Collaborative Inquiry Differs from Traditional Professional Development

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  • This excerpt from Michael Palmisano's Taking Inquiry to Scale:  An Alternative to Traditional Approaches to Education Reform (NCLE & NCTE, 2013) discusses the differences between collaborative inquiry and traditional forms of professional learning.

    What distinquishes collaborative inquiry from other approaches to educator professional learning?

    Collaborative inquiry offers an alternative to one-size-fits-all and top-down approaches to educator professional learning through its approach and its results. Collaborative inquiry changes the professional learning experience by reframing how professional knowledge is constructed and applied. Moving from professional learning approached as the acquisition of methods and structures developed outside the classroom and the school, collaborative inquiry places educators in the role of actively constructing professional knowledge through treating their classrooms and schools as sites for investigation.

    Professional learning centers on investigating shared problems or questions of practice as they relate to student learning. The student learning problem, not a prepackaged one-size-fits-all solution, is the departure point for inquiry. Recurring cycles of planning, action and reflection characterize the professional learning experience. Educators engage in learning and conversation from inside their practice and build on their professional knowledge by examining and reflecting on new learning through the lens of prior knowledge and experience, new information and data, and the impact of their actions.

    Collaborative inquiry engages educators in self-directed and participatory learning, moving beyond collective passive learning to learning with and from colleagues through action and reflection. In the supportive context of collaborative inquiry, participants explore agreements and disagreements about learning and teaching, uncover tacit knowledge, and come to individual and shared understandings of how, why and under what conditions instruction and leadership yield positive student results.

    The results of educator engagement in collaborative inquiry speak to its effectiveness and viability as an approach to educator professional learning. Evidence of improved instructional practice, increased student achievement, and organizational conditions that support high achievement are documented in multiple studies involving elementary and secondary schools in various settings serving diverse student populations. Results also demonstrate increased teacher agency in their practice and ownership of their professional learning. The persistent problem of transferring new learning into practice is overcome by centering professional learning on practice. Through collaborative inquiry, individual and collective action become more intentional, coherent, and evidence based.

    This excerpt has been reprinted here with permission from Michael Palmisano and NCTE.

    Changing Practice

    Last night I attended a informational meeting on blended learning.  One of the participants repeatedly asked the Superintendent what his strategic plan was for implementing blended learning throughout the school district.  Since it is a very large district  in the midst of a financial crisis, he explained that the district was not in the position to mandate implementation and that school leaders and teachers would have to determine when and how the various blended learning models would be implemented on a school by school basis.  Another participant, not in response to the strategic plan question, suggested that collaborative inquiry be a topic for this group to explore in an upcoming session.  After reading the blog I was struck by how the question and the suggestion were connected.  If school professionals engage in professional development that employs a blended learning model devoted to collaborative inquiry, it is likely that the school professionals would begin to see the value in using collaborative inquiry as the core approach to teaching and learning and the technology tools for research and collaboration would likely follow.  The blog reminded me of the importance of practicing what we preach and in doing so we find a viable solution to a problem. 


    Why is implementation so difficult?

    Sadly, I am seeing much of the same response in the education systems I visit. I am currently a graduate student studying literacy and in my classes we constantly talk about how collaborative inquiry promotes authentic learning and student agency. The few times I have seen it in practice it has really worked. With all the research out there to prove that collaboritve inquiry benefits students much more than the "top down approach" I can't believe that we are even still arguing about using it in the classroom. So why does the implenation of this method seem to be so difficult in school systems? Teachers can only do so much on our own, we need the support from our administrators and commuinty in order to make changes in the classroom. Why is it so hard for whole school systems to get on board?

    Collaborative and Shared Inquiry

    For 60 years the Great Books Foundation has been training discussion leaders to collaboratively read with a circle of friends. Collaborative inquiry for professional learning is similar to Shared Inquiry of text in that it requires close reading, careful listening, and well-structured arguments to help listeners understand.