportfolios and how they were involving parents in the learning of their children. This research may well answer some of the why questions relating to parents engagement. I have not read the final copy of this research but will hopefully grab a copy of it in the next week and post some of the results. Should be interesting reading.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/