Is ‘Disciplined Inquiry’ making a difference in the classroom?

27 February 2018

Here at Huntington we have been working on our own ‘Disciplined Inquiry’ model for over a year now and we thought it was time that we shared some evaluation of this work with you and the impact it may or may not be having for our staff and students.

It’s always going to be difficult to truly evaluate the impact of all our small scale classroom interventions: do they really make a difference in the classroom? Or, are we simply reacting to our own preconceived ideas, relying on our instincts or hunches and not really testing anything?

We may also be investing lots of time, effort and resources into our classroom interventions and because something ‘feels good’ we think that it’s working. However, are we really adopting an evidence-based approach to pedagogy, evaluating what we do despite our many pressures, and can we ever hope to do this successfully?

On a more optimistic note, we do seem to be witnessing a change in our teachers’ thinking and we would hope that our ‘disciplined inquiry’ model is making a difference in the classroom (although it’s difficult to quantify the outcomes from all these individual classroom intervention). Interestingly, over a third of our staff did intimate that according to their data, the classroom intervention they undertook failed to show any real signs of promise. We get to the crucial ‘STOP DOING SO MANY GOOD THINGS‘ moment!

Interestingly, when we asked our staff whether they thought their own inquiry had a direct impact on outcomes in the classroom, the responses were much less about physical outcomes and results, and were much more based on psychological and cognitive abilities demonstrated by their students: such as confidence, fluency and perseverance being discussed to different degrees. The following statements typify some of the responses:

‘I believe that my inquiry work did have a clear impact in the classroom. I focused on Growth Mindsets and overcoming maths anxiety. During and after the intervention there was a real sense of students demonstrating a can-do attitude and showing perseverance in tackling problem-solving questions.’   

Truly, I can’t judge how much impact the metacognition had on the student results since I can’t remove the essential factors of time, repetition, revision and experience that come with studying a subject over time. However, I can say it has made a difference – most crucially in terms of their confidence.’

Some interesting comments to this question and probably not what we would have expected. We were also keen to harness the positive aspects of this model and therefore asked our staff ‘what are you going to do more of as a direct result of your inquiry work?’. The comments below give you an idea of the changes teachers are making to their current practice. The insights are what really makes the disciplined inquiry model standout from other forms of CPD because the autonomous nature of the model allows changes to be made at classroom level:

‘We are now collaborating as a department to embed weekly translation practice into our teaching. We have identified 8 key verbs and we’re using a different one each week to try and improve students’ ability to use them in different tenses in their speaking and free writing.’

‘I will pay closer attention to the questions, I ask students. Better-designed questions give more relevant and reliable responses and allow assessment to be more accurate.’

We were also interested in finding out what our teachers are stopping – what are they getting rid of to concentrate more on the good stuff. I’ve picked out a couple of interesting points made below:

‘I stopped using complex sentences that included many other items of vocabulary that distracted from the key present tense verbs I was focussing upon as the main area for intervention and improvement. Simplicity and regular practice are much more effective.’

‘Too many exam questions, much more focus on formative assessment to build and check knowledge. Replacing these longer exam responses with short answer formative assessment (for example the use of MQC’s). I will also stop offering ‘baited’ questions, sometimes subconsciously, obvious incorrect options and finishing with questions that were too easy.’ 

The comments are testament to the detail and depth of understanding this more forensic approach can illicit. The following statement also quantifies this and outlines the difference that adopting a more disciplined, inquiring approach, can have on our teachers and in our classrooms:

‘I didn’t necessarily prove that something didn’t work, it was more that it gave me more options for things that could work, and confidence to try a less traditional ‘teacher based’ approaches and know that it can have the potential to work.’


For more information on our Disciplined Inquiry model, why not contact us at You can also our hugely popular ‘Leading Learning’ programme – now with our second programme of the year, ‘Leading Learning: Summer 2018‘. 

Lead&Learn F Feb 2018

Stephen Foreman, Research-lead, Huntington School

Posted on 27 February 2018
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