Home arrow Perspectives arrow Anna Richert and Julie Nicholson: Teacher Inquiry

Using the Quest websites to teach teacher inquiry


The rationale: Why teach teacher inquiry
As a frame, new teachers must learn to consider their purposes and also the consequences of their actions and to ask questions about each as they proceed with their work. Assuming this inquiry stance involves acquiring a set of both professional practices and also a set of philosophical commitments that lead to a continuous and critical examination of all aspects of the work - their teaching context, for example, their pedagogical decisions, the subject matters they teach, their students as beings in the world and as learners, and so forth.  Teachers who assume this stance recognize and challenge their own assumptions and beliefs based on the juxtaposition of their understandings with their growing knowledge of the beliefs and values of the children, families, and communities they serve.

As can be seen by viewing the three teacher educators’ websites (from which we’ve drawn the brief examples we show below), all three relied heavily on the Quest K-12 web-based records of practice to help their students learn to take an inquiry stance.  They used various strategies to do so.  In addition to modeling inquiry themselves, for example, they also guided their students to study the inquiry practice of several of the Quest teachers to show what an inquiry stance “looks like” in a K-12 classroom.  To help their students understand the components of inquiry-based teaching, all three carefully guided their students’ investigation of the sites so that the students would see the inquiry practice they wanted them to see---and learn the skills of teacher inquiry at the same time.

Requiring students to ask questions of practice they observe on the Quest sites

One common strategy used by all three teacher educators was to “assign” the Quest websites as texts that their students needed to study.  In Bev’s Research class the students studied the inquiry practice of several teachers before zeroing in on Martha Anderson’s 5th grade class, which became the subject of a more extensive collective investigation, the outcomes of which can be seen on Bev’s site.

Bev began this process by modeling the investigation of the inquiry practice of Sarah Capitelli. In this clip that can be found on the first page of Bev’s website, we see her guiding her students through Sarah’s site by pointing out the elements of Sarah’s classroom-based inquiry. Once Bev modeled this process to the whole group, her students moved on to studying the websites on their own (and with class colleagues)

Anna asked her students to focus their investigation of the Quest sites on the inquiry strategies the teachers used to learn about their students - and then on the teaching that resulted in the practice of teachers who know their student well.  The four-step assignment that Anna developed to guide students through this investigation can be seen on her site, as can the work of her students (both their conversations about the sites, and the written work they produced).

In this clip that can be found on Anna’s webpage we see her students talking about how Claire Bove learned about her learners and what she learned about them that was important for her teaching.  The clip begins with Anna reminding her students of the inquiry questions guiding their work.

Sharon, designed an assignment to have her students investigate Gillian Maimon’s website. Her assignment, which can be seen on Sharon’s site provides her students with guiding questions to help them carefully observe Gillian’s practice. Each small group of students looks for evidence of a topic they are assigned to investigate (e.g., how Gillian’s classroom supports the learning of individual children, structures that foster student independence) and they document their own emergent questions of the practices they observe.

Afterwards, each group makes a short presentation, sharing the fruits of their inquiry with the larger group. In this clip, we see Sharon’s students presenting what they learned after reviewing Gillian’s website and describing the inquiry questions that emerged from their guided study of practice.

Selecting Quest websites where the K12 teachers assume an inquiry stance

As can be seen from the examples already given, an important pedagogical strategy used by the teacher educators to help their students learn about what it means to take an inquiry stance was to have them view teachers who ask questions of their practice. In the examples above, Bev drew on the work of Sarah Capitelli, who was studying her students language acquisition stills.  Anna drew on the work of Claire Bove, who had developed a variety of strategies in her middle school science class for getting to know her learners.  Sharon drew on the work of Gillian Maimon whose teaching is informed by an inquiry process called “child study”, where teachers closely observe and document the interests, capacities, learning styles, and classroom experiences of individual students. By selecting Quest sites where the K-12 teachers on the sites assume an inquiry stance, teacher educators help students to “see” inquiry by asking them to study the inquiry practices of the teachers they are observing.

Take for example Bev’s introduction of Martha Andrew’s website.  She explains to her students that she chose Martha’s site because her practice is guided by inquiry and reflection. Bev links Martha’s process of inquiry to her students’ process of research and inquiry in her course. 

Creating assignments for students to participate in a collaborative inquiry model

The importance of collaboration to teacher inquiry is another aspect of learning opportunities afforded by the Quest sites.  One of the challenges in traditional teacher education settings is that the “learning from practice” (in this case learning from the practice of others) in most instances takes place in student teaching settings where the student teacher does most of the learning alone - or at least not along side peers who are learning in that setting as well.  With the Quest sites, student teachers are able to work together under the guidance of their university faculty to investigate the practice of veteran colleagues.  All three of the teacher educators here capitalized on that possibility by having their students work together to do the work of studying the sites.  All three educators created assignments that have students participate in (and thus learn the value of) a collaborative inquiry model.

In this clip we see Sharon’s students looking at Gillian Maimon’s teaching (as viewed on her site) and thinking together about what opportunities there are for “choice” in this classroom. Not only are they working on this investigation together, they are preparing to share what they’ve learned with their classmates at a later time.

A clip from Anna’s site provides another example.  In this instance, Anna’s students are discussing what they noticed about Vanessa Brown’s teaching.  In viewing the conversation we can see how one student’s ideas spark ideas from others.  Together the students construct an understanding of Vanessa’s learner-centered approach, which they conclude is characterized by an open and patient persistence that makes possible getting to know even the most challenging of her students.

One step in the investigation process in Bev’s class was to have partners work together to makes sense of Martha Andrew’s various teaching techniques.  In these two short clips we see partners sharing with one another the impressions of what they see.  Students report that this kind of opportunity of “seeing practice together” helps them notice much more about the teaching than they noticed when observing on their own.

students talking
students investigate Martha Andrew's site, part 2