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Critical Inquiry Methods

The centrepiece of an effective Professional Learning Community (PLC) is the Critical Inquiry (CI) process. CI is defined as a process that helps teachers examine their classroom practices in a systematic and rigorous manner (adapted from Reid, 2004).

When teachers use a well-designed CI, they can master content, hone their pedagogy, evaluate their own and their students’ performance and address changes that need to be made in teaching and learning at their schools.

Let us examine the CI methodology, and how they apply to different scenarios in teaching.

3a CI Stages

The steps in the critical inquiry methods fall under four broad critical inquiry stages: 

Identify

Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) would need to clarify the purpose and objective of the PLT. In their discussions, members would discuss the strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum, instructional resources and strategies used. These would then be used to help PLTs narrow down to the areas of focus or topic they wish to examine.

Plan

Once they have selected the area of focus, PLTs then work collaboratively to identify and plan their interventions.  

Implement and Observe

PLTs carry out the interventions and collect data through observations and other forms of assessments which they will then use to analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed instructional strategy.

Review and Reflect

The most important aspect of this step is the dialogue among PLT members on lesson effectiveness as reflected in the student work. Whether conducted through formal or informal review processes, the focus of this analysis is not on staff evaluation, but rather on lesson effectiveness based on student learning and outcomes (Hipp and Huffman, 2010).

These steps would facilitate data-driven conversations and drive innovations (Hudson et al, 2013).

Below are four suggested CI methods. 

Action Research

Learning Circle

Lesson Study

Learning Study

All these methods require schools as PLCs to provide the space, the time, resources and processes for PLT members to reflect individually and collectively on the teaching and learning challenges they face.

Ideally, these methods would facilitate rich, productive and meaningful conversations based on observations, collection of student learning through assessments, and post-lesson feedback and reflections. PLC, a natural school-based platform for professional learning, after all, is designed for sustained collaboration among staff to find ways to enhance student learning.