Inquiry…making a difference

Friday’s Professional Development Day was rich in offerings.  Some of the events that I was aware of included LDSS hosting Patrick Young, a trauma counsellor and traditional healer, who helped participants deepen their understanding of Residential Schools and their continuing impact on our students and their families.

Darren Carpenter, in partnership with the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative, helped to organize a unique pro-d event where SD 91 staff were informed of the ongoing Sturgeon recovery initiative via a presentation followed by a guided tour of the facility.  In September of 2014 a fantastic curriculum outlining this project was shared with each of our schools.  A copy of this entire curriculum can be found HERE on the SD 91 website.

It was difficult to participate in all the offerings but I was able to spend some time with school teams from across the district participating in an ‘Inquiry’ process.  I arrived in time to listen to Michelle Miller-Gauthier, Dave Beck and Debbie Koehn lead teams through some guidance around inquiry.

The process of both student-led and teacher-led ‘inquiry’, is playing a key role in informing and shaping transformative work across BC schools.  It’s clear that many BC schools, both public and independent, are involved in inquiry questions.

Spiral-of-inquiry_lightbox.pngWhat is Inquiry and what impact do we hope it will have on our students?

The model that was being shared with SD 91 school teams is based on the Spiral of Inquiry work that is well described in a handbook that was created jointly by Drs. Judy Halbert, Linda Kaser and the BC Principal and Vice Principals Association.  This work is described in detail on the Networks of Innovation and Inquiry website.  The deadline for schools to submit 2015-16-AESN-NOII-Inquiry-Proposal-Submission-Form is Friday, Nov. 27th.

The Spiral of Inquiry is based on 3 guiding questions:

  • What is going on for our learners?
  • How do we know this?
  • How does this matter?

These questions guide the ‘Spiral of Inquiry’ process which follows a framework with six key stages:

  • Scanning (What is going on for your learners?)
  • Focussing (What’s going to give you the biggest impact?)
  • Developing a hunch (What’s leading to this situation?)
  • New professional learning (What do you need to learn and how will you design this learning?)
  • Taking Action (What can we do differently to make enough of  a difference?)
  • Checking (Have we made enough of a difference?)

These six stages are well described in this document from NOII (Networks of Inquiry and Innovation).

Just prior to letting teams begin their work independently, there was a reminder about the learning that many of us are doing around Assessment For Learning and the significant positive impact of student self-assessment on student learning.  Many of us are familiar with the meta-analysis work of John Hattie looking at structures that impact student learning.  At the top of the list is Student Self-Assessment.

As a way of demonstrating how this might be done, we watched a great video from Ron Berger, titled Austin’s Butterfly.  This is well worth watching for those of us thinking about and trying various formative assessments in our classrooms.

Although I wasn’t able to sit with every school team, I did want to acknowledge the teams and their deep inquiry questions as we hope to stay connected with them as they move forward on their inquiry journies.

Nechako Valley Secondary Middle Years Team

  • How can we change exploration block to address the issues of student NVSS Teamengagement, multi-modal learning, and an exploration of personal interests?  Focusing on content isn’t meeting the needs of our learners or in line with the new curriculum. Best practice has shifted from content based instruction to skill based learning (developing competencies). With the support of Debbie Koehn, we will implement student-based inquiry during Exploration block.

William Konkin Elementary

  • Focusing on ways to support struggling readers. Looking at establishing and recording baseline reading levels for French Immersion students; exploring and implementing instructional practices to develop joyful engagement and proficiency in reading; and developing common understandings and monitoring of developmental progressions of reading skills across grade levels.

David Hoy Elementary

  • Looking at a structre to increase ability of students to create their own inquiry questions.  In order to encourage a sense of belonging we are supporting teachers in classroom practice by affirming individual classroom scanning, giving teachers room to develop their focus on the perceived needs of the students by focusing on the common need to develop student ownership.

Sinkut View Elementary

  • Supporting students’ understanding of ‘what’s important’ in what they read or view (distilling important ideas and details). Our hunch was that students did not understand the difference between the Topic and the Main Idea and therefore were unable to provide supporting details. Their focus was on finding the quick answer. We plan to take more opportunities to collaborate with each other, with teachers from other schools and outside support people in order to analyze and reflect on how we are approaching our students’ learning needs.

Fraser Lake Elementary – Secondary

  • Becoming more aware of our local First Nations’ values through conversations, meetings with local people in our First Nations communities as we strive to embed more Aboriginal/Indigenous content in our classrooms.

Evelyn Dickson Elementary

  • Developing and strengthening growth mindsets in learners by reflecting on the language the adults use with learners, by slowing down to ensure mastery rather than rushing through curriculum and closely looking at how we communicate with parents about student learning.

Fort St James Secondary

  • Exploring ways to engage in authentic learning to increase engagement and creating structures to promote personal identity through student / FSJSS Teamcommunity stories. Questions we are exploring: How do people understand place? Why do people see places differently? How does Geography imprint on us, and how do we imprint on it? What are the stories of this place? Who tells the stories of this place? How are stories shared? Who has a voice to tell stories? How can students telling stories enrich their understanding of themselves and their place in this area. What is the power of story to ground learning.

WL McLeod

  • Strengthening student ownership of learning through more adaptive and responsive teaching as well as by providing more engaging ways of learning. Teachers are developing their professional skills in a variety of areas, including Universal Design for Learning with a focus on technology, game based learning and outdoor/eco education.

Debbie, Michelle and Dave had a number of resources that they were recommending to inquiry teams and some of those that I can remember were:

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  1. This is so impressive – and thorough.
    Thanks for your professionalism.
    I am sending this blog to England for the Whole Education people to learn from – I know
    they will be fascinated.


  2. Dear Manu
    This is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much for sharing the work in SD 91 – and the school focus areas are so clear that we have forwarded your blog post to colleagues in England. I hope you don’t mind!!


    • Hi Judy & Linda…great to see you drop by One91. The depth of the school inquiries is a result of both hard work by the teams and the leadership of Michelle, Dave and Debbie. Lots of excitement in that room that day and we look forward to sharing our learning.

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