Eltham High School: Inquiry Based Teaching and Learning Cycle

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Eltham High School:
Inquiry Based Teaching and
Learning Cycle
Introduction and
Context
A futures focused vision
for learners
Eltham High School is located on
the rural-urban fringe of northeast
Melbourne and serves a largely
middle to higher income
socioeconomic community.
It is an open, well-presented and
welcoming school that has been a
presence in the community for
almost 90 years.
The school’s strategic plan
articulates a higher order vision for
learners, focusing on the
characteristics and 21st century
capabilities they aspire to develop in
all students:
Our vision is to develop creative
students who are active
seekers, users and creators of
their own knowledge, who have
a strong sense of responsibility
towards society and the
environment and who act with
integrity and show that ‘Deeds
Count’.
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Vincent Sicari, the principal at
Eltham HS, stressed that serious
conversations occurred some years
ago to ensure that this aspiration,
(along with their school values of the
pursuit of excellence, individuality,
creativity, social and environmental
responsibility, respect for diversity
and integrity), were not simply words
on walls.
The development of their ‘Inquiry
Based Teaching and Learning
Cycle’ (IBTL) grew out of their desire
to enact their vision and purpose for
education.
’We’re developing characteristics
which are crucial in terms of what
we believe our young people need
to function as contributors, have
an effective future, and be
effective citizens.”
Vincent reflected that:
We had conversations about 21st
century skills and reflected on the
world that our students would be
moving into, possibly fields that
haven’t yet been thought
about…This meant we had to
prepare students to cope with and
adapt to change and see change
as an opportunity and challenge,
not an obstacle.
Staff also identified the importance
of students developing as critical
thinkers and discerning users of
information. They would need to be
able to filter out what they needed in
a highly technological and
information rich world.
with an approach that enabled them
to construct their own knowledge.
Vincent was also mindful of ‘not
wanting to toss out the baby with the
bathwater’, so their deliberations led
them to consider how they might
blend inquiry based learning with a
more directed instructional
approach.
This has resulted in what is now a
meticulously documented and
explicitly scaffolded approach to
inquiry based learning that includes
clear guidelines for teachers, their
instructional strategy or IBTL cycle,
and two research models for
students.
The instructional model is guided by
a pedagogical approach of a gradual
release of responsibility which
ensures that teachers use a broad
repertoire of instructional strategies.
They begin with high levels of
explicit teaching and gradually
transition to increasingly student led
research. Teachers scaffold student
inquiry and research to ensure
engagement in higher order thinking
and the production of quality
outcomes related to the school
vision and purpose statements.
Vincent was particularly conscious
of ‘unworkable dichotomies’ in
education and is precise in his use
of the term ‘instruction’, clarifying, “it
is often incorrectly defined as a
chalk and talk approach, but that’s
not what we’re talking about.”
These conversations led to the
realisation that teachers couldn’t
keep teaching the way they had in
the past if they wanted to achieve
these different outcomes for
students.
At Eltham HS, it is very clearly about
ensuring students have access to
directed teaching as appropriate.
This applies to all areas of learning,
and includes the development of
necessary foundational knowledge
and skills that equip students to
more effectively engage in research
and inquiry.
Leaders’ research led them to
identify the need to provide students
How did teachers
learn about and
engage with the
model?
Side by side learning and
leadership
Although leaders had determined a
need for an inquiry learning teaching
approach coupled with explicit
instructional practice:
We weren’t really clear about
how this was going to develop,
what it really meant. We
recognised value in a number of
approaches, with each bringing
about different outcomes.
Vincent encouraged his teachers to
try new practices without fear of
failure. He had a firm belief that:
…the experiences you have are all
valuable, if you can reflect on
them, understand your learnings,
and then understand the changes
you have to make.
This opportunity was confirmed by
teachers:
Vincent has always given us
encouragement to be innovative,
and to seek PD when we require it.
This school allows the space to try.
The creation of these conditions,
where teachers were supported and
encouraged to try and experiment
with new approaches that weren’t
yet fully defined, aligns well with
innovation researchi. These
conditions were also identified by
teachers and other leaders as a
strong causal factor that has led to
and strengthened the current IBTL
cycle.
Year 7 was identified as the first
cohort of students and teachers to
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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
trial the new Inquiry Based Learning
approach. A new faculty and Key
Learning Area (KLA) was created
called the ‘Critical Inquiry KLA’.
Katie, who currently leads and
coordinates this faculty, stressed:
…you can’t underestimate its
importance (Critical Inquiry KLA).
It allows us to have a space for
reflection amongst a common
team. It’s a statement that we
value these interdisciplinary skills
and traits and we value them
enough to give them their own
time and space. That’s incredibly
important.
Initially the Eltham HS approach to
inquiry based teaching and learning
was very linear and in retrospect the
team reflected that it was more of a
student research model.
Researching, experimenting,
observing, reflecting and discussing
were core to the ways that teachers
learned about the model.
process…but it was very linear,
with not a lot of scaffolding. There
were a lot of downfalls in terms of
the way the curriculum had been
built or not built. It was still built
around content – we were still
trying to do Ancient Egypt, still
trying to do Forces!”
Both strengths and disappointments
were identified during the team’s
systematic review processes, which
then informed improvements and
developments in the next year.
A teacher of the first year program
shared that despite the difficulties:
One teacher reflected:
Kids hated it! We were still
teaching ‘stuff’. We were just
teaching stuff within an inquiry
Two new teacher leaders arrived at
the start of the second year of
introducing inquiry based teaching
and learning at Eltham HS.
Loren and Katie were both equipped
with significant knowledge and
experience in relation to the active
pedagogies and practices that
support student-led inquiry learning.
They have been key to the
leadership and ongoing
development of IBTL at Eltham HS.
Katie reflected:
It was wonderful from a team point
of view. To work with people in
that way, watching how they do
things, learning different
approaches, was so useful. It was
also terrific for kids to have more
than 1 teacher to connect with,
and the opportunity to connect with
100 other kids rather than 25.
During the first two years of
introducing inquiry based learning at
the Year 7 level, a team teaching
approach was employed so that up
to four teachers and 100 students
worked together in the school’s
Inquiry Learning Centre.
Teachers noticed that students
rushed through the inquiry process,
particularly when more complex
thinking was required of them e.g.
generating effective questions, or
reaching an informed position.
Students tended to skip to the end
stage of the inquiry process which
required them to produce a product,
‘let’s make a diorama, or paint
something’ without producing a
quality response.
you add to your knowledge and
research another question.
I found a school with a fledgling
inquiry program that was willing to
let me explore and refine my
practices in a supportive team
teaching environment.
Reviews during the second year
uncovered that the terms ‘inquiry’
and ‘integrated’ were being used
inter-changeably. Vincent explained
that it suddenly dawned on them
that:
Integrated curriculum wasn’t
necessarily an inquiry-based
approach and inquiry didn’t
necessarily have to do with
integrated curriculum. Yet…we
had the opportunity to see the
value of both of those things.
Students confirmed this strength:
It was interesting having three
teachers available, all with their
own branch of knowledge…You
could go from one teacher to
another with the same sort of
question and get different sorts of
perspectives, and that would help
The need to develop a common
understanding and language to
progress their ideas further was
recognised by Eltham HS leaders
and teachers. In particular, they
defined the difference between
‘instructional strategies’ and ‘student
research methods’.
With this new awareness and
bolstered by professional learning
and targeted research, the
development of the Eltham HS
Inquiry Based Teaching and
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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Learning (IBTL) cycle significantly
progressed.
While initially anchored by the work
of Kath Murdoch and Leslie Wing
Jan, other models were also
considered and evaluated. The
current model includes elements
that are unique to Eltham HS.
Teacher learning at Eltham HS was
described as a ‘multipronged
approach’, focused on a very strong
in-house professional learning
strategy. This was predominantly
conducted during school time, with
structured peer observation a
primary focus.
Extended discussions with other
teachers, engagement in their own
local research to discover what
works best and why, and accessing
external research and experts all
contributed to professional learning
about IBTL.
through seeing how other teachers
ran their classes. Watching the
kids’ reactions really shaped the
way I teach inquiry. You don’t treat
the kids as empty vessels. This
was an opportunity, and I’m still
watching and learning. In
observing how the kids respond,
you get a good sense of where
you lose them.
The Year 8 Morph program – which
is a 10 day incursion intensive –
offers a similar professional learning
opportunity. Katie works with a
group of teachers who have not had
experience with, or are nervous
about inquiry based teaching and
learning. She supports them to use
the cycle to develop an incursion
unit.
Teachers emphasised the
importance of creating the right
environment to empower everyone’s
learning through these practices.
Teachers rotate in and out of the
program each day, enabling a
‘snapshot’ or ‘taster’ for what is
involved. The team has found that
teachers subsequently become
more receptive and willing to put up
their hand for future involvement
with IBTL.
Collaborative decision-making
instilled confidence, with “protocols
in place for when one should
intervene”. Throughout the inquiry
learning sessions, teachers check in
with each other, agree on teaching
strategies and clarify the conceptual
focus with students.
As a result of this range of
professional learning opportunities,
teachers are increasingly well
equipped with strategies for many of
the challenges they may encounter
when incorporating the IBTL
approach into their own KLA.
Vincent explained that through all
these methods, professional
learning funds usually stay within
the school, and are often used to
cover teachers’ classes. This frees
their time to observe other teachers
and work with a coach.
Individual teachers volunteer to work
in this way and do so across
disciplines. For example, a Science
teacher can watch an English
teacher’s Socratic method or
literature circles, with a focus on
how to explore and apply the
approach in their practice. The
process is supported and
significantly enriched by the
conversations prior to, and after the
lesson.
Anam, a Year 7 teacher, explains
that when she first joined the IBTL
team:
It was daunting, but there’s a lot of
structure there. I picked it up
through practice, on the job,
Regular afternoon professional
learning sessions are also offered,
mostly facilitated by staff, with
experts invited in only when specific
needs are identified.
This opportunity for collaborative
teaching, discussion and reflection
on students’ reactions and progress
was identified as the main way that
teachers learned to incorporate the
IBTL approach and instructional
strategies into their everyday
practice.
The Year 7 IBTL Integrated Studies
course also acts as a “PD tank” for
teachers outside the Critical Inquiry
KLA. Leaders explained how one or
two teachers will join the wellestablished IBTL team for a period
of time, then move back to their own
KLA, carrying with them ideas,
thinking, and practices to further
share and develop.
The cultural conditions created at
Eltham HS have been highly
instrumental to the successful
development of and engagement
with this model. Vincent stressed:
…you have to have the culture of
‘it’s OK to fail!’ It’s OK to have a
disastrous lesson. It’s not about
getting it all right from the word go,
and just because we fail the first
time, doesn’t mean we throw it out.
We actually learn from that, that’s
where the deepest learning comes
from.”
Success in creating such a culture
was evidenced in the talk across the
school:
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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
What we’re doing is hard work and
we all make mistakes, and that’s
OK because we reflect on it.
(Teacher leader)
Teachers always came back to
this idea that ‘without failure you
can’t really succeed and you can’t
really know when you’ve actually
succeeded’. I guess I failed pretty
bad, and I never thought I’d say
this, but I actually feel good about
that failure because I now know
exactly what I can do better.
(Student)
Since its initial conception, the
model has continued to change,
evolve and strengthen as a result of
regular research, review and
reflection processes in the Critical
Inquiry KLA team, followed by goal
setting and strategic planning.
How does the model
inform the way
teachers at the
school work?
Designing for learning
An overview of Inquiry Based
Learning approach at Eltham HS is
provided in Appendix 1.
The IBTL cycle guides designs for
learning, pedagogical approaches
and the selection of instructional
strategies throughout a term’s Unit
Critical to the success of
progressing the IBTL approach were
leaders roles and communications,
particularly Vincent’s role as
principal. He was firm in
demonstrating:
The resolve and involvement of the
principal, together with his active
support and encouragement of
teachers and other leaders, was
clearly a factor contributing to both
the creation of the instructional
model and engagement with IBTL at
Eltham HS.
The Critical Inquiry KLA currently
employs the IBTL cycle with all Year
7s through their Integrated Studies
course.
This involves 5 periods a week of
inter-disciplinary study,
complemented by additional 50
minute workshops that focus
specifically and explicitly on
Science, SOSE and English learning
goals and needs.
Every workshop session over a 10
week unit is mapped out for each of
these disciplines. Workshop design
addresses key disciplinary topics or
concepts, learning outcomes,
success criteria, actions taken by
students and teachers, and required
resources.
During the Year 7 Integrated Studies
sessions, eleven teachers from the
Critical Inquiry KLA form 3 smaller
groups, each team-teaching 75 to
100 students in an open learning
space known as the ‘Inquiry
Learning Centre’. The five stages of
the IBTL cycle inform the sequence
and pedagogical approaches utilised
through the unit:
Everything is centred around
teachers talking to teachers.
… that we were very serious about
this, it is not going away. Yes, we
can talk about different strategies,
different ways of making this
happen, but bottom line, we are
not going to move away from this.
Junior School Teaching
of Work.
Teachers guide students toward
undertaking increasingly
independent inquiry or research
connected to the Unit of Work they
are studying. This is embedded
within a broader range of
instructional strategies and designed
as a gradual release of responsibility
approach:
… it starts off with very heavy
scaffolding that can be very
teacher centred.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Generating Curiosity
Exploring Key Idea
Translating Shared Idea
Forging Lines of Inquiry
Emerging
Generating Curiosity
At the start of a unit, teachers offer
students a range of different visual
stimuli, stories and questions to
‘generate curiosity’, aiming to
engage students and create a desire
to find out more.
Exploring Key Ideas
During the next stage of ‘exploring
key ideas’ teachers offer different
disciplinary lenses to students,
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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
enabling them to consider
similarities and differences between,
for example, a scientific, historical or
cultural perspective as they learn
the skills and methodologies of
various disciplines. Concepts are
introduced along with new
vocabulary during this stage. The
personal perspective is also drawn
in, enabling students to make
connections with their own beliefs
and experiences.
Translating Shared Ideas
During the stage of ‘translating
shared ideas’, teachers provide
students with opportunities to
process their initial experiences and
the key ideas they have been
exploring. Concepts are further
discussed to enable connections
and deeper meaning making.
This is the beginning of transitioning
from teacher-led learning to
students beginning to take the reins
to pursue a particular area of
inquiry. Students are expected to
generate a focused and substantial
research question and to bring
something unique to their
investigation.
Forging Lines of Inquiry
During the stage of ‘forging lines of
inquiry’ students begin to work
more autonomously as they
investigate, examine, critically
evaluate and work out how to
communicate their ideas and
understandings. ‘The Doors’
research model (see Appendix 2)
provides them with additional
scaffolding and support to selfmanage their personal research and
inquiry process.
Emerging
and progress.
Finally, the stage of ‘emerging’
prompts students to reflect on and
demonstrate their new learning and
progress, as well as identifying what
they need to learn next. During this
stage students ask themselves:
The Year 8 MORPH program, a tenday intensive incursion program
centred around community, is
designed to build on students’
interdisciplinary skills developed in
Year 7.
“What have I learnt? What
have I become? How will my
new knowledge influence the
way I behave and the way I
learn, in school and in the
broader community? Where to
from here?”
Middle and Senior Years
This stage is designed by teachers
to prompt metacognitive reflection
and development, with reference to
the personal and interpersonal
learning standards as well as
interdisciplinary learning. At the end,
teachers and students celebrate
everyone’s learning.
Teachers carefully design how much
time to spend on each stage of the
IBTL cycle:
…we might spend a couple of
periods on ‘generating curiosity’, a
week or two on ‘exploring key
ideas’, a couple of periods on
‘translating shared ideas’, then
several weeks on ‘forging lines of
inquiry’. When we get to
‘emerging’, we are focused on
metacognition as well students
reflecting on their learning journey
In the Middle School (Yrs 9 and 10),
the IBTL cycle in currently employed
in a semester long elective subject
‘Extended Investigation’.
Teachers drew upon what they had
learned from their Junior school
experiences to offer middle school
students an opportunity for learning
through inquiry and student-led
research.
Extended Investigation is also
offered as a year long, stand alone
VCE subject for senior students.
This course is informed by the
VCAA guidelines as well as the IBTL
cycle.
For the Extended Investigation
courses, the IBTL cycle has been
translated in a way that increasingly
steps up the demands and
requirements of students. Learning
goals are more complex and align
with expectations of high achieving
students at these year levels.
The course is also designed to build
research capabilities beyond the
This model also provides students
with explicit statements that clarify
the learning intentions and expected
outcomes of each stage of their
research.
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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
skills and understandings developed
in Years 7 and 8 and students are
expected to be increasingly selfmanaging.
As part of the Extended
Investigation courses, specific
research methodologies, logistics
and critical thinking are explicitly
taught, as are skills in writing,
referencing and communicating.
Guided by a purpose designed
inquiry model for senior students,
called the ‘Iterative Student-Led
Research Model’ (see Appendix 3),
middle and senior school students
are supported to develop and refine
a question, collect, analyse and
present data, and produce a written
thesis. The final research thesis,
defence of work, coursework and
critical thinking test formed the basis
of assessment for this course.
Teachers at this school have moved
well beyond simply ‘implementing’
particular instructional strategies.
Instead, they are very focused on
observing and noticing students,
documenting what is or isn’t
occurring in their learning and
working out what to do about this.
With this as their point of reference,
they then are able to draw upon the
extensive documentation of the
Critical Inquiry KLA to both reflect on
practice and design next steps.
Therefore, reflection on self, on
practice, on students and their
progress and on both short and
longer term goals and vision for
learners have both guided and been
guided by the IBTL cycle at Eltham.
Continuously evolving and
improving
The continuing evolution of the
Eltham HS model, informed by both
external and internal research,
means that teachers and leaders
are all actively involved in its
ongoing co-construction, translation
and strengthening.
Year 7 teachers reported that
students were better able to ‘see the
connections’ between disciplines as
a result of the Integrated Studies
course. Their evidence shows that
students have developed more
complex understandings while also
building a bank of skills, knowledge
and shared language related to the
Unit focus.
Both disciplinary and interdisciplinary learning outcomes have
been stronger and more connected.
Students have also discovered
authentic applications of ICT in
context e.g. as they access the
National Archives and other
databases, record their information
through various means such as
images and videos, and upload their
plans and findings.
As they have expanded the use of
the model from Junior to Middle and
Senior years, the Critical Inquiry
teachers found that they needed to
clarify their own ideas of what
progress and increasing levels of
complexity meant for teaching and
learning.
This continuum has helped them to
plan, observe and reflect on the
success of their teaching. It provides
a sound basis for determining the
extent to which students are
developing the desired qualities,
characteristics, skills and
understandings related to their
vision for learners.
One of the major things I learnt
was how I looked at everything.
I’ve always asked questions and
it’s kind of turned into a terrible
habit, but now I sit down in a
classroom and I know how
teachers have planned it all out
because that’s sort of what I
learnt in EI - it’s this whole
process of thinking and how to
think if you had to achieve a
certain goal. I know where to look
to get certain information now, I
know where not to look.
What has been the
impact of engaging
with the model?
Student Learning Outcomes
Ruby, a student who participated in
the Middle School IBTL elective
shared:
I will never be the same since
doing my Extended Investigation.
Reflecting on his own experiences
of Inquiry Based Learning, Ivan
appreciated the approach of his
teachers as well the kinds of skills
he was learning:
It was a good bunch of teachers
who were really engaged with their
students. They all seemed to care
about how much their kids knew
and if you had any questions. They
also ran workshops about how to
research effectively and how to
stay on task, and these were really
helpful for us.
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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
A lot of life skills in terms of how to
research effectively are not taught
in any specific classroom, but
more just assumed that you’ll learn
them over the course of high
school. But a lot of people don’t,
so it was very good to have some
of the strategies you can apply,
rather than just what you should
be learning. That knowledge is
useful for the rest of your life.
Students have learned that complex
research is not a linear process.
They have learned to cycle back
and forth through each aspect of
their research process as many
times as is needed to strengthen
their focus, process and
understanding. This has better
supported students to gather
information, feed data back into their
research, and recognise when their
questions require refinement.
Teachers reported that students
who have experienced the IBTL
approach show advanced thinking
skills and their questions are more
open and complex.
Teachers also noticed that students
are developing greater skills in
collaboration, problem solving, and
critical thinking. This was also
illustrated in students’ recollections:
…and it’s not just that you go into
class, you learn it, and you step
out, and that’s pretty much it. It’s
more that I have now moved what
I learnt into all of my classes… it
teaches you what you can do
better and how you can improve
and it’s a really good way to see
where your strategies fall down
and where your thinking falls
down.
Students are demonstrating greater
independence and capacity to work
through complex challenges,
breaking down larger tasks with
ease. They are more resilient and
persistent, happier to ‘roll with the
workload’ and have a better
understanding of the research
process. They are also more
resourceful and can pull in facts and
ideas from other areas to support
their own learning.
Ruby described her experience as
“a big reflection process, a big
realisation of how far I’d come”.
One student recollected the effort
required of him during Integrated
Studies in Year 7:
You really have to apply yourself
to do it, it’s about wanting to know
things and working through the
problems that come up. It was very
self driven, it was you who was
finding these things out and it was
you who was benefiting from it.
Impact on Teachers and
Teaching
The way teachers start a Unit, and
their initial teaching and learning
focus, has changed since
engagement with the IBTL cycle.
They now start by finding out about
students’ learning strategies and
ideas and how they perceive
themselves as learners. This helps
them to identify a set of skills they
need to teach and attitudinal factors
that might need attention.
To help make these kinds of
assessments, teachers prepare an
extensive interpersonal, disciplinespecific, self-assessment to work
out where students are at in terms of
working in groups, building
friendships, and managing learning.
Teachers now have different kinds
of discussions with their students.
For example, they explain that the
previously mentioned assessments
are designed to find out what is
understood in order to know what to
teach.
Teachers’ use of space has also
changed as their inquiry based
teaching pedagogy has developed.
Walls and glass are used as
learning spaces, not just displays.
ICT is available and strategically
employed in each space, with a
focus on student independence and
team building strategies.
As well as working with large groups
in a common, central space,
teachers also invite students to
analyse the level of assistance they
require on a particular day and seek
appropriate support. Signs in
different rooms guide students to
make these self-assessments:
Room166: “I know what I am going
to do and how to do it. I will work
mostly silently getting my work
completed and don’t need
any/much teacher assistance”.
Room 156 (& Central space): “I
mostly know what to do but I am
going to need to talk through ideas
with peers and get some help from
a teacher”
Room 154: “Agghhhh, please help
me get on track”
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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Another significant change is that
teachers are now focused on
continually trying gauge student
understanding then building their
own knowledge through actionbased research.
A recent development is that the
Critical Inquiry KLA team are now
investigating viable and rigorous
methods to measure the 21st century
skills they value, such as students’
critical thinking skills.
Hearing students articulate their
learning through inquiry and
through being given voice/choice
in the learning process spurred me
on to further invest in this
approach and in ensuring that
students understand the learning
that they are undertaking.
This includes exploring the
possibilities offered by collaborative
assessment.
Teachers continue the cycle of their
own learning alongside that of their
students. Constantly observing,
discussing and reflecting during their
time with students and in their teamteaching environment, teachers ask
such questions as:
A significant impact of the IBL
Instructional Strategy was
identification of the need for the two
student research models, which
were subsequently developed to
better scaffold independent learning
and research.
The important thing is not to
stop questioning. Curiosity
has its own reason for
existing. (Albert Einstein)
…how does that play out when we
assess students, what is our
evidence and what does it tell us?
Teachers’ reflections on their
findings lead to adjustments in the
teaching strategies utilised,
timeframes, resources used and
learning goals.
Teachers also pose deeper, more
layered questions and provocations
such as:
What is History about?
Why do we learn History and is it
important?
What kind of evidence do we use
in History and why is it important?
What problems do Historians face
when finding out about the past?
When looking at Historical
evidence what are you looking for?
Why are there occasionally
different versions of historical
events?
The ‘Doors Research Model’ is a
highly detailed inquiry scaffold for
junior students while the ‘Iterative
Student Led Research Model’
provides a set of broader guidelines
for the extended investigations
conducted by senior students (See
Appendix 2 and 3). The senior
model is based on a more
“sophisticated University-style
model, where they enter into the
idea of ethics, literature reviews,
data analysis.”
These models demonstrate how
teachers have reacted to student
learning needs to provide more
explicit teaching support that is an
alternative to the more traditional
direct instruction.
The Eltham HS instructional
strategies are clearly designed with
the broader goal of self-managing
students in mind. They have moved
away of simply giving students steps
to follow to ‘do’ inquiry. Offering a
more iterative approach requiring
students to make choices as to the
type and level of support they need
as well as the focus of their inquiry
contributes to this broader goal.
Teachers here are now very clear
that “inquiry does not necessarily
equal critical thinking” and their own
internal research has revealed that:
…There can be an assumption
that just because you allow
students to lead their own learning,
they will think critically about an
issue. In fact, it takes a massive
amount of effort by both students
and teachers.
Assessment practices are also
changing as a result of IBTL e.g. an
assessment completed for English
can also be valid as a Science
assessment. While creating
increased design complexity,
teachers reported that these types
of assessments are also far richer
because students can make
meaningful connections:
The big thing about inquiry is that
it’s not a box of knowledge, it’s …
these skills, traits, content, all flow
through. It’s important to grasp this
if you are to understand your
knowledge from different positions
and viewpoints, and to think about
it critically, you must not see it as a
box of ideas.
There have also been changes at
the VCE level, particularly where
teachers are members of the Critical
9
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Inquiry KLA. More meta-cognitive
elements have been included in
everyday teaching and students
have been given time to conduct
inquiry in study groups. In VCE
English there has been a gradual
rebalancing to include both direct
instruction and inquiry based
learning.
Futures focused vision
The Critical Inquiry team anchors
their teaching with a vision of
“fostering dynamic global and critical
future thinkers”. Every year they put
in place a reflective plan, identifying
how they are going to improve (in
inquiry based teaching and
learning), while ensuring that they
also scaffold literacy and numeracy
development.
how best to assess and monitor the
higher order learning goals of the
school vision as well as the personal
and interdisciplinary standards that
the Critical Inquiry team aims to
foster with students.
As KLA leader, Katie sees research
and evaluation as equipping
teachers with evidence-based
information to reasonably respond to
questions raised by students,
parents, other teaching staff and the
broader community. The Critical
Inquiry KLA team recognises the
“need to be beyond reproach – it’s
all justified, considered and
substantiated.”
Loren, a teacher leader in this team,
reflected:
…given all the evidence we have
in front of us, I continue to believe
that we must adapt as educators
or risk a generation of students
that have been taught skills which
do not match the reality of their
lives. My interest now lies in how
we continue to reframe ‘traditional’
competencies and engage with
them alongside 21st century skills.
In particular, the embedding of
literacy within inquiry is something
that I am pursuing through my PhD
to better understand the most
effective means of ensuring skill
transferability, learning in context
and road blocks to teachers
accessing literacy skills and inquiry
learning in their teaching
approach.
Loren’s teacher learning focus
clearly reflects Vincent’s vision for
the strategic direction of the school.
Through her participation in the
DEECD Teacher Led Research
program, Loren is also investigating
What might other
schools learn from
the Eltham HS
experience?
Valuing the voices of
students
Without a commitment to a clear,
focused and well communicated
vision for student learners, a
curriculum and subsequent teaching
can easily become fragmented.
At Eltham HS, such a deeply
thought through vision for learners
that anchors leadership,
professional learning and teaching
ensures that the higher order goals
of education are always in mind.
Vincent believes:
…our moral purpose, and
asking ourselves, ‘why are we
here’ is the one solid thing we
always go back to.
While ensuring that Eltham HS
students develop foundational
capabilities of literacy and numeracy
is also at the fore of teachers’ and
leaders’ deliberations, this was very
much in the context of helping their
students become:
The creation of their instructional
strategy and associated student
research models has meant that
leaders, teachers and students all
have a much more sophisticated
language for discussing teaching
and learning, which in turn has
enabled their own understandings to
deepen and continue to develop.
Now my practice focuses on
embedding 21st century
competencies within the
curriculum and allowing students
to develop independence and
criticality in their work.
… global and critical future
thinkers, who understand and
value the importance of lifelong
learning, through learning
sequences that are predominantly
student driven, holistic, thematic,
and build critical, technical and
interpersonal skills.
Vincent describes the best teachers
as:
…valuing the idiosyncratic voices
of their students and providing
opportunities and spaces to
discover things for themselves.
10
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
He stressed that the school-wide
pedagogies at Eltham HS began
with building good relationships, and
taking their parents along with their
students. This was a whole of
community endeavour.
resistance while setting up
structures to move one step at a
time, with the support of the early
adopters, proved critical to achieving
change while respecting history and
the sense of community.
He has found that communication
and useful feedback were essential
for sustainable change to occur and
that data analysis and appropriate
interpretation had empowered
significant learning for himself and
his staff.
Eltham HS has defined different
kinds of teacher leadership roles,
including ‘instructional practice
leader’ and ‘whole school
professional growth leader’ as part
of the change process. This
redefining of leadership roles can be
linked to both cultural and structural
change as it also communicates a
clear message about what is valued
and been prioritised at the school.
Application of this learning had led
to positive changes in the structure
of courses and associated
documents, thereby building
increasingly robust connections
between students, parents, and
staff.
While Vincent’s focus and
determination to achieve the
school’s goals continues to maintain
momentum, the school community is
also being asked, “Are we in
agreement that this is what we are
going to do?”
Vincent describes how any new
proposals are ‘checked’ against the
School’s Values and Purpose
Statement. Leaders and teachers
consider:
As Ruby, a senior student also
appreciated:
What I’ve learnt to do could
actually help society, it has a
purpose to it, and I guess that’s
massive. I’m actually shocked that
the teachers got all that in, in two
terms. I remember hearing it in a
speech one time, that they’re kind
of like karate teachers, wax on,
wax off…I had learnt something
completely different (to my inquiry
focus) but that was their objective,
that was what they wanted…It’s
not just the process, it’s the
teachers – they want us to
succeed! You are setting these
kids up for life – they might be
running the world one day so you
owe it to them to get as much as
possible.
Reflecting on the success of Inquiry
Based Teaching and Learning at
Eltham HS, Vincent emphasised:
It’s not just one thing, it’s the whole
place! It’s the conversations we
have with students, the way we
speak with them and the way they
speak with us. It’s our school
values, and I consistently reflect
back on those. So when we speak
about respecting diversity, of
course we would work with an
inquiry based approach – it’s a
perfect way of respecting the
diversity of ways that kids learn.
O’Rourke, M. & Burrows, P. (2014).
Review of contemporary research
on middle and teacher leadership.
Melbourne: Bastow Institute
i
…how does this fit in with what
we’re on about? How does this
respect diversity? How does this
value individuality in our students?
How does this build positive
relationships and give students a
voice? We USE those things
continuously, and in our
conversations with students.
As principal, Vincent also saw that a
key to his success at Eltham HS
was learning about the qualities of
each staff member, and identifying
the ‘early adopters’ among them.
Understanding the complexity of
relationships and potential
11
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
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