What makes a strong inquiry question?

Why does inquiry require a question?

Often, when we are working to fulfill some requirement or to achieve some goal, we do not stop to go deeper into the issues before us. We must give quick answers and solutions based on anecdotal data or on our hunches and intuitions. This is a normal way of approaching issues.

Inquiry allows us the room to wonder, to question, and to ask our students what they think. It opens a space for critical and creative thinking, for building our receptivity to ideas that may not match our own, and it allows us to change our minds. So, rather than come up with a solution after a long meeting, a strong inquiry question guides our discussions, our research, and our listening, so that eventually our thinking leads to thoughtful decisions, policies, and practices.

A good critical question:

  • Should be something each team member feels interested in or about (at least to some degree);
  • Should NOT be easily answered. While you may have a hunch, it will hopefully shed light on an issue or idea that has been unclear to you before;
  • Should be something that forces your team to look beyond the surface;
  • Should lead your team to interact with students (interviews, focus groups, surveys) and their work (tests, papers, freewrites, projects, presentations, etc.);
  • Should be thorny or possibly controversial.

What Makes Effective Teacher Teams?

Collaborative Learning Teams

This article discusses elements they thought lead to effective teacher teams. I found this through Alexis Alexander’s excellent EDT 6 course!

An excerpt is below:

NCTAF’s Six Principles of Success for Professional Learning Teams

Shared Values and Goals: The team should have a shared vision of the capabilities of students and teachers. They should also clearly identify a problem around which the learning team can come together, with an ultimate goal of improving student learning.

Collective Responsibility: Team members should have shared and appropriately differentiated responsibilities based on their experience and knowledge levels. There should be a mutual accountability for student achievement among all members of the learning team.

Authentic Assessment: Teachers in the community should hold themselves collectively accountable for improving student achievement, by using assessments that give them real time feedback on student learning and teaching effectiveness. These assessments are valued—not because they are linked to high stakes consequences—but because they are essential tools to improve learning.

Self-Directed Reflection: Teams should establish a feedback loop of goal-setting, planning, standards, and evaluation, driven by the needs of both teachers and students.

Stable Settings: The best teams cannot function within a dysfunctional school. Effective teams required dedicated time and space for their collaborative work to take place. This required the support, and occasionally, positive pressure from school leadership.

Strong Leadership Support: Successful teams are supported by their school leaders who build a climate of openness and trust in the school, empower teams to make decisions based on student needs, and apply appropriate pressure perform.

What is Inquiry

Inquiry is a method of professional development that gives faculty and staff the flexibility to research issues that they’ve seen or experienced in their work. Rather than prescribe particular best practices or research what other people are doing first, inquiry puts students, the subjects of our study, first.

Funding by the Basic Skills Initiative and the Title III grant, the Teaching and Learning Center is using an inquiry process to:

  • Create a culture of collaboration;
  • Strengthen teaching through inquiry and research;
  • Improve staff and faculty understanding of student learning;
  • Document the findings to plan future workshops, projects, and plans.

Spring 2010 Faculty/Staff Inquiry Groups at BCC:

In Spring 2010, seven teams of staff and faculty worked together on the Teaching and Learning Center’s pilot of inquiry. This is the first video made of the ESL team, which focused on what students thought they needed in ESL classes to be successful in transfer-level composition class. Follow these links:  ESL Spring 2010 Inquiry Group and the Physical Science Inquiry Group.

Faculty Inquiry Network: BCC Grant

In January 2009, BCC English teachers, Scott Hoshida, Chris Lebo-Planas, and Cleavon Smith received a small grant from Chabot College’s Faculty Inquiry Network to conduct a two-year inquiry on a thorny issue in basic skills classes. After witnessing students succeed in their own classes and then fail in subsequent English classes, they wanted to know what it would take for students to move from one level to the next. They wanted to know what they could teach in one class that would stick with students as they moved through the rest of their community college experiences. The Academy for College Excellence (then called the Digital Bridge Academy) had developed a curriculum around Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero’s journey that appears in a number of myths and tales from around the world. Starting with those ideas, each teacher developed his own personal narrative assignment to help students look critically at their own struggles, develop a narrative to make sense of it, and to start articulating goals and aspirations for their lives. In this student-edited video, students from Cleavon Smith’s basic skills English class discuss how the books this process helped their learning and contributed to their experience in his class:  Personal Narrative Writing in a Basic Skills English Class.

Other Resources:

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