The stages of the cycle are shown in Figure 1 below. The first two stages involve you undertaking research to better understand the problem to be addressed, the middle two phases focus on building capacity and applying learning and the final stage is examining the impact of the changes made to your practice.
Figure 1: Stages of inquiry cycle
The answer to this can be found through the interpretation of learner data. Dr Helen Timperley, Professor Emeritus of Education at The University of Auckland, states that it is important for teachers to view learner data as a way to identify areas for their own improvement, and not as an indicator of the capability of the learner. For this reason, she advises that the data used to inform an inquiry cycle should be curriculum-related assessment information, as this is more useful in highlighting learning needs than data that reflects a learner’s usual achievement, but is not curriculum related.
You should work with education setting leaders, mentors, or other relevant experts to analyse the learner data and learn how your practice could be improved to address the gaps in learner outcomes. Timperleyadvises asking the following questions:
- How have I contributed to existing learner outcomes?
- What do I already know that I can use to promote improved outcomes for learners?
- What do I need to learn to do to promote these outcomes?
- What sources of evidence or knowledge can I use?
By asking these questions, you are engaging in reflection around your current teaching practice and acknowledging the impact your practice has on the outcomes of the learners in your class. This is a difficult undertaking, but through unpacking learner data, you can get a more objective view of the strengths and areas for development in your practice.
An inquiry into the improvement of learner outcomes is more likely to succeed when aligned with a deepening of pedagogical content knowledge and an understanding of theories that underpin assessment information, curriculum, and quality teaching. Focusing on skills alone will not provide you with the flexibility to meet the complex demands of each of your learners. It is important for you to be able to use your theoretical understanding to make links between the effects of different teaching activities on different groups of learners.
Once you have engaged in relevant professional learning, it must then be applied to the classroom. High quality professional learning should be delivered in a way that is implementable within a classroom setting. Through speaking with other teachers, mentors, or leaders who have experience in the relevant area, you can get tips on how they have successfully implemented similar adjustments within their classroom. While increased engagement or enthusiasm on the part of the learners may be seen relatively early into the implementation, it is important to note that some adjustments may take longer to have a visible impact on learner outcomes.
You should regularly measure the impact on learner outcomes. This can be through formal or informal methods and the frequency will be determined by the focus of your inquiry. Sometimes adjustments to practice may not have had the desired effect. In these instances, reflection on the data collected and the steps taken in the inquiry cycle may lead you to decide on a different adjustment. The professional learning undertaken can still be useful knowledge for the future, even if it may not have the desired effect in your current context.