Spirals of Inquiry: Stuck in Scanning

A colleague recently came to me to explain that some of the professionals she was working with appeared to be "stuck" in Scanning and didn't know how to move forward together into Focusing and Hunchwork to enable a focused collaborative inquiry to emerge. 

What she was describing is fairly typical in the first year of engaging with Teaching as Inquiry more effectively. "More effective" is where teachers and leaders don't "pick a topic" for their inquiries before Scanning. Where there is a real need for people to trust the process and to allow the appropriate focus to emerge from thorough Scanning, Focusing and Hunchwork. The following are tips that I use to encourage people to trust the process:

One of the ways that I support clusters or communities of practice (groups of schools, kura and ECE services) to collaborate involves growing a layer of collaborative inquiry across the learning centres involved. In doing this, the group is building intelligence - they are gaining an understanding of the "data behind the data" so that they can explain their achievement challenges and then know what to do next about these. 

I encourage the use of Spirals of Inquiry - one of many Teaching as Inquiry Frameworks that now exist, but to me, one of the most relevant and recent iterations that strongly encourages:

  • the involvement of learners and their whānau (family) as partners in the process of teacher change and transformation
  • learner agency
  • collaborative inquiry into teacher and leader practices
The following are some common questions and issues that arise during Scanning in the first year, along with my advice for addressing these.

In the past we've been forced to focus on "priority learners" and to focus only on the area of learning where they have struggled. I thought Spirals of Inquiry allowed us to Scan widely and to consider challenges and strengths beyond achievement. Why do we still have to choose "priority learners"?

When Scanning learners, it is best to select your target learners for whom achievement is a concern. I prefer not to call these learners "priority learners" but we certainly need to focus on changing our practice for learners who are currently underserved in the system. 

The idea is that you don't just scan and ask questions about that learner in relation to the problematic achievement area, but you scan widely and seek multiple perspectives. The design of Scanning questions is very flexible so that you can do this to suit your context. If people get stuck on this in their first year, I might recommend 7-10 Scanning questions are designed. 7 questions related to each of the 7 Principles of learning and a further 3 questions specific to the learning area of concern or specific to a particular lens a learning centre or CoL may wish to use (e.g. cultural contexts, agency or engagement). It's not only question design that is important, it is also how you plan to answer each question. Some questions may be suited to gathering learner voice while others suit asking the parents and some questions may require you to observe learners in social situations in order to answer them. Overall Scanning design with your team is important. If you haven't planned Scanning in a deliberate way, you are still able to do this as you move into Focusing. Focusing usually requires further scanning to gain clarification. 

I'm not sure when we should move to Focusing - how do we know if we are ready? 

In order to decide if you're ready to move to Focusing, ask these questions: 

How well have we Scanned?
What's going on for our Learners collectively and why? 

To answer these questions you will need to consider: 
  • have we scanned widely enough and gathered a range of evidence? 
  • Have we sought a range of perspectives about each learner? 
  • When we look at the scanning data gathered, is every single statement backed up with evidence? Or are assumptions being made? (e.g. Tom is happy and engaged during literacy - according to who? What evidence do you have? What have you used to determine/define happiness and engagement during learning?)
In the first year with Spirals, I often find that around 8 weeks is needed for Scanning as many professionals are not only learning about their learners and their practice, but they are also learning the process. If you feel you haven't done a great job of Scanning, move forward into focusing by working through the quality questions in my previous point. Look across current scanning information for all children and locate themes (e.g. which of the 7 Principles appear to be commonly represented in the data? What other themes can you see?). Take those themes and do further planned scanning over the next 2-3 weeks to find out more and to clear up any assumptions or gaps.

To review scanning use the orange and blue covered Spirals article by Timperley, Kaser and Halbert - just the section on Scanning (2-3 pages). Read that together as a team and then reflect on how scanning went. 

My team gets frustrated with the pace of Spirals of Inquiry. Sometimes I feel pressure as a leader to rush ahead to keep them happy. 

As a leader in this context you are a facilitator and a change agent. Use the grey boxes in the spirals article relentlessly to respond to doubts and despondency - these quotes work to put people at ease and to encourage them to trust the process in the first year. Finally, as Timperley, Kaser and Halbert say, we need to:

Slow down to speed up

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