Early in the i3 New England Network project, representatives from CSSR and project schools, gathered at the Urban Academy in New York City to participate in the New York Performance Standards Consortium's1 moderation study. Consortium schools use this process to review artifacts of student work and ensure that instruction and assessment meet rigorous learning standards, including the use of rubric data to drive instructional improvement2. At the end of the day Ann Cook, co-director of the Urban Academy and founder of the Consortium, shared her advice for creating a culture of inquiry in the i3 New England Network: “start with pedagogy and instruction in the classroom!”
A “Culture of Inquiry” is a set of conditions that exist within a school or a district in which the focus of the learning for students and adults is around answering important and compelling questions. The culture of inquiry exists at two levels: with students at the classroom level, and with educators at the school level. In the classroom, it is evident through flexibility in the curriculum as it is driven by student questions rather than a list of content that has be covered. Teaching and learning is co-constructed by both students and teachers, and is motivated by genuine authenticity and questions that both kids and adults want answered. Students are at the center of all learning activities and have the ability to connect their passions with “uncommon” learning tasks. These uncommon learning tasks are self-driven and individually designed to connect with their personal passions and interests, but are assessed against a working rubric that is common across all students working towards demonstration of mastery of core competencies. It is important to note that in a culture of inquiry, students are still held to the established standards or competencies; pursuing those learning outcomes through an inquiry-based process provides a better method for understanding and retaining new knowledge. At the school level, a culture of inquiry promotes purposeful collaboration, instead of siloed practice. Faculty and administrators seek answers to important and relevant questions about their practice using student data in a cycle of inquiry to inform their work. It is a powerful model of authentic learning for both students and adults.
Gregg Sinner, CSSR School Change Coach and chair of the i3 New England Network Performance Assessment Review Board argues that the purpose of creating a culture of inquiry is to “liberate the genius and goodness that exists in all children.” When schools adopt a culture of inquiry, the learning for students and adults is equally significant and powerful. The schools that made the greatest strides towards creating a culture of inquiry over the five-year project have done so through the following three avenues, each of which is elaborated on later in this guide.
- Developing inquiry-based teaching practices in the classroom
- Using a cycle of inquiry as a model for teacher collaboration
- Engaging all stakeholders