Teacher Inquiry – A Way of Being
Nancy F. Dana & Diane Yendol-Hoppey*
What is Inquiry?
A way of being a teacher (“inquiry stance”)
“Problematizing” my own practice
Systematically studying my own practice
Taking action based on what I find out
It’s more than just reflection, because…
Why do Inquiry?
Teachers with an inquiry stance add the teacher’s voice to the larger conversation
involving research, professional development, and school reform.
What does a typical Inquiry Cycle look like?
1. Pose my question (craft my wondering).
2. Collect data to gain insight into wondering.
3. Analyze my data + read relevant literature
4. Make any changes based on new understandings.
5. Share my findings with others.
Finding My Wondering…
1. From the Complexity of My Work:
Our simultaneous negotiating of individual kids + the teaching context + the curriculum I must/want to teach + act of
teaching, itself + my beliefs about teaching
2. From my “Felt Difficulties”
Eight Passions (Lenses for Studying My Classroom)
1. Desire to help an individual child
2. Desire to improve/enrich my curriculum
3. Desire to focus on my content knowledge
4. Desire to improve/experiment with my teaching strategies/techniques
5. Desire to look at the relationship between my beliefs and my teaching practices
6. Desire to look at the relationship between my personal and profession identity
7. Desire to investigate and advocate for social justice
8. Desire to better understand my teaching and learning school/classroom context
*A great (short) book about inquiry: Dana, N. & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2003). The reflective educator’s guide to classroom research.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Crafting my Wondering…
Advice for designing a good research question:
Journal, journal, journal!
Make sure it’s a real question!
Question must be able to be answered with the help of
data collection (evidence), reflection, and the literature.
Avoid questions with Yes/No answers.
Example of Yes/No question:
“Can shaping clay letters help Rachel increase her sound-
symbol identification skills?”
“How would the process of working with shaping clay letters
impact Rachel’s sound-symbol identification skills?”
Make sure you are passionate about the question.
Be willing to let the question change over time as you
collect data and go deeper – this is normal!
Let’s collaborate with one another to find our own “Emerging Wondering” today…
(2 Co-Teachers together)
1. Do a 5 minute quick-write on a kid that has been on your mind lately. Just free write. What makes this child stand out
in your mind? How do you feel about this kid? Does she frustrate you? Does he delight you? Why? Why not? What
kinds of academic and/or behavioral issues are you seeing at this point? What do you wish you could do for this kid?
2. Trade your quick-write with your co-teaching partner.
3. Partners - look at this quick-write as data and think to yourself: What kinds of issues do I see coming out in his/her
free-write? Do I see a theme emerging? What is unique about his/her student? What question does this leave me
with about his/her student? What needs to happen next?
4. Partners get __ minutes to respond to one another’s quick write. Write to your partner what you hear as an emerging
wondering in the form of a question. Write this on paper below his/her quick-write.
Sample Starter: “I think one thing I am hearing you wondering about is….”
5. Give the quick-write back to the owner.
6. Read your partner’s response to your free write. Is this your emerging wondering at this point? If so, write it out for
yourself in a way that really captures it with as much detail as you can. If it isn’t, let the question provoke you to try to
articulate what your question really is. Write it down. This is your “emerging wondering!”
Small Group Discussion
(School Groups with Field Advisor as Facilitator)
Now, with your school group, talk about as many emerging wonderings as you have time. It may be good to choose one
person who has one “for sure,” and one person who is struggling to get one down on paper. Help each other look at the
question in terms of the “Advice” given in the previous section. Begin to think about what you need to do next to refine your
wondering in a way that will meet the criteria here for a good question.
I’ll need to refine my Wondering in the next few weeks, or so… how will I do that?
Through analyzing your data (journal, observations, scores, student artifacts, interviewing student, teachers, CRT, etc…),
seminar discussions, collaboration with your mentor teacher, field advisor(s), your students, and your co-teacher, reading
literature on your area of work…etc!
Example of a Wondering refined over time:
Initial Wondering: Why does Kyra hate to read?
Refined Wondering: How could I help Kyra improve her reading fluency?
Fully Refined Wondering: How can daily repeated readings impact Kyra’s reading fluency?
The Inquiry Cycle Steps
PART ONE: Finding my initial (emerging)
PART TWO: Refining my “wondering”/Defining my
focus for research
PART THREE: Collecting my data systematically
PART FOUR: Analyzing my data systematically
PART FIVE: What happened?
PART SIX: Presenting and sharing my findings with my
What Is Inquiry into Student Learning?
Teacher inquiry is defined as systematic, intentional study of one’s own professional
practice (see, for example, Dana & Yendol-Silva, 2003; Hubbard & Power, 1993; Cochran-
Smith & Lytle, 1993). Inquiring professionals seek out change by reflecting on their
practice. They do this by posing questions or wonderings, collecting data to gain insights
into their wonderings, analyzing the data along with reading relevant literature, making
changes in practice based on new understandings developed during inquiry, and sharing
findings with others. Hence, whether you are a prospective teacher at the dawn of your
teaching career, or a veteran teacher with years of experience facing new educational
challenges every day, teacher inquiry becomes a powerful vehicle for learning and reform.
Given today's political context where much of the decision making and discussion is
occurring outside the walls of the classroom (Darling-Hammond, 1997), the time seems ripe
to create a movement of teacher voices armed with the tools of inquiry and committed to
During this semester, you and your partner (with the support of your mentor teacher)
will inquire into the learning of a struggling child in your classroom. You will collect student
data, develop an approach, method, and intervention for addressing the student’s needs,
collect data, analyze the data collected, and draw conclusions/implications from your
research. The inquiry project must discuss implications for your own teaching and student
PART ONE: Finding My Initial “Wondering”
This is when you should do your observations of your child in different settings (Observation
forms attached). While you collect this data, share it with other professionals. What are
you wondering about this student at this point? Write this down in a clear question format.
Collect as much data as possible during the next two weeks. Gather information from the
following sources: observations in a variety of contexts, cumulative folders, talking to prior
teachers and support teachers, test scores, informal assessment, student work, etc….
Compile this information into a report for your teacher. Be sure that all information remains
PART TWO: Revising My ”Wondering”/Defining Research Focus
Defining the focus/intervention: Based on the data collected in Part One, what adaptations
or accommodations will be made to the curriculum or instruction to support the learning of
these students? Meet with your Mentor Teacher and discuss the type of issues that emerge
in your data. Create a set of instructional or curricular changes that might enhance student
performance in the area investigated. At this time it may be necessary to revise your
“wondering” to be more specific.
PART THREE: Collecting My Data Systematically
Collecting data is critical to the inquiry process in order to determine the answer to your
research question, or wondering. There are many types of data you can collect:
1. Field Notes
Dialogue, conversation, diagrams, anecdotal records, note taking
Video or audiotape
Someone else could be note taker
Student work –journals, projects (good idea to write date)
Notes from parents
Entire paper trail
Field notes—naturally occurring
Interviews—thoughtfully planned and intentional
Students, parents, admin.
4. Focus Groups
Small group discussion to understand students’ perceptions
Likely to capture opinion
Ask interview questions, listen to discussion
Video on co-teaching
5. Reflective Journals
May reflect on field notes
Capture thinking—process of thinking, changes in thinking
Ex. How did the activity go? Cooking data? Begin analysis.
Can get at more people than interviews
Pre and post survey (before and after implementation)
May lead to further interviewing
This is what you are finding, what have other people found?
8. Test scores/informal assessment
PART FOUR: Analyzing My Data Systematically
Analyzing your data is an ongoing, cyclical activity. You will work with your field advisor
and peers to get you started in this process.
PART FIVE: Writing About What Happened
Now it is time to write up the process you went through and the findings of your inquiry.
The writing process can actually help you clarify and make connections in your data in a
way that is not otherwise possible. Remember, tell a good story. You want to provide
others with as much insight into your unique experience as possible.
PART SIX: Sharing my Findings
Present your findings in the Inquiry Conference/Showcase in order to celebrate your work as
a professional and to help other educators learn to improve their own practices.
Submit 3 paper copies of your Inquiry Paper to the following PDC stakeholders: school
principal, Field Advisor, and Mentor Teacher. An electronic copy to your field advisor will be
required, as well, for our Inquiry Archives.
Writing the Inquiry Paper
Parts A-C: Getting To Know My Student and Her/His Needs
A. Introduction and Rationale: Who is the student? (grade, age, etc.)
Provide as much relevant background information as possible. Why did
you select this student(s)? What elements lead your curiosity about the
student(s) need for an intervention? End this section by stating your
B. Preliminary Data Collected: What initial information did you gather
about your student in order to learn more about him/her and his/her
learning situation and needs? Include the specific types of assessments,
names of tests, indicate what information was teacher created or student
created. Describe in detail the process you went through to gain
knowledge and insight into the student(s) background and previous
learning experiences. Include specific/relevant details about your three
observations (i.e. location, subject, time of day).
C. Analysis of Preliminary Data- What did you learn about the student(s)
through the initial data collection process? Share ANY insights that have
been gained about the student(s) through your initial collection of data
(ie. observations, review of folders, teacher interviews, student work).
Part D-F: The Intervention(s), Data Collection & Analysis
D. Description of Intervention/Accommodation/Strategies - What
exactly was your plan of action with the student(s)? What specific
interventions, accommodations, or strategies did you implement to assist
the student(s)? What was your rationale for these actions?
E. Description of Data Collection: What was your systematic data
collection plan? How did you gather data that indicates the student(s)
response to your action, from part D? Remember these actions should
correlate directly with your inquiry question. What specifically did you use
to track the observations? This will include but not be limited to student
work samples and your inquiry journal.
F. What Happened (Data Analysis)? As you implemented new
interventions, accommodations, and strategies how did the student
respond, in reference to your inquiry question? What specific indications
suggests that the actions taken were effective/ineffective and to what
extent? What data support your findings?
Part G: What I Learned
G. What have you learned about this student, your teaching, and the
challenges of public schools? Explain what you have learned about the
student(s) from your actions with this inquiry. First be specific about this
one student, then you may generalize about how this information may effect
how you teach other students in the future. How does this connect with the
way you will approach your future teaching experiences and the challenges
you may face in the process?
Rubric for Teacher Inquiry Paper
Elements Low Level Mid-Level High Level
Evidence Evidence Evidence
Part A: Little or no rationale Discussion of Rationale for
Rationale and for studying your rationale is present, studying your
student’s learning is but lacks clear student’s learning is
Wondering provided and/or connection to a strong and maintains
question to be question a clear connection to
explored (“wondering”) that the question
(”wondering”) is not can be (“wondering”). The
stated. systematically wondering is one
studied. that can be
Part B: Little evidence of Inappropriate Initial data collection
Description of preliminary data selection of data, or process is clearly
collection data collected is not defined and
Preliminary Data connected to described to the
Sources “wondering” point that it could be
Part C: Summary of analysis Summary is well Findings are clearly
Summary of lacks depth written, but there is connected to your
insufficient use of analysis of
Analysis of data to support your preliminary data.
Preliminary Data findings. Data is used to
explicate and provide
evidence for the
Part D: Inadequate Description of Detailed description
Description of description of intervention lacks of intervention plan
intervention(s) details or a strong includes artifacts as
and Rationale for rationale. evidence. Rationale
of Intervention for this particular
Plan intervention is clearly
Part E: Inappropriate Data collection Data collection
Description of selection of data or methods and your methods and
data is not connected process/plan is process/plan is
Process and to your “wondering.” appropriate to your clearly defined and
Methods for Data or “wondering” and described to the
Collection description is too described. However, point that it could be
weak or too few the plan would not replicated by
sources of data be able to be someone else.
collection were used. replicated by
because not enough
information is given.
Elements Low Level Mid-Level High Level
Evidence Evidence Evidence
Part F: (1) Little of no Steps for how you The reader is
Summary of discussion of your analyzed your data confident in the steps
data analysis plan is are provided, but of your data analysis
Findings given and/or (2) they lack enough plan because you
findings are not detail for your reader have outlined them
connected to your to critically evaluate carefully with
data. your plan. attention to detail.
Findings are clearly
Conclusions drawn Some data is used to connected to the
seem unrelated to support your findings, analysis. Data,
the findings, but not enough to directly from the
analysis, data, or convince your reader inquiry, is used to
original “wondering.” that your explicate and provide
interpretations are evidence for your
valid. The reader is findings. You have
left questioning your convinced your
results because you reader that the
did not make a strong interpretation of your
case. findings is strong and
findings are provided
that directly refer to
Part G: Little to no reflection Mediocre effort is A substantial effort is
Discussion of of your learning is made to articulate made to draw
provided. conclusions from your conclusions for your
What You findings and relate teaching practice
Learned these conclusions to from the findings of
your own learning as your research.
an educator. These conclusions
articulated for the