The spiral of inquiry.

Last year we were given the reading: ‘The spiral of inquiry’ (Timperly, Kaser & Halbert) by our LwDT coordinator. I put it in a safe place. This worked, until I moved classrooms. It’s new ‘safe place’ is secure from me, something I’m sure everyone can agree with.

Regardless, after searching online and in my house, it finally popped up in ‘The Pond‘ (a NZ site established for educators to share resources etc). It is similar to, but different from the VLN – (virtual learning network).

This is an excellent reading, one that really clarified my understanding of the teacher as inquiry process (and one I need to keep revisiting – hence the blog). The biggest wrinkle I have had with the process is the sole emphasis on the priority learners. This is definately essential (and what my inquiries are focussed on). I can understand this better now. My biggest stumbling block initially was that this ‘inquiry thing’ seemed to put a roadblock between me doing my broader learning and readings. I have passed this, and perhaps better understand how the

I’ve been thinking a lot about the marginal middles – those that aren’t performing at their peak, but are just far enough inside the bubble to miss out on the detailed focus of these inquiries. I would love to do an investigation around this.


Our phonics journey embarks. As a junior team we have decided to use Yolanda Soryl’s teaching method for phonics. Consequently we have the pre data and I have decided to do a mini-inquiry into this.

Observation: students are not making the connection between reading and writing, namely the spelling patterns. This goes across from beginner readers to fluent, beginner writers to fluent. 

Question: What effect does systematic teaching of phonics have on student spelling, when explicit teaching is made to help students transfer knowledge from reading to writing?

Assessments: Phonics entry and exit data. Phonics assessment conducted six weekly. Ten minute writing samples (done two times a term). BAS spelling assessment (completed terms 1 and 5). 

Methadology: students spread between four phonics groups, receiving fifteen miinutes phonic teaching at the start of each day. Lessons follow the format taught by Yolanda Soryl at her course, as set out in the accompanying manual, and lessons modelled on youtube. 

Observation: there are several struggling writers who view writing as a subject inflicted upon them by all the adults in their lives. Before they begin they have already given up. You can watch them visibly sigh, shrink back into themselves and sometimes grit their teeth. These students mostly have good oral language, are boys and have fantastic ideas that disappear into another realm when they are expected to put them to paper. The students are also writing intial and final sounds, with some writing CVC words. They know some high frequency words. These students are presently spending part of their day on ‘speedy writing’, when they record a dictated rhyming sentence, usually consisting of CVC words. The students’ attitude to this time is quite positive. These boys also enjoy time on the computer, including using kidpix.

Hunch: These students find the writing laborious, and already ‘know’ that they will not spell words correctly. Therefore they ‘know’ they cannot write. Obviously this is not the case.  

Question: will explicit phonics instruction, with its emphasis of transfer of knowledge from reading to writing, change these students’ attitude to writing?

Tech in the classroom: one teacher who just can’t let go of the old…

This week I set a literacy research task for students around space. The work I had set the students was only completed to an acceptable standard by about a sixth of the class. For most of them it was a case of not reading the question properly (and I spotted a grammatical typo).

Regardless I could hardly keep five sixths of my class in at a break: that many clearly indicates some kind of communication breakdown. Those who had put the extra yards in and completed their work got free time whilst the rest finished and were gradually flicked onto free choice as they finished their work.

In this context I had an epiphany of sorts, or at least a wake-up call. One student who struggles with the physical act of writing, but has come an incredibly long way with it, had yet again not completed/begun the research. I realised I had created the task on an editable PDF graphic organiser. Why didn’t I just get him to type?

Lo and behold, there he was in his element doing a fantastic job with complete engagement. I asked some other students what they were working on on the iPads and they informed me they were making books. The books were fantastic. They would rival some of the e-books I have seen on Amazon that are privately created.

The best part was that they were totally absorbed in a project of their design, and one that was being created to a much higher standard than they typically produce in a teacher-directed project. Yes, some of their work was aimed at the five year old level, but it was to an excellent standard none-the-less.

It’s moments like these that I go: see Abbie! That is the power of technology. This is what you have been busy preaching about to others. This is what should be happening all the time. This is authentic, engaged learning.

Yes, there has been a lot of ground work laid down, and yes this is happening at the end of the year when you have the perspective of a year’s development.

It made me query once again: why are you doing things the way you always have? Why aren’t you maximising the technology you have available?

So what would that actually look like in my classroom? What do I need to change?

My starting point is getting past the ‘everyone doing the same thing at the same time. That is convenient, and easier to manage when working in a single classroom. If I’m honest though I am making excuses. It is easier to say “It’s too hard” than to push forwards and challenge myself.

At Ulearn14 one Katie Novak (UDL) talked about the ZPD. She however approached it as numbered sections with stage three being the ‘I know this, but I’m not ready to try something new and need a kick in the pants to do so” zone (my words: hers were much more eloquent. Additionally, refer to yesterday’s blog post with the various links to my notes from Ulearn).

I’m there. I have a great pedagogical and technical knowledge around e-learning (with plenty of room for development). I just lack the reason to push into something new. I like being mostly comfortable. Ulearn was a bit of a kick in the pants for me…today was another.

To move forward I need to let go of many of the old notions of teaching. I am trying to bridge the gap between the two. New isn’t always better, anymore than old isn’t always worse. There are times when new is just as good and better than the old. I need to move forwards and start again.

If I was creating a new classroom, what would it look like? If I actually put aside the notions of National Standards (NZ’s common core), and stop letting others’ comments and my own fears limit me, what could I actually achieve for these kidlings? How could I actually move those marginalised ones forwards?

Tech is more and more commonly being referred to as a tool. But it is more than that…rather it can be more than that. But will I let it be in my room?

Mish mash: inquiry update and reflections on tech use!

It’s been a crazy term with the school production (which was awesome) and everything else we managed to squeeze in. Sometimes it feels as though one is trying to squeeze in reading and writing and maths! I’m looking forward to getting back to a proper routine next term as post-production everyone was tired. We had a week of decent learning. I generally planned for better learning this week, but it just didn’t happen. I knew what this term would be like ahead of time, so I won’t beat myself up for it, but I would hardly describe it as  a term of modelled effective practice!

Oh well. Back to reflections.

My inquiry has largely centred around a couple of students. With the paired writing this term we I haven’t done a lot of teaching of those students. I have noted though that they have both made a tremendous overall improvement with their writing.

One has successfully managed to overcome the ‘I don’t know what to write’ barrier, which is fantastic. The other regularly uses finger-spaces when writing independently and writes many more recognisable words.

At this point the goal will be to maintain and build upon their progress. For one that will mean lots and lots of writing. For the other it will mean continued development of essential list words. Upon retesting I have noted that there has been quite limited progress over the year in that area. I have another student I will now focus on in the context of spelling particularly, as the level of writing is not what I want. In some ways this is a plus because it will make the student eligible for support they weren’t eligible for previously, but it will be a blow to the student’s self-esteem.

I have written a more detailed summary of adaptations, but this remains in a private google doc shared within my present workplace for privacy reasons.

My next inquiry: spelling (a mini inquiry)/ inquiry into PLD I am taking.

Next steps: Review progress in five weeks of current inquiry. Develop plan for spelling inquiry. Begin with spelling programme review.


Tech use

I have used tech to a mediocre level this term. I keep getting stuck at a relatively low level on the SAMR model. I know how to use it to a deeper level, but keep not doing it.

Something I consistently struggle with is the work-home balance. I have erred on the side of home this year because of the various events that have been going on. I am now paying the catch-up price.

Regardless, the children have learnt. Perhaps I need to set up an inquiry into my IT practice to ensure I actually alter it. We shall see.