What does inquiry look like and sharing this with children, families and colleagues

As teachers see inquiry in action, writing narrative assessments, known in New Zealand as Learning Stories (professor Margaret Carr, 2001) gives families, children and teaching colleagues insights into children’s learning in the context it happened. As teachers track learning progress over time, an in-depth understanding of their learning identity is formed. Families and children contribute to this and a strong identity that learning is inquiry, as children pursue their interests with energy and commitment, hardwork and effort, reinforces learning characteristics that lead to learning success life long.

The link below will enable you to read a Learning Story from the Tinkering workshop at Greerton Early Childhood Centre. Enjoy!

Poppys Butterfly



From theory to practice……. why?

Ever been in conversations where it feels like it’s a ping pong ball? He said… she said… and so it goes on. When we start down this track, in terms of our cultures of learning and teaching, we risk the possibility of becoming stuck in ‘invested practice’. We’ve done it like this and it’s always worked; or this has always suited us; our parents and children like it this way. We end up in the ring at opposite corners, waiting for the bell before going head to head again. It often becomes a discussion about personal preference and justified from personal belief and ends up ‘personal’. What happens then if we shift this ‘invested practice’ to the side and think how theory and research offer provocations for deeply reflective practice?

This is ‘growth mindset’ in action –

Motivated to improve; at the edge prepared to work hard      with deep commitment to practice and stretch our abilities  AND accept and offer feedback that leads to improved outcomes for children.

Understanding what theory and research can offer us gives us more thinking space to thoughtfully review what we currently do, feel and say.

This quote from Diti Hill altered our teaching and learning lives as we began to think more deeply about how to enable learning to flourish: “children do not live their lives in curriculum fragments” (Power, Passion and Planning in the Early Childhood Centre. The First Years: Nga Tau Tuatahi, New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, Volume 3, Issue Two, 2001).

We began to tap into children’s natural rhythms and think about the dispositions driving their learning and in doing this we found we were more able to engage in meaningful ways with children’s energies, passions and spirits and as a result, learning stretched. We realised that when this occurred inside collaborative  communities, where adults and children were able to explore surprising, convoluted pathways, we began to notice children’s huge capacity to persist with difficulty, keep practicing, and then perfect their skills through their efforts. This energised our thinking and we turned a corner into a learning vibrancy that would, into the future, revolutionise the way we saw learning: As possibility, as imagination, as effort and hard work, as conversation, as inquiry. 

Welcome to the inaugural post for inquiry based learning particularly around early years education.

I ought to introduce myself, yet this hardly seems like a literacy hook that will keep you reading. However, I’ll give it a go. Lorraine Sands is my name and I work for Educational Leadership Project as a professional learning facilitator across New Zealand and beyond.

Our website, worth going to for all manner of things connected with life long learning is: http://www.elp.co.nz

I’ve set this word press up to offer a forum for ongoing discussion around inquiry learning in the early years, particularly to encourage cross sector discussion between early childhood teachers and primary school teachers. Any and all actually who would like to contribute, hence the public nature of this site. The intention is to offer references, articles, books and  research to invite conversation. Yet, more than this, to actively stretch ideas around what makes learning environments fabulous ones. Ones that take that spark that is the essence of all beginning learners, their birth right, and nurture the flame, inside families, in early learning group settings then on into school and beyond.

Why inquiry learning? It’s such a fascinating notion. It conjures up all manner of explorations coming from the inside out. What makes the sky blue? Where does that ant trail lead? Tell me that story. How does it end? And why?  It’s what drives  babies to look at those wriggly things at the end of their arms and wonder what they can do? It intriguingly invites connection between people. Where does that ant trail lead and let’s find out together. Rarely does learning happen in isolation from others and when we see learning as connection, we realise the way relationships are the blanket that warms that spark so it dances as flames across time and space. Learning is energy that finds its will to keep pursuing the quest when we often don’t even know what this means at the beginning, long past the easy bits into practice and effort, inside what is imaginable and therefore possible.

I love reading the way people write about learning and teaching. That’s the thing about reading other people’s work, we get to share the intimacy of someone else’s thoughts and make them our own as we wonder what might work for us, adapt the ideas and trial them out. They often end up quite different from the original but I think, only rarely as learning ‘light bulb moments’, more aptly as smouldering ideas awaiting opportunity. Most often out of a relaxed sleep at one in the morning with the problem solved, a wish for a more civilised time say 8.00, and action.

Two writers that I familiarly call favourites  have influenced my thinking about inquiry based learning, causing me to re-consider the ways I connect with children to affirm and stretch their learning.

David Perkins makes these comments:

“It’s never just routine. It’s about thinking about what you know and pushing further. It involves open ended or ill-structured problems and novel, puzzling situations. It’s never just problem solving it involves problem finding. It’s not just about right answers. It involves explanation and justification. It’s not emotionally flat. It involves curiosity, discovery, creativity, camaraderie” (Making Learning Whole, 2009, p.29).

It’s not emotionally flat, really resonates. When I think of children immersed in something of great interest to them, they are so clearly emotionally connected. Their whole bodies vibrate with interest. If we use this as a framework for the kinds of learning and teaching environments we help to co-create with children, the scope for inquiry learning,  fuelling a passion for ‘learning to learn’, becomes limitless.

These further comments by Michael Fullan imbued with surprise, wonder and awe catapult learners into what Michael describes as the  ‘Stratosphere’.

“Learning ought to be irresistibly engaging” (2013).

When these notions sit inside our ‘moment by moment’ conversations with children, we shift children into the driving seat where they take responsibility for pushing to the edge and beyond. The determination for practising the hard bits comes from them. We don’t have to think of learning outcomes. In fact when we do, these so often fall short of children’s imaginative energy. In connection with children though, everything is possible and ‘irresistibly engaging’ is what it is!