The ‘how’ of Practitioner Enquiry

By linking enquiry into student learning to teacher learning, teachers can gain an understanding of what it is they need to learn to improve outcomes for students and have a compelling reason to engage [in practitioner enquiry].
(Temperley, Parra & Bertanees (2009:120)

Within professional learning, enquiry is a tool to support practitioners to interrogate and improve their practice to have a positive impact on the learning of their students.

There are many different enquiry methods. Here we offer four which you may wish to try out as part of your professional learning, to find which works for you to improve the attainment or achievement of your students.

The four frameworks are:

Professional enquiry

This framework was adapted by GTC Scotland from a framework produced by Fearghal Kelly. The series of questions helps to prompt your actions at each stage of enquiry.

What’s the problem?Define then redefine your problem – make sure what you think is the issue is the issue!
How does it fit in?
How does it relate to local and national curriculum and assessment policies? 
What’s already known?Using Education Source – EBSCO – literature review
How will you tackle it?
What are we actually going to do?
How will you know what happened?How do you measure a change?
What’s the plan?What’s the situation now?
Implement the idea
What happened?What data did you collect?
What does that tell you?
What have you learnt?How are you going to change your practice?
How will you share?Who:
needs to know?
would like to know?
can also learn from your enquiry?
Spiral on Inquiry

This method of enquiry has been developed in British Columbia by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser and the network they have supported (Network of Inquiry and Innovation).

As with all inquiry methods this is a tool, which support practitioners to evaluate and adapt their practice driven by the learning needs of the young people they work with. It requires that practitioners ask questions of one’s practice, which may be simple but can lead to profound changes in practice.

1. ScanningInvolves collecting a variety of rich evidence and considering useful information in key areas of learning.
2. FocusingThis phase is about gaining greater clarity about the situation for learners before deciding on a course of action. This involves listening to all the stakeholders in the situation to understand the differing perspectives before committing to actions.
3. Developing a hunchDeveloping a hunch involves reflecting on the ways in which professional practice may be contributing to the situation for the learners. It requires the team to stand back and take stock of the key driver in the situation for learners.
4. New professional learningThis is the phase that advocates that practitioners should engage with research, as Halbert and Kaser state “the best innovation education solutions often draw on what is already known to develop something new that is consistent with sound theory and evidence” (p55). There are challenges within this phase which include ensuring that all practitioners have sufficient time to engage in new learning and that the professional learning is linked directly to their context with their learners in mind.
5. Taking actionTaking action is the phase that everyone has been itching to get to. It is the jumping across the knowing doing gap and trying out new practice with plenty of opportunities built in for dialogue, observation, reflection and the opportunity to take risks and learn from mistakes.
6. CheckingThe final phase of checking is the time to check that the difference made was ‘good’. The inquiry can only be thought of as ‘good’ if learner outcomes have improved. The key is to have a general agreement ahead of time about what evidence to look for and what.
Lesson Study

Lesson Study is an enquiry method used extensively in Japan to research and improve an area for development in students’ learning.

Stage 1Working in pair or triads, teachers set specific goals to address the students’ needs and curricular knowledge or skills to be developed.

Prior to stage 2, with the focus now identified, teachers undertake research into the concepts to be developed.
Stage 2Both planning for the ‘focus lesson’ and the data collection method are identified by the teachers.

Between stage 2 and stage, the teachers then plan the sequence of lessons around the ‘focus lesson’.
Stage 3This is the implementation phase where the ‘focus’ lesson is delivered by one member of the group and observed by the other members of the

The ‘focus’ lesson is both celebrated and reflected upon between stage 3 and 4.
Stage 4A detailed analysis of the data is undertaken and in-depth discussions around the learning of the student, teachers and the pedagogy used.

Finally, before the cycle starts again, the group has an opportunity to revise the ‘focus’ lesson and also reflect on the process.
Action Research

Action Research can be defined as research carried out within your practice to improve pedagogy to support student attainment and achievement.

1. Identifying the FocusWhat element(s) of my/our practice or what aspect of student learning do we wish to investigate?
2. Use research to inform your thinkingWhat is already known in this area?
3. Identify your specific focusGenerate a set of meaningful research questions to guide the inquiry.
4. Plan and implement your interventionWhat change are you going to make?
How will you measure the impact of this change?
5. Gather dataMost teacher researchers use a process called triangulation to enhance the validity and reliability of their findings by using multiple data sources.

There is lots of evidence already in everyday practice so the key to managing triangulated data collection is, first, to be effective and efficient in collecting the
data available to you on a daily basis, and, second, to identify other sources of data for example tests, classroom discussions, or questionnaires.
6. Analyzing dataWhat is the story told by these data sources?
Why did the story play itself out this way?
7. Evaluate and report the resultsHow does the data story support the pupils’ attainment and achievement?
How does it support your learning?
The reporting of action research usually happens in informal settings or by a written report but choose the way which is most helpful for you
8. Taking Informed ActionYour learning can be applied in other area and then you can start to identify whether you need to deepen your learning in this area or change focus
to another area for development.
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