Teacher Inquiry Questions

At Durringtion High School, our teachers are currently thinking about their inquiry question, as a part of the appraisal process.  Each teacher reflects on their classroom practice and identifies an aspect of their teaching that they want to refine and develop over the coming year.  This is then used to create an ‘inquiry question’ that will help to drive and focus the development of this aspect of their teaching, using the following structure:

‘What impact does [what practice?] delivered [over how long?] have on [what outcome?] for [whom?]’

Here are two examples of inquiry questions that teachers have used previously:

  • What impact does interrogative questioning delivered during the course of the year have on deeper understanding of key concepts to improve attainment for my KS4 classes?
  • What impact does explicit teaching of and retrieval practice of Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary delivered over a year have on quality of exam responses (4-6 mark questions) for middle attaining girls in my KS4 classes?

By making this one aspect of their teaching the focus of their deliberate practice over the course of the year, teachers are much more likely to embed the approach and develop their teaching, than they are if they try to focus on too many things. With the latter approach, it becomes difficult to focus on so many things, the focus isn’t sustained and the impact is minimal.

This approach also gives teachers ownership over their CPD,  as they have selected the inquiry question themselves.  This brings with it a greater personal investment in sustaining the focus on improving that aspect of their teaching, as it’s something they have chosen to focus on.  This can also make lesson observations more focused and useful.  Rather than just being generic, observations can have a single foci, framed around the inquiry question, which the teacher can direct e.g. ‘when observing the lesson, can you look at how well I follow up student responses to questions with a more challenging question to promote thinking?’  This can provide really useful feedback for the teacher.  Some curriculum areas have come to a joint decision and all have a similar theme to their inquiry question e.g. the maths team, might all choose to focus on metacognition, as it’s a priority for that team.  One of the advantages of this approach, is that it allows teachers to discuss specific pedagogical approaches, within the context of their subject.

From a whole school perspective, there are clear benefits.  Every teacher is focused on and getting better at, mobilising an aspect of evidence informed teaching.  The cumulative effect of this across the school is enormous and has the potential to have a significant impact on the learning of our students.

In order to ensure an alignment between whole school teaching and learning priorities and the inquiry questions, teachers are asked to frame their inquiry questions around one of these evidence informed themes:

  • Metacognition
  • Memory
  • Formative Assessment
  • Disciplinary Literacy
  • Cognitive Load Theory

As this is now the third year of us taking this approach, a number of teachers are sticking with the inquiry question they had last year. This is fine – real and embedded change takes time, so it might be entirely sensible to continue to focus on the same aspect of teaching.

The diagram above describes how our school CPD programme supports this approach.  Once teachers have finalised their inquiry question, there will be three points during the year, when they will meet with other teachers who are focusing on the same theme – in a ‘Teacher Inquiry Group’.  So for example, any teacher whose inquiry question is based on disciplinary literacy will meet up and discuss this theme.  Each ‘Teacher Inquiry Group’ is facilitated by a member of the Research School Team.  During these meetings teachers will:

  • Explore some of the research evidence on this theme, by reading and discussing a paper on it.
  • Pick out the key ideas from this paper.
  • Share and discuss approaches they have tried – including what seemed to work and what didn’t.
  • Commit to trying out a new approach based on the research evidence and discussions they have had.

This also gives teachers the opportunity to hear about the  approaches that are being adopted in other curriculum areas.  This compliments our ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’, where curriculum teams meet every fortnight to discuss ‘what are we teaching over the next fortnight and how do we teach it well?’  This gives a good blend to our CPD – fortnightly subject specific input, alongside termly cross-curricular sharing. Between the ‘Teacher Inquiry Group’ meetings, members of the Research School Team are available for one to one coaching, to help sustain the work.

The ‘inquiry question’ approach to CPD ticks many of the boxes that the research evidence around effective CPD points us towards:

  • Targeted – individual teachers identify a specific aspect of their teaching that they want to develop.
  • Sustained – time is given over the year for teachers to reflect, discuss and share how this is going.  Furthermore, they stay with one specific area to develop over the year.
  • Collaborative – there are opportunities to discuss and share ideas with peers.
  • Evidence Informed – the inquiry questions are all framed around evidence informed approaches.
  • Blended – there is a blended approach to the CPD e.g. Input from the Research School team at the Teacher Inquiry Group meetings on a piece of research evidence, is then supported by ongoing and personalised coaching.

A commitment to continuing to improve as a teacher, is an integral part of the culture at Durrington High School.  The ‘inquiry question’ approach is a key part of this.

Shaun Allison

Shaun Allison is Director of the Durrington Research School and Head of School Improvement for DMAT.  He is co-leading two training programmes this year – ‘Curriculum, Teaching & Assessment‘ and ‘Leading Learning‘. 


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1 Response to Teacher Inquiry Questions

  1. Marooney, Sue says:

    Great piece S and love definition .
    Hope weekend lovely

    Sue Marooney
    Executive Headteacher/CEO

    Durrington High School
    Durrington Multi Academy Trust

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