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School Resources

The spiral of inquiry: An introduction to checking

This phase involves checking the effectiveness of the changes made and the new approaches trialled in the taking action phase by assessing their impact on students and their learning. It is essential to collect and evaluate information on the impact of new strategies and practices on student learning, the learning environment and student outcomes to inform the future direction of the inquiry. Change does not always equal improvement or transformation, and there may be instances where teachers change what they are doing only to find that not much has changed for their learners, so it is important to ask whether enough of a difference has been made and to seek corroborating evidence.  

During the scanning and focusing phases, teachers make decisions about the methods and evidence needed to check the impact of their inquiry. The checking phase is crucial because it involves collecting this evidence and analysing it in order to determine what comes next. It is important to note that this is not the last phase of inquiry but rather a bridge between the first cycle of inquiry and what comes next in the learning and improvement journey. 

A guide to the checking phase

Start by clarifying what counts as success by checking back to the intentions for improvement identified earlier in the spiral and use this a key success criterion. Maintain high expectationsthat your inquiry-led actions will make a significant difference for all your students and revisit your goal(s)from the taking action phase. Have the outcomes you had envisioned for your students at the forefront of your mind when checking to see if your actions have been effective. 

Next, revisit and review the data collected and the collection methods you used in the scanning and focusing phases and collect a new, separate data set to assess impact. Replicate the data collected in the scanning and focusing phases by using the same tools, and consider if you need to supplement data to assess impact.Do you have enough evidence to know if you are making a difference? How much difference will be enough? Consider data of all kinds (formal test results, accounts of learning from work samples, images, observations, ongoing assessment information, and student reflections or surveys) to find out about both student achievement and progress and students’ experiences, such as the impact on engagement, motivation, enjoyment or their perception of themselves as learners.

As well as searching for evidence that proves your actions have been effective, also search for evidence that suggests the approach might not be working (for example, for particular groups of students or specific subjects), and consider different levels of impact – the impact on groups, classes, and individual students as well as particular gender or cultural groupings. Ask critical questions,and don’t use checking to justify your actions but be open to what the evidence says about the effects on your students’ learning. Remember to check regularly and give your innovation and change time to have an impact, but don’t leave it too long in case the strategies you are exploring are ineffective. Generally, a school term is a sufficient period of time to trial a new practice before beginning to check its impact. 

Be prepared to adjust your practice as you proceed with the checking phase.Return to your plans from the taking action phase, reflect on the actual outcomes for students and set a new goal.What different approaches could you try? What can you adapt, refine or revise in your understanding of your students’ learning? Make adjustments immediately, and maintain an inquiry mindset. If you do not get the results you hoped for initially, remember there is always something to learn. Deepen your processes of observation, listening, and critical thought. Be patient, and be willing to risk being wrong and to learn from failure. Try again.

Tools for checking 

The following tools may be useful during the checking phase. You might also like to revisit and reuse some of the tools from previous phases to compare student performance and measure progress.

Evaluate and measure the impact of your inquiry.

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Use this table to collate and compare the data from the beginning of the inquiry in the scanning and focusing phases and in the checking phase.

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Use this table to collate and critically interrogate your data for this inquiry. This tool includes some critical questions to help you evaluate the impact your actions has had on your teaching practice and student learning.

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Use the same data collection methods as you did in the scanning phase in order to measure the effectiveness of your actions.

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Revisit your Detailed Action Plan from the taking action phase to examine your findings, reflect, and set a new SMART goal for the next cycle of your inquiry.


References

Handscomb, G., & MacBeath, J. (2006) Professional development through teacher enquiry. SET – Resources for teachers, 1, 40-45.

The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. (2010).Collaborative teacher inquiry: New directions in professional practice. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/CBS_SystemLeaders.pdf

Timperley, H., Kaser, L., & Halbert, J. (2014). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry (Seminar series 234). Melbourne: Centre for Strategic Education.