It is always exciting when an inquiry gets underway, and this one particularly so because it has been a year in planning, on and off. What has really struck me in this first week and a half is the role of the skillful subject specialist in guiding and shaping the individual student experience. Having spent a long time collaboratively planning the inquiry and designing resources to support it, it is so tempting at this stage to take your foot off the gas and let the students ‘get on with it’ – and yet it is the skillfully applied nudges, gentle interventions, and sometimes hefty shoves in the right direction that ultimately determine success. Watching Joe teach is a real masterclass – he knows exactly how to get the best out of the individual students, and has very high expectations that they rise to meet. He also knows his subject inside out, and is constantly drip feeding appropriate facts to stimulate thinking and shape the direction of the inquiry, without ‘rescuing’ students or doing their work for them. He challenges weak or lazy arguments that students make, and unpicks strong ones to show other students where their strength comes from. Lessons, even during an inquiry, always have thought-provoking yet simple starters and his students know that there is nowhere to hide because everyone is expected to contribute.
Another interesting aspect of this inquiry is that exam technique is unashamedly central, which challenges the often heard argument that inquiry is a nice add-on if you have a bit of spare time but is actually a luxury because it won’t be on the exam. The expression of this inquiry is in debate format and Joe frequently explicitly highlights to the students areas where they are practising and refining ‘AO2’ (analysis) and ‘AO3’ (evaluation) skills. Throughout the inquiry students are learning subject content and subject-specific exam technique as well as inquiry skills. And they are so engaged with the material that after the end of one debate on Tuesday both students involved were saying “I know the debate is over, but can I just share this…” because they couldn’t keep what they had found to themselves! That’s not an unnecessary luxury, that’s exemplary classroom practice.