Friday, 29 April 2016

Week 20: Class Notes: Teaching as Inquiry

For the past three weeks we have been looking at how you can use research in order to develop an evidence-informed practice. For the next four weeks the focus shifts from using research to becoming a researcher in your own classroom or school setting.
In your practice you are constantly deciding what to do and how to act. You will be evaluating and reflecting (either consciously or subconsciously and often both) on your teaching practice and making judgments on what you should do next. Adopting the stance of teacher researcher formalises these evaluative and reflective processes. As Wilson (2013) explains:
Researching our practice presents the opportunity to problem-solve more intelligently, through drawing on existing research findings and by using rigorous methods to collect evidence which helps clarify our thinking. Experiences of participating in an informed way, and acting freshly, offer the teacher for whom teaching has become a routine a sense of freedom, of meaning, of worthiness and consequently increased self- esteem. (Wilson, 2013, 5)
Concept of teacher as researcher
The concept of the teacher as researcher has a long history in the academic literature. Lawrence Stenhouse in the 1970s first popularised the idea of teachers acting as researchers of and in their practice. Stenhouse believed that ‘educational knowledge exists in, and is verified or falsified in, its performance’ (Stenhouse, 1984, p.110).
Schon (1983) developed the concept of the reflective practitioner, invests teachers with an active role in the procurement and development of the specialised knowledge that they require to become expert teachers. Schon believes that teachers’ personal, practical knowledge is developed only when teachers reflect on their actions:
He [the teacher] reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behaviour. He carriers out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation. (Schon, 1983, 68).
Lytle and Cochran-Smith (1992) built upon and extended Schon’s theory of the reflective practitioner to suggest that teachers also learn and create new knowledge by assuming an inquiry stance within their practice. They claim that ‘what is worth knowing about teaching includes teachers’ ‘ways of knowing’, or what teachers, who are researchers in their own classrooms, can know through their own systematic subjectivity’ (p.43). Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999) developed the concept of ‘knowledge-of- practice’, which places teachers at the centre of knowledge production. It assumes that the knowledge teachers need to teach effectively is generated when teachers treat their classrooms and schools as research spaces. Teachers conduct inquiry projects into their practice, as well as interrogating and interpreting the knowledge and theory produced by others, to create knowledge that is applicable and relevant to their teaching context.
The importance of teacher research/inquiry
There are two main themes dominating discussions of why teacher research is important. The first relates to the importance of teacher-created knowledge for improvement in teaching and learning, and in particular student outcomes. The second centres on notions of teacher professionalism. The following quotes represent various reasonings behind the importance of teacher-research or teacher-inquiry.
It is a community of teachers that is needed to work together to ask the questions, evaluate their impact and decide on the optimal next steps … Such passion for evaluating impact is the single most critical lever for instructional excellence – accompanied by understanding this impact, and doing something in light of the evidence and understanding (Hattie, 2012).
The critical characteristics of that extended professionalism which is essential for well-founded curriculum research and development seem to me to be:
  • The commitment to systemic questioning of one’s own teaching as a basis for development
  • The commitment and the skills to study one’s own teaching
  • The concern to question and to test theory in practice by the use of those skills
To this may be added a readiness to allow other teachers to observe one’s work – directly or through recordings – and to discuss it with them on an open and honest basis. (Stenhouse, 1975)
Enquiry stands at the centre of all activities in developing an activist teacher. Professional teachers are viewed as researchers of their own practices, capable of producing worthwhile knowledge about teaching which can contribute their own and others’ professional development (Sachs, 2003).
Teacher research has the potential to act as an important source of teacher and academic professional renewal and development because learning standards at the core of this renewal through the production and circulation of new knowledge about practice (Sachs, 2003).
Teaching as Inquiry: The New Zealand Context
Teaching as inquiry is a process that involves educators investigating the impact of their decisions and practice on students. The New Zealand Curriculum describes it as a cyclical process in which questions are posed, evidence is gathered and decisions are made. Aitken and Sinnema (2008) describe teaching as inquiry as a systematic process for teachers to use in their classrooms, which draws on successful experience of teachers and research sources.
Teaching as Inquiry goes beyond the reflective practices teachers regularly employ to develop a more systematic approach for investigating and evaluating practice. Below is the page from the NZC describing what teaching as inquiry is.
For more information about teaching as inquiry read Graeme Aitken’s background paper, The inquiring teacher (available from
It is also worth watching a video Graeme Aitken has made on teaching as inquiry (
Tasks for this week
1. Read through the class notes on teaching and research in New Zealand. These are designed to give you some background on the concept of the teacher researcher and to provide a brief introduction to the teaching as inquiry model, as it is established in the New Zealand Curriculum.
The following activities will help to give you a better understanding of teaching as inquiry
2. Read Graeme Aitken’s paper on teaching as inquiry and watch the video presentation he gives about the importance and nature of teaching as inquiry. Both are available from:
3. To get more of an understanding of how the teaching as inquiry model can work in practice have a look at some of the short videos, which discuss various inquiry projects that teachers have been involved in.
Aitken, G. & Sinnema, C. (2008). Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences: Tikanga ā Iwi: BES. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
Cochran-Smith, M. and Lytle, S. (1999). The Teacher Research Movement: A Decade Later. Educational Researcher, 28, 15-25.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London: Routledge.
Lytle, S. & Cochran-Smith, M. (1992). Teacher Research as a Way of Knowing. Harvard Educational Review, 62, 447-474.
Sachs, J. (2003). The activist teaching profession. Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Schon, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.
Stenhouse, L. (1975). An introduction to curriculum research and development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishers.
Stenhouse, L. (1984). Artistry and Teaching: the Teachers as Focus of Research and Development. In D. Hopkins and M. Wideen (Eds.), Alternative Perspectives on School Improvement (pp. 67-76). Lewes and Philadlephia: Falmer Press.
Wilson, E. (2013). School-based Research: A guide for education students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 

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