The Insight Inquiry is a participative learning experience which brings young people and teachers together to identify, investigate and explore, develop and discuss ideas, generate new learning and then engage others on topics of interest and concern to them. It takes the form of a guided inquiry supported by a sequence of learning conversations. These café-style learning conversations form the focal points of the process and allow young people and their teachers to develop their understanding of the topic, gain fresh perspectives on it and come up with imaginative ways to share their learning with others. The process offers young people opportunities to build their capacities as learners and offers teachers a practical and facilitative approach to young people's learning.
The Dunrobin Insight Inquiry
Dunrobin Primary School is a non-denominational P1 to P7 primary school located in the community of Drumgelloch on the outskirts of Airdrie in North Lanarkshire. Like all Scottish schools its educational aims are expressed in the four capacities described in the Curriculum for Excellence: to develop successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.
In Dunrobin PS the Insight Inquiry was taken up by a group of three teachers with classes in P3 – P4 with the sponsorship and support of the Head Teacher and Depute Head Teacher. This followed discussion with the HT who expressed interest in offering learning experiences to learners and teachers in the school that would stretch and encourage them and which were less constrained by the demands of the school curriculum. Commencing in December 2011 and continuing over two school terms until May 2012, teachers and young people in three Dunrobin classes participated in a project developed around the theme of ancient civilisations using the approaches and practices of the Insight Inquiry to facilitate their learning.
Over this period the Dunrobin Insight Inquiry progressed through the following key phases:
- Holding preliminary discussions with the HT and teachers to explore their needs and interests and establish how the Insight Inquiry could help meet learning goals for young people, teachers and the wider school community.
- Introducing the thinking and practices that underpin the approach, highlighting how these support or relate to teachers' current approaches to learning and teaching and identifying where differences, questions or tensions might arise.
- Providing examples of resources, activities, readings and other materials to support the inquiry process.
- Establishing a learning partnership with the teaching team and between the teachers and their learning partners (teaching peers), identifying areas for development, review and reflection and setting up informal learning contracts between teachers and their learning partners.
- Setting up a sequence of learning conversations with the Insight Inquiry coaches/facilitators to review and reflect on progress through actively checking-in with teachers in terms of progress and learning, identifying problems and exploring solutions to these, engaging the questions and identifying the insights arising through the process as it develops.
- Reviewing the outcomes of the Insight Inquiry and identifying key learning through interactive and participative review conducted with teachers, the sponsors of the inquiry and the Insight Inquiry coaches/facilitators
Key Learnings and Reflections
In late May 2012 the evaluation of the Insight Inquiry was conducted and significant benefits for learners and teachers were noted in relation to:
- the development of learners' skills in areas such as researching and using information; questioning and evaluating their learning; developing more independent learners; active participation; learner confidence, enjoyment and motivation.
- collaboration between professional colleagues; peer interactions and collegiality; planning, thinking through the process and considering its wider application; developing resourcefulness; reflecting on and modifying own practice.
Throughout the evaluation, and at many points in the progress of the Insight Inquiry teachers, HT and DHT commented on the value teachers found in discussing with each other, sharing what they were doing, thinking and planning together, and reflecting on their practice.
There are of course substantial challenges involved in implementing an approach such as the Insight Inquiry, relating it to the demands of curriculum and reconciling it with other approaches to learning and teaching. The insight Inquiry may not provide answers to these but it does offer a context in which they can be explored. As with any project, the Insight Inquiry had to be managed pragmatically by the teachers involved who used their judgement to make it work in ways that supported learners rather than adhering to it in a programmatic fashion.
Because the Insight Inquiry is based in assumptions about learners becoming more participative in their learning, this can stimulate reflection about, for example, assumptions about learning, the teacher's role or the learners' responsibilities for learning. One Dunrobin teacher noted how her sense of her own role and relationship with learners shifted through the Inquiry process. She found her sense of her role shifting as the inquiry process developed and noted how she became more prepared to pass more responsibility for learning to her learners.
"…I kind of checked myself, and I am assuming that because I have I have a class of traditionally low attainers in academic subjects that they can't do this, so I have to lead them by the nose through it all the time and in actual fact when I let them go and do something and gave them a task...and this is an area you've said you're interested in. Now what are you going to do to show me what you've learned…I want to see at the end of this how will you show me everything you've learned, and they can talk about everything they've done and its really successful...It's taught me so much about how to let go." (T)
Having the support of colleagues, freedom to work on the project and a non judgemental "space" to work in were also valued and frequently mentioned in conversations while the inquiry was underway as well as at its conclusion.
"…It's also about leaving other issues at the door: this is just us….talking about our learning and our childrens' learning….that's what I've really enjoyed." (T)
"…You've given each other the confidence to have that conversation about what you're teaching. (HT)
Reflecting on their experience has provided teachers with insights into personal changes.
"…I think I've changed. In the ways I've been teaching children, even outwith the topic, have been a little bit more based on this methodology...and being a bit more reflective about it." (T)
The Dunrobin Insight Inquiry provided significant learning for the teachers and young people involved. The teachers experienced value in collaborating with each other during the shared project process and they appreciated the support they were able to provide each other. They also demonstrated a willingness to experiment with the approach, adapt it to fit their circumstances and reflect on aspects of their practice stimulated by the inquiry process.
Since taking part in the Dunrobin Insight Inquiry, one of the participants has undertaken a project with the sponsorship of the Farmington Institute to explore Moral Dilemmas in the Primary Classroom Using Stories from World Faiths. This project with a class of Primary 5 pupils engaged learners in a variety of experiences, for example engaging with representatives of different faith communities, in their active exploration of these stories and utilised a number of aspects of the Insight Inquiry approach "to encourage them to make connections to their own learning and to develop as reflective learners."