Bookmarked The Wonder of Writing.: what writing a children’s book taught me about teaching writing. (

Creating a narrative for children has been such another deep inquiry into the process and craft of writing. I feel as if I have been travelling on parallel tracks – one as a writer and the other as a teacher. As I have been writing, I have also thought a lot about the way we ‘teach’ writing to our young learners. In this post, I want to share some of the lessons I have learned. They are not new ones, by any means, but I hope they are worth being reminded of…

Kath Murdoch reflects upon the experience of writing a children’s book and provides a list of lessons learnt along the way:

  • Writing can be hard work
  • We compose even when we are not writing
  • Writing and grammar are inquiries themselves
  • Desire is enhanced through choice and care
  • Writing is a team effort
  • Feedback is not easy to receive
  • Brevity can be a benefit
  • Words and images relate
  • Having an audience makes a difference
Liked Getting personal with teacher inquiry: one school’s approach. (

I have been fortunate to have partnered with Bonython School in Canberra for several years now. It has been wonderful to watch the careful and thoughtful way the leadership team and the staff as a whole have worked on growing a culture of Inquiry from the ground up. As is the case for several schools I work with, one feature of their work is the expectation that educators will engage in their own inquiry journeys throughout the year. I invited deputies Marc Warwick and Amanda Hawkins to chat to me about their approach, late last year and share some key moments from our conversation including some teacher reflections here.

Liked When the Machine Starts Up Again, will you remember? (

I am not saying that the remote experience was preferable for teaching – far from it. BUT it did offer us some lessons we were determined to remember. It revealed to many of us some new truths about ourselves, our children, our families – about what it means to teach and what it means to learn. For some of us it was simply an intense reminder of all that is good and beautiful about meeting with young people face to face on a day to day basis and that we would never take those beautiful faces for granted again! For others it opened new doors to thinking about how we can design for more powerful learning. Regardless of the lessons we learned, how can we help ourselves remember – when the machine starts up again?

Bookmarked The art of inquiry teaching…from a distance: Part #1 (

Someone described it to me as the ‘moment when the clouds parted and the sun shone through’. That is what it felt like way back in June (remember June?) when, for a few precious weeks, I was able to go into schools and work with kids and teachers face to face. It was definitely NOT the same expe…

Kath Murdoch shares two posts (one and two) unpacking strategies for incorporating inquiry into the remote context:

  • Cultivate curiosity by provoking, modelling and valuing it
  • Ask more questions than tell
  • Release control and let learners do the heavy lifting
  • Notice, reflect and respond
  • Be personal by helping students find and pursue their passion
  • Harness real contexts, such as virtual field trips
  • Allow for humour and play
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Focus on concepts over busy work
  • Celebrate the skills within the learning

Emily Fintelman provides her own take on incorporating inquiry into the online classroom, as well as an excellent reflection in the DLTV Journal.

Bookmarked Staying awake to the world: taking time to inquire into and build our own (

I have always been wary of the glib phrase: “Inquiry teachers can learn alongside the children”. While there is certainly truth in that (I have learned SO much simply being part of an inquiry journey with groups and individuals) it doesn’t mean we are ‘off the hook’. Our ignorance can prevent us from asking better questions, helping learners make connections or pointing the way to critical information that can help struggling learners make meaning. In fact I have often observed in my own teaching that the deeper my understanding of something is, the better I am at listening, waiting, questioning and holding back to support the learner. Even when we might be assisting learners in a personal inquiry that goes well beyond our own field of interest and expertise, we need to know enough about how to connect to and locate others with the expertise … and that, in itself, requires us to stay awake to the world around us.

Kath Murdoch responds to the prime ministers mistake in claiming that we have never had slavery in Australia by providing a list of ways we can stay more awake. Whether it be sharing podcasts or connecting with an expert, the intent of this time is to spur our sense of curiosity.

We need to have hungry minds that stay relentlessly curious about the way the world works and the way we understand the world. We need to keep pushing ourselves out of our “comfortable knowledge bubbles” and be prepared to be the geographers, historians, scientists, authors, mathematicians and artists we hope our students will be.

I remember trying to push the sharing of ideas and resources a few years ago through social bookmarking. I think the biggest challenge is legitimising the time. Too often in the busyness of planning things can quickly become about getting it done.

Bookmarked Mining for gold…what have we discovered? And what now? (

This week, students and teachers are beginning to return to school here in Australia.
return: “an act of coming or going back to a place or activity”
It’s a word I have been trying to avoid as I speak with my partner schools. Instead of thinking about it as a return to…let’s think about it…

Kath Murdoch reflects on some of the discoveries from the forced move online/offsite.  Some of her wonderings included:

  • What would happen if we offered learners the opportunity to create their timetables?
  • Can we team up to allow children to engage in independent inquiry (with one or two educators supporting them in the space) while others work with target groups across the day?
  • What if we met at the end of each day for a short, focussed reflection and thought about how we might adjust plans for tomorrow?
  • Can we build on our online experiences to use more ‘flipped’ models for home learning

Along with Riss Leung’s reflection, this provides a useful provocation for moving forward.

Personally speaking, it makes me wonder about some of the lengths that teachers and schools have gone to during the current pandemic and the danger of turning an exception into a habit. I agree that we need to ‘build back better‘ as Steven Kolber puts it, however we also need to identify what we take off the plate to sustain such change.

On another note, Murdoch speaks about the call to ‘go home’

I recall many years ago, listening to Allan Luke talk about how hard it can be to sustain change in schools. He described the ‘lure of home’ … the longing we have even unconsciously, to ‘go home’ to the safety and comfort of what we know. I can feel it in myself as I have ventured out into this new world of online workshops. There are days when I long for ‘home’ (which, ironically for me was NOT being at home!) and then other days when I am relishing the adventure, the discomfort and all I am learning.

This reminded me of what John Goh’s discussion of our tendency to go back to our ‘default’.

In Episode 7 of the TER Podcast on ‘Engagement’, John Goh spoke about the ‘default’ value that we all have as teachers. Formed during our training to become teachers, it lays the foundation for the way we teach. He suggested that the challenge is to make sure that we continually move away from that starting point.

Bookmarked 7 Lessons from deep in the inquiry trenches… (

Who else is flexing their inquiry muscles right now? As we all rapidly transition to teaching online or trying to support our learners at a distance (not all kids around the world have access to internet and devices #justsaying) teachers everywhere are immersed in personal inquiry. I am no exception…

Kath Murdoch reflects on her personal inquiry into online learning. She structures her thoughts around seven things that she has noticed:

  1. I have a real need to inquire
  2. My learning journey is messy
  3. Skills and dispositions are my most important asset right now
  4. I don’t know what I don’t know
  5. I really wrestle with feeling incompetent and uncertain
  6. I don’t want to be talked at for too long
  7. I have welcomed being able to manage my time and learning at my own pace

One of the messages that stood out to me was the impact having skin in the game had on her learning:

Would I have a sustained interest and desire to learn about online facilitation had there been no real purpose for me? Probably not. Would I have fully engaged with this inquiry if some well-meaning ‘teacher’ told me I had to?  I doubt it. I am doing this because I can see the value and purpose in it.

I think that this is a great post to consider when working with staff or students as they grapple with the changing learning landscape. It is also interesting to consider this alongside David White’s wondering about engagement and learning narratives.

Bookmarked Inquiry in the mist – and midst – of troubling times. (

In returning to our classrooms in the coming weeks we will need, in part, to trust that the learners will lead us – if we take time to listen. Of course we will need to make some plans, and think ahead about what and how to manage the opportunity and the challenge but if we plan too tightly (even with the best of intentions) we may miss out on the most important element in the inquiry process – tuning in to the thinking and feeling of the learners themselves in order to get gradual clarity about the best ways forward. So ask your kids – ask them for permission to have the conversation in the first place, ask them how they feel about talking about it and – if they want to – ask them to share their wonderings and allow yourself to ask “What does this reveal to me? Where might we need to go next?”

Kath Murdoch reflects on the Australian bushfires and the challenge of grief work. She provides a number of suggestions to support teachers, including staying open to possibilities, inviting students rather than assuming a position, think conceptually and take action associated with the situation.

Many of us feel more positive about challenging situations when we feel we are taking action – when we have some agency to make a difference.  Your students may wish to explore some of the many ‘actions’ being carried out by people within communities all around the world and be part of these,  This is a great time to make real connections with individuals, community groups, and organisations and empower your students through involvement in real projects.

This builds on Jackie French’s discussion of learning in the midst of tragedy.

Bookmarked Making spaces to create: environments for collaborative planning (

Now of course, great inquiry teachers can plan anytime, anywhere. No one really NEEDS an inspiring environment to design for powerful learning. BUT I wonder what would happen if we did indeed pay a little more attention to the spaces in which we ask teachers to do this important work? How might it contribute to our wellbeing? Our creative process?

Kath Murdoch questions the space we cultivate for teachers and the impact that this might have on learning. To support this, Murdoch provides a number of strategies, such as access to resources, professional reading on display, objects and light to inspire and an active ‘wonderwall‘ for staff. Personally, I think that the space where teachers plan can often provide an intriguing insight into the wider school culture as it is often the last space considered because it does not directly involve students.
Replied to #rawthought: What’s the Big Idea? A Thematic, Inter-disciplinary Approach by amyburvallamyburvall (AmusED)

Why not center the entire school-wide curriculum around umbrella concepts that spur big (and little) questions? I’m talking total multi-generational and interdisciplinary. I’ve previously pondered a curriculum derived from the lenses of philosophy and the arts (I’m still loving that idea), but I wanted to play with what grande topics could be the anchors of study.

Love this idea Amy. Wonder how it differs from Kath Murdoch’s discussion of throughlines.
Bookmarked It’s about time we inquired into time…. by Kath Murdoch (


Kath Murdoch reflects on the challenge of time and priority. She provides a number of suggestions to support this process, including being mindful, being consiously calm, remember we all have 24 hours in a day, resist the urge to plan too much and know your curriculum. This reminded me of Seth Godin’s statement

“I didn’t have time.” This actually means, “it wasn’t important enough.” It wasn’t a high priority, fun, distracting, profitable or urgent enough to make it to the top of the list.

I was also left thinking about Tom Barrett’s discussion of innovation compression:

We need to lead with a deep appreciation for what is on people’s plates. We need to avoid innovation compression by clearing the way, closing existing programmes and providing people the resources they need to make things work.

I think that hexagonal planning can be useful in helping with this process.

Liked And the word is?…. by Kath Murdoch (

Rather than identify a lengthy list of goals or resolutions, I have, instead, chosen a word. Just one word.

Kath Murdoch puts forward the suggestion of focusing on a word, rather than a specific goal. As she elaborates:

My family and friends have a tradition of selecting a word to bring into the new year. Just one, single word. The word provides as a kind of ‘tincture’ to the year – its purpose being to regularly nudge you along a path of your choosing – a path that strengthens you in some way.

I have discussed my concern with goals elsewhere.

Bookmarked Getting personal: conferring with learners as they inquire by Kath Murdoch (

Critical to the success of our experience with personal inquiry is the role of the teacher in conferring with learners. Far from being a routine that allows learners to simply “go off on their own” , teachers are working the room as coaches, guides, observers and co-researchers. Scheduled and spontaneous conferences are the mainstay of the teachers’ role during iTime.

Kath Murdoch discusses the importance of conferring during the inquiry process. These conversations can contribute to formative assessment, getting to know students building trust, providing feedback and learning about learning. To support all this, Murdoch provides a list of tips and questions, such as providing multiple ideas if suggesting solutions or articulating what the child has taught you. I have found one of the biggest challenges with conferencing is to support students in owning this. In a different post,Tom Whitby discusses the power associated with communicating and conferring with parents and explains how this can influence our knowledge of students and the way they learn.
Liked Getting the mix right: Teacher guidance and inquiry learning. (Kath Murdoch)

So I have been playing around with this image – as a way to illustrate the nature of teacher guidance in inquiry – and our quest to nurture agency through it. I see it a little like a sound engineer’s mixing desk. For most of us, the tendency can be to raise our level of guidance too high and too soon and for too long. Practising the techniques of releasing responsibility, allowing some struggle, observing and listening, slowing down, waiting and explaining at the point of need means we learn to step in less frequently and with less ‘volume’ than we may have thought necessary.

Bookmarked Inquiry, noticing and the changing seasons… A tribute to the late Frank Ryan. by Kath Murdoch (Kath Murdoch)

The changing environment offers an incredible opportunity for inquiry. But why limit that inquiry into one stand alone unit when, in fact, the opportunity to learn about, notice, anticipate, observe and record change is available to us every single day? Inquiring into the environment is SO much better as an ongoing experience. And I am not just talking about a filling in a weather chart each day! On a regular basis, take your kids OUTSIDE to observe and record what they see, hear and smell. Take time to record, to photograph, to draw – and simply to BE in the outdoors. Have each child find their special spot – a place they will return to all year and document change. Find a window in your school through which to see the outside world. Watch the way the view out that window changes over the year. Draw it, write about it, capture it in a diary that will be used again next year to anticipate change

Kath Murdoch reflects on the potential of the environment associated with inquiry. She shares a number of activities to support people:

Connect with places around your school in which you and your children can spend time in more natural environments. Build a relationship with your local parks, waterways, beaches, gardens.

Go for walks. Walk slowly and learn to notice the small things. Nature is everywhere…even in the cracks of the footpath of the most urban street. Record what you see on your walks and take the same route each time to notice the subtle and more dramatic changes.

Create a timeline in the classroom that depicts what you are noticing each month about the environment around you. Include photos, sketches and observations on the timeline. What birds are in the school yard at different times of the year? Which plants are flowering? Where are the shadows falling in the school yard?

Encourage your kids to get to know nature in their neighbourhoods or back yards. Have them keep diaries or journals, take photographs and track the way that places change over a year.

Find out what kinds of plants there are in your school yard. Keep track of how they grow and change over time.

Start noticing the birds – what species are in the school grounds? Does it change over the year? Which birds are native? Introduced? What are their habits? Where do they prefer to hang out? Why?

Connect with kids in other parts of your country or even state. What is their experience of the environment at simultaneous times of the year?

Find out about the ways the indigenous people of your area identify seasonal change.
Talk to your kids about what YOU notice as the days pass over the year. Model what it means to be fascinated by and connected to your environment. Marvel aloud at the changing seasons.

This continues Diane Kashin’s conversation about place and my reflections on learning outside.

Bookmarked We live in Pinteresting times….. (Kath Murdoch)

How do we model ethical use of materials to our students? How much does this matter to us anyway? How freely should materials be shared without consultation or permission? When is it OK to sell our work? What does ‘original’ mean? If the words are someone else’s but we choose the font, colour and images – does that make it original? What responsibility do we have as producers AND consumers to acknowledge the work done by others? Who really owns what? What do we know/believe about the thorny issue of intellectual property? AND…. Why do we prefer a glossy, pretty poster over the children’s own documentation on our walls? Do our learners USE the stuff we decorate the walls with? What should be on our walls anyway? Who is it for?

Kath Murdoch reflects on the endless requests for Inquiry posters. Even though she continues to refuse, believing that it should be a conversation had, rather than a rule followed, othera think differently. She therefore wonders about the ethics of sharing. This is an interesting read in light of creative commons and the creation of graphics.
Liked Looking back to look forward – reflections on learning about ‘agency’ (Kath Murdoch)

For those of us like myself who (all of a sudden it seems) mostly find themselves the oldest teacher in room, there is a strange sense of déjà vu about the flurry of excitement around agency. The challenge to rethink the way we ‘do’ teaching and learning and the desire to wrench schools from the transmission/factory-inspired model of the past has burned brightly within so many educators for a long time. It is not a new idea and therefore, not one to be dismissed as a fad or ‘the latest buzz word’. And this is far from another proverbial ‘pendulum swing’. I am eternally grateful to those who have gone before. Those who have believed strongly that learning is not something that gets done TO us – it is something we do for ourselves. It is so exciting to see a globally respected organisation such as the IBO place learner agency at the centre of its enhanced program. There is something palpably different about the new rise of ‘learner agency ‘ in the contemporary landscape.

Replied to 12 ‘Lesson Hacks’ to Nurture Inquiry by Kath Murdoch (Kath Murdoch)

Inquiry classrooms (and inquiry teachers) are constructed day by day, session by session. Being conscious of the choreography of our teaching and the degree to which it amplifies or diminishes inquiry is a powerful way to build culture over time. These ‘hacks’ are simple but by making one change, we can gain insights to which we have been previously blind.

Great post Kath. I think that for some the idea of Inquiry can be so daunting, there are however so many starting points. Your use of the work ‘hack’ reminds me of a quote from a RN Future Tense podcast from a few years ago looking at civic hacking:

Hacker culture is about doing clever, creative things with technology; basically coming up with ways to apply our technical skills for the benefit of society.

I am also reminded of hearing Will Richardson talking about changing 10% at a time. Although he was talking about becoming a ‘connected educator’, the same premise applies here. If a teacher were to apply all 12 hacks, I think that they would be well on the way to changing the whole of their classroom.

Image via “Stormtroopers Training: Theory” by Pedro Vezini is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA
Quote via Kath Murdoch ‘‘12 ‘Lesson Hacks’ to Nurture Inquiry’’
Bookmarked My favourite inquiry journeys of 2017…. (Kath Murdoch)

Using an inquiry based approach to teaching and learning is multi-faceted. At its heart, inquiry is a stance – it’s about how we talk to kids and how we think about learning. It is also about how we plan and the contexts we both recognise and create in which powerful inquiry can thrive. These contexts can be highly personal (one child’s investigation into their passion) and they can also be shared contexts that bring learners together under a common question. These shared inquiries form a powerful ‘backbone’ of the primary classroom.

Kath Murdoch stops and reflects on twelve inquiry projects that she has helped with in 2017. They include such questions as:


She pulls out some of the key aspects that went across all the different inquiries:

For the most part, the inquiries:

were authentic! Kids investigating something for a real purpose – with a genuine high-stakes outcome (often known from the outset)
were integrative. The journeys described allowed a range of learning areas to be meaningfully connected
involved experts from outside the school – this meant kids having to communicate with people in various fields
were shared – the learning gained from the inquiries went beyond the classroom and was shared with the wider community in some way
were emergent – these inquiries could not be planned in detail. The authentic nature of the journey meant that teachers and learners had to think on their feet and plan as the inquiry unfolded.
got kids out of the classroom visiting restaurants, going to the museum, the local nature reserve…many of these inquiries depended on experience beyond the classroom walls.
were often ‘design’ focussed.

This is not a list of questions and/or units to roll out, but rather a source of inspiration. Along with her post on ten practices of an inquiry teacher, they provide some guidance going into the new year.