Collection: Teaching as Inquiry


Tags: digitalnz, evidence, learning, pedagogy, Teaching as Inquiry

This page outline key elements for teachers to make it easy to interpret and use the Teaching as Inquiry framework from the New Zealand Curriculum. My simplified diagram  identifies four key components (a 'problem'/context; an intervention; data generation; analysis/reflection, leading to new action) of a Teaching as inquiry process. Teachers, once a structured question has been identified, can then examine the effects of a targeted intervention with a specific class at a specific time, for a specific purpose. The process also makes it easier to collect and examine data (evidence of the effect of the intervention) if the timeframe is short and the purpose is specific and is then more likely to lead to changes to future practices, and new cycles of inquiry.

This framework is intended to be a starting place for research. Starting can be the hardest part! If you use this process, I'd love to hear how well (or badly) it worked for you. 

The second page provides you with an infographic that attempts to distill some key characteristics of this process of learning about your practice in a systematic way

First created 2012; updated 2014, 2015, 2016

Some ideas: Teaching as Inquiry

Some theory

This outlines key ideas about action research. A study can be called research if it is disseminated beyond an individual - for example, through peer review at a conference, in a publication. Action research is something that is shared - often in its development as well as its findings:

Action research designs are systematic procedures done by teachers (or other individuals in an educational setting) to gather information about, and subsequently improve, the ways their particular educational setting operates, their teaching, and their students’ learning. Teacher researchers reflect on issues or problems they face, or select an area of focus, collect and analyse data, and implement changes based on their findings. (Cresswell, 2005, p. 550)

 The shared practice aspect is foregrounded in the next quote:

Action research is understood to be a social practice involving research and reflection, documenting actions, interventions, and analysis. As Goodnough argues, action research is usually a, ‘systematic inquiry into practice through cycles of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting [including] direct involvement of those responsible for the practice’ (2010, p. 167). (McKim & Wright, 2012)

 Teaching as Inquiry

This is a specific type of inquiry that is often about specific classrooms. As such it can be time-bound, class/context-bound and topic bound. This is why it is important to have a well-defined question to mitigate including things that will dissipate the focus on what matters for the inquiry. To that end, it:

  • is centred on some puzzle of practice
  • has a practical focus including an intervention (such as something new, like a using a new resource, an unfamiliar technology, or using a pedagogical or literacy strategy not tried before or used in a new way - more details are below)
  •  centres on educators’ own practices, in order, for example, to improve embedded literacy and numeracy learning, or trial the value of digital technologies, or different pedagogical approaches
  •  is usually collaborative
  •  tends to be dynamic and flexible
  •  requires a plan of action, and
  • is best used as a shared research process.

The Ministry of Education's Education Gazette also posted an update on Teaching as Inquiry. It's ideas reinforce the purpose of your task for PICT. 

Ethics and Teaching as Inquiry

Investigating practices that involve people require deep thought about the power relationships and what you want out of those involved (eg students and their feedback to you). Ethics requires that you:

  • Do no harm - this means honouring and protecting the interests and identities of those involved in your research
  • Are respectful of privacy and retaining anonymity where possible when you use data someone  else has provided
  • Are very aware of power differentials (see above)
  • Use rigorous practices to examine your data
  • Foresee potential problems and consider solutions
  • Ensure all participants show they understand what’s expected and what their rights are

So what is an intervention?

An intervention is the thing you plan to do differently, ( such as unfamiliar resources, pedagogical approaches, literacy strategies, digital technologies) that you will examine. The intervention might be using a resource in a new way (such as with a literacy approach). It might be deciding to use a digital technology for a learning purpose. Perhaps it's not been used before, or you want to use it in a new way. You will want to know if it helps make learning a positive experience for students and/or makes it easier for students to 'get' some new learning... 



Creative Commons license

Creative Commons license

Teaching as Inquiry by Dr Noeline Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license.

Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from Dr Noeline Wright.

Teaching as Inquiry: A process


Creating good questions

Your question is critical. Get this right, and everything else is easy. So, some pointers are:

1. make it specific and measurable in some way

2. Include reference to the intervention you intend to use in the lesson(s)

3. Include a reference to the topic/class/purpose/goal.

Example 1: I wanted to see if I could help my students write more informative paragraphs to show what they know about a topic since I knew this was a problem in the past. First, I gathered some examples of paragraphs others have written on the topic as a resource. My intervention centred on facilitating students doing a close analysis of the paragraphs by putting them into small groups with one paragraph each, and a set of targeted questions to answer about the text. To make it easy, the paragraph was in a big font, centred on a large piece of paper (A3) so there was lots of white space around it for adding notes to as they answered the questions and interrogated the paragraph. Each group then demonstrated to the rest of the class what they had found out, using their own notes as a guide. After each group shared, we collated and synthesised a list of things common to most of the texts. I wanted to know if students could create their knowledge about finding information linking to a topic sentence (ie statement/assertion/big idea), explanations (details about the big idea- definitions of terms, elaborated information to say more about the idea) and proof (examples, references to others' work/citation, anecdotes, evidence from research...).

This was a precursor to students writing their own paragraphs about the current topic in class for formal assessment.  A short survey asked them to provide feedback on whether they thought learning more about text type and format helped them know what to write themselves. This is using their perspectives to understand what the learning process was like. This made it easier for me to later think about their responses and make judgements about the value of the task. 

So: my Teaching as Inquiry question would look something like: If models of formal paragraphs are provided to students for interrogation, will their resulting knowledge about format and content help them improve their own formal writing?

Example 2: I knew that a particular equation was difficult for students to 'get' when I explained it on the board. So, my intervention was inviting students to use their mobile devices to record my explanation. We also covered ethical issues about the use of this recording first of all, so they were aware of the protocols they were expected to honour. I already knew that everyone had a device which could record this instruction. After it took place, I then gave students some tasks to do based on their own recording of the explanation. Some of these tasks they completed for homework. The next day, I asked them to complete a google form survey about this task because I wanted to know if their learning was enhanced. I wanted to know if this kind of strategy was worth repeating. 

So: my Teaching as Inquiry question would look something like: If I invite students to record my explanation of the target equation and then build tasks around their own recorded versions, will this help improve their understanding of how to use this equation?

Other links to Teaching as Inquiry in the NZ context

This SITE gives you other ways of looking at this same idea of Teaching as Inquiry. Interestingly, it references this page too!

I've added this link because it includes other ways of conceptualising Teaching as Inquiry as a model. These other options might help you extend your practices in the future by trying out other versions of this cycle to see which one is the best fit for you.

Also, the Ministry of Education explores, via TKI, using evidence for learning, and the cycle echoes the diagram above. 

Look too at the advice on the next page related to this topic. It distills the concepts some more. 


Cresswell, J.W. (2005). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

McKim, A., & Wright, N. (2012). Reflections on a collaborative adult literacy and numeracy action enquiry. Educational Action Research 20(3), September, 353366

An additional reference using visual images as a research tool in teaching as inquiry may be of use:

Bailey, N. M., & Van Harken, E. M. (2014). Visual images as tools of teacher inquiry. Journal of Teacher Education, 65(3), 241-260. DOI: 10.1177/0022487113519130



This template offers you a place to start to devise your own Teaching as Inquiry question. You will notice that it expects the qu to cover scope, context and topic and an expected outcome to test with evidence:

If [class - eg Year 13 Physics] use [insert relevant DIGITAL TOOL here] to [insert a purpose  for topic content/concept here], to what extent does it help students learn?

In your lesson plan, you have to add at least ONE deliberate means for collecting student feedback. In your myportfolio page/collection, include: (a) the questions you asked, (b) how you deliberately collected the feedback, and (c) quote examples of what students had to say. This is part of your evidence for analysis and reflection.

Action research in a matrix

HERE is a link to a matrix of components of action research that might be helpful. Each item in the matrix is a clickable link that take you to more detail. For example, in the first link, it takes you to page which outlines what AR IS, and, what it is NOT. As a summary, it is worth reading. 


26 September 2015, 8:54 AM
Mikaela Wilson
28 February 2016, 8:48 PM

I noticed the students in my class who found reading and writing difficult could not engage with S.S.R. and literacy focused learning. I researched dyslexia and found some strategies I could apply to their learning. We sat together and looked at videos of the subject they had chosen for their biography. I wrote headings in different coloured pens and asked them to write these down. I allowed them time to do this. When they had finished I asked if the coloured pens made a difference. "Yes, I can read that more easily" 

I then took images for them to discuss the subject. They were able to draw their ideas into their Inquiry books. After our time together I asked if they felt that they had learned something. It was a great pleasure to see a beaming smile and hear a yes!

Since then I have looked in to apps that can help with learning during school time. I have also read more articles on dyslexia and am trying to improve the style of delivery in our classroom. 




Dr Noeline Wright
29 February 2016, 9:05 AM

That sounds great Mikaela. To fully take advantage of the inquiry process, did you create a question to map your evidence against? To also probe your learners' thinking and experience, it might also be worthwhile to ask them more details about what they think think they learned from what you designed. That way, you get more fine-grained information to work with

Mikaela Wilson
05 March 2016, 12:24 PM

Thank you for that, I will look into a small session with these children where I map out my question on Monday. I am returning as a teacher aide and during my teaching practicum there has not been much time as it is an intermediate and we had camp and many other interruptions- Highlanders, modules etc..


15 April 2016, 1:29 PM