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Inquiring in the Classroom – Asking the Questions that Matter about Teaching and Learning

Book review of ‘Inquiring in the Classroom – Asking the Questions that Matter about Teaching and Learning’, Nick Mitchell and Joanne Pearson (eds), Continuum, 2012 (ISBN 9781441152824, 200 pages, paperback published at. £19.99).


In a veritable sea of educational publications aiming to encourage practitioners to reflect upon their own practice, Inquiring in the Classroom – Asking the Questions that Matter about Teaching and Learning (2012) will perhaps be one of the more successful contributions to the field. This book, edited by Nick Mitchell and Joanne Pearson, does not apologise for its intention, and sets out its stall admirably, firmly stating belief in the benefits of teacher inquiry to improve pedagogy and practice in the classroom.

The foreword claims that “You can’t spend a lifetime just being the teacher: sometimes you need to be the learner”, and this book goes some way to addressing that. The authors, as experienced teachers and professionals in the field, recognise that additional work is rarely greeted with enthusiasm. However, they believe that it is likely to give rise to discussion, debate and introspection in the pursuit of best practice by using inquiry as a “catalyst for reconstituting and reconstructing educational beliefs and practices” whether in the classroom or beyond (p3).
Split into three parts and ten chapters, the layout is clear and concise, and the book is easy to read. The chapters are set out well, with outlines provided at the start for ease of reference, boxes containing “Thinking it through” questions for self-reflection and clear subheadings in manageable sections. For a practitioner at any level, “from early years to post 16” (p8), there are elements of the book’s design that can support all teachers. The explanations of key concepts for research, such as critical reading or the use of questionnaires, are explained in depth for those who may be unfamiliar with them, whilst providing an aide-mémoire for those already acquainted with such terminology without being overtly patronising. A key strength of this publication is the way each chapter explains, through the use of analogy or through practical examples, how inquiry can be used positively for the benefit of both teacher and pupil within the context of a classroom.
The first part, Tools of Teacher Inquiry, highlights the use of literature, data and activities. This is developed further in the second part of the book, which examines the Mechanics of Teaching and Learning, showcasing specifically how one might inquire into Teaching, Learning and Assessment; Subject Knowledge; Children’s Development and Behaviour; Inclusion; Collaborative Working and Leadership and Management. These areas are broadly given as examples by providing an overview of the Methodology that can be used to acquire data, how to substantiate the inquiry through a review of the literature and how to draw it all together. The final part of the book deals specifically with Sharing Your Findings, looking at possible ways to present the inquiry to others – a further valuable exercise to help practitioners consolidate and reflect upon the research that they have undertaken.

The publication advises how one may reframe questions and condition thinking towards inquiry in the classroom. Highlighting the immense value to developing pedagogy, and through practical suggestions of how to undertake this form of inquiry in a classroom, it is certainly of benefit to help shape one’s thinking on how to be more critical and self-reflexive in one’s practice. Furthermore, substantiated by extensive research drawn from a range of sources, it is supported by theory and practice. The references provided at the end of each chapter suggest ideas for further research to validate this approach, and much like the rest of the book, provide something for every reader, beginners and beyond.

The accessibility of the book is perhaps its biggest strength, as it will have a wide appeal to all within the education sector, irrespective of the age range they teach or how experienced they are. By offering practical examples of how, but most importantly why you would want to conduct this sort of inquiry, it will encourage teachers to partake of methods of inquiry putting the data they collect to good use in order to improve their practice and pedagogy, for the benefit of all within their care.

Chris Hussey /