What is teacher inquiry?

The Teaching Channel recently published four videos which describe much of the work I do with teams of teachers in a project known as Accessing Algebra Through Inquiry (or a2i for short). One of the primary objects of the a2i project is to build the capacity of school-based teams of teachers working collaboratively to improve their practice and make evidence based choices about their instruction. In other words, a primary objective of our project is to change how teachers collaborate and increase their opportunities to learn about their practice.

One thing I do is help facilitate a meeting at a school, with the objective of working through an inquiry cycle where we look at student work, identify a common problem of practice, unpack what the probable models the students are using to think about this particular area of mathematics, and then decide together as a team on an intervention for the teacher’s group of students. Next the teacher implements the strategy, and we study the resulting student work to see if the intervention worked.

These two videos describe the inquiry process in more detail.

Another portion of my work is individual coaching of teachers. I work with teachers where I typically observe their classes, usually focusing on a particular aspect of the lesson. During this time, I gather information about what strategies the teacher employed, and how these strategies played out with the teacher. Sometimes I model a particular strategy with a teacher, and occasionally I rehearse a strategy with them, particularly if they have never used it before.

After the lesson is over, or sometimes before the lesson, I meet with the teacher and we discuss instructional strategies for their students. Sometimes we discuss classroom management strategies, sometimes we discuss the core mathematical content of a unit, sometimes we look at different instructional strategies, and sometimes I reflect back to the teacher the questions they asked, and we discuss the impact of these questions.

Here is a short clip from an individual coaching session between a former colleague of mine, Xiomara Gonzalez and one of the teachers in our project, Anna Tabor.

One of the most important benefit of our project is that we are providing a structure through which teachers get more feedback on their work when they collaborate with other teachers, and at the same time, get feedback from an instructional coach.

Here is a video that explains the impact of the feedback Anna receives from her colleagues, and from the work with her instructional coach, Xiomara.

It has become clear to me that large, impersonal conferences, workshops that are disconnected from teacher practice, courses which overly focus on the theoretical, and spaghetti-style professional development (throw the PD at the teachers and see what sticks) are not accomplishing their objective; getting teachers to reflect on their teaching right now, with this group of students. This process of inquiry that we are working as a team of instructional coaches to implement in our schools is designed to give teachers peer feedback on their teaching, and to help them grow and improve their skills while still connecting this learning directly to the work teachers do with their students.


Note: If you can’t see the videos above (because this post is in your email or your RSS feed reader), you can view them here.




  • Hello David,

    The a2i project looks fantastic.  Is there a site where I can see more or is the project limited to the thirty schools that are part of the project?



  • David Wees wrote:

    I sent you an email. I’m leaving a note here in case for some reason the email bounces or someone is curious if I followed up with you or not.

  • Savannah Rhodes wrote:

    Hello David,

    My name is Savannah Rhodes, and I’m a student in a class called EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. As someone who is studying to become a math teacher someday, I really appreciated the article and videos that you shared in this post! In a few weeks, I’ll be featuring your blog over on my EDM 310 Class Blog so I can share with my classmates some of the helpful things I learn from your posts. I enjoyed reading about the a2i project. Thanks for sharing with us about it! 

  • David Wees wrote:

    Hi Savannah,

    Thank you for introducing yourself. When you post about my blog, I’d love it if you could let me know so I can read your perspective.


  • Hi David–
    Wow. I just come across your blog through the videos on The Teacher Channel. Very inspiring. I’m a principal of a Title 1 elementary school outside Washington, DC where we aim to teach math using a constructivist approach. Analyzing student work and seeing what strategies they’re using are key to our work.
    I was especially impressed with the team of teachers discussing one teacher’s students. I could see that the teachers used a protocol to analyze the student work. What I didn’t see was the protocol for the actual discussion that Xiomara led with the teachers. Is that available?
    Thanks so much.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Hi Jean,

    There are two likely sources for the protocol used. One is the School Reform Initiative. Here is their page that details their student-focused protocols, many of which are around looking at student work.

    We also adapted their work and made our own looking at student work protocol, specially designed to fit in a short (perhaps 30 minute) team meeting.


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