School Resources

The spiral of inquiry: An introduction to scanning

The purpose of the scanning phase of teacher inquiry is to get an overview of the whole group of students and their areas of strength and need. This should be broad rather than focused on easily measured academic outcomes. It should also include student behaviour, engagement, learning dispositions and teacher practice, and invite the perspectives of students, families and communities. Scanning helps teachers become aware of a range of factors that are relevant to their teaching. It enables them to unpack curriculum requirements and understand where there are differences between students’ expected and actual learning in order to identify gaps and plan appropriate action towards improvement.

A guide to the scanning phase 

It is beneficial to start with a question. Questions about differences, gaps, characteristics and qualities, the impact of teaching practices and curriculum and so on provide useful starting points. 

Scans may be imperfect initially and you may need to conduct more than one scan, but it is important to just get started. Be curious about learners and their learning, and your own teaching practice. Remember not to rush, but don’t get bogged down in this phase either. Get an overview, not perfect coverage. Expect the process of scanning in the first cycle of inquiry to take several weeks. 

As you begin to investigate, try to describe student learning as accurately as possible. Aim to understand where students are in their learning alongside the desirable outcomes at their level in national and school-level curricula. Look at students’ learning processes, or what they are saying or demonstrating about their thinking during a task, as well as their outcomes.Don’t just rely on evidence already available such as test results or student portfolios, but seek a range of evidence, including student voice. Remember that informal assessment can be just as important as formal assessment, because student achievement data describes results but not what led to them. It can be useful to use informal assessment data including students’ class work, your own observations, and learning conversations with students.

It is also valuable to include diverse areas of learning such as the arts or physical education, the key competencies from The New Zealand Curriculum, students’ cultural identities, social emotional learning factors, and students’ ability to build connections.Remember to invite student, family and community perspectives, especially for evidence about areas other than achievement. Students will often willingly talk about what does and doesn’t work for them if they trust their teacher to listen to them without judgement or criticism. Maintain high expectations for students, and ask yourself whether the experiences of students are providing them with the valuable opportunities for learning they need in order to succeed and thrive.

Once you have started to gather evidence, you can begin to analyse it. It might be helpful toshare your data with your team or a critical friend to reflect on what the data might be telling you. Don’t rely on a single source of data, or over-privilege certain types of data (especially standardised tests), as this will not capture the richness of all that you want your students to achieve. Stay open to new information and insights: scanning doesn’t mean finding evidence to support the status quo. It might be useful to create a data overview that contains a succinct and well-organised summary of data relevant to your question to provoke thinking and discussion. 

Tools for scanning 

The following data collection tools may be useful to teachers during the scanning phase, although it is not necessary to use any formal tools during scanning. Make a plan for where and when you will use a data collection tool to collect evidence and consider how much data will you collect, as more than one set of data may allow you to build a better understanding of the aspect of your practice you are investigating. 

This template is designed to help teachers develop a sense of what is happening for students in their classroom. The tool equips you to collect observational data, as well as student perspectives on the learning programme and their progress during the lesson. There is also space to plot student progress and achievement. This tool is a starting point, so any findings would need to be explored in a broader context and further evidence collected prior to moving onto the focusing phase. 

PDF file or Word .docx file

This tool has been designed for use by a colleague or critical friend to observe a lesson or part of a lesson and collect observational data. It also provides a tool to collect data on your interactions with students, student voice and measure student progress during the lesson. Teachers could also use this template when watching a video of their own practice.

PDF file or Word .docx file

This tool is designed to help you bring all your data together to assess its quality and thoroughness, and to look for emerging patterns, categories and trends that are worthy of attention in the subsequent stages of inquiry.

PDF file or Word .docx file

This tool is designed to help you bring all your data together to assess its quality and thoroughness, and to look for emerging patterns, categories and trends that are worthy of attention in the subsequent stages of inquiry.

PDF file or Word .docx file

This survey tool is designed to allow you to collect student voice across a range of academic and socio-emotional factors.

PDF file or Word .docx file

Next steps

Once you’ve collected a data set, consider whether you need to collect more data, or if you are ready to move on to the focusing stage. Sharing your data with a colleague or your team might be helpful at this stage.


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.