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  • Writer's pictureallisonjolester

Sprinting Through Education: The Practitioner Inquiry Sprint Way

Hello There!

Grab your coffee, settle in, and prepare to journey into the fabulous world of practitioner inquiry sprints. Trust me, it's as exhilarating as it sounds.

You might be wondering, "What's a sprint got to do with my job as an educator?" We aren't gearing up for a race around the schoolyard. Well, unless it's a race towards continuous learning and constant improvement - then you bet we are!

First things first, let's nail down what I mean by a 'sprint'. In a world that feels more like a marathon (are we at the finish line yet?), a sprint is a rapid cycle of developing, testing, and revising our classroom practices. It emphasizes process over product, is inherently iterative and cyclical, and celebrates small, incremental improvements over time. So, you can see, it's not about the gold medal but the journey to get there.

Getting started is easy. You pick a challenge in your classroom, devise a new approach or strategy, put it into practice, and then reflect on the results. It's about learning as you go and being open to adjustments. Sounds like a fun-filled rollercoaster ride of pedagogical discovery, doesn't it?

Case Study

Alright, let's dive into the deep end with an example.

Meet Ms. Patricia, a lively English literature teacher. Our case study heroine decided to sprint her way to improve how she poses questions to her learners. The aim? To encourage deeper discussions by exploring her own language and using more open-ended questions.

Questioning Her Practice

She noted her existing style of questioning mostly elicited simple, factual answers - there was no room for students to express their unique thoughts or interpretations. Her sprint goal was set: To foster richer conversations that go beyond "What happened?" and lean more towards "Why do you think it happened this way?"

Planning Her 6-Week Sprint

Ms. Patricia started with a little bit of reading on the art of open-ended questioning. She devised a plan to consciously change her phrasing. "When does Macbeth first meet the witches?" transformed into "Why do you think Shakespeare chose to introduce the witches to Macbeth at that specific point in the play?"

6-Week Sprint Roadmap

Week 1: Planning

  • Objective: Research different ways to pose open-ended questions and how these can promote deeper thinking.

  • Actions:

    • Spend time reading articles and watching videos on questioning techniques.

    • Prepare a list of open-ended questions related to the literature to be taught in the next week.

Week 2: Initial Implementation

  • Objective: Begin to introduce open-ended questions into lessons.

  • Actions:

    • Try to incorporate at least two open-ended questions in each lesson.

    • Video record one or two sessions for later analysis.

    • Start a teaching journal to jot down observations, student reactions, and own feelings after each class.

Week 3: Observation and Adjustment

  • Objective: Assess the initial responses and make necessary adjustments.

  • Actions:

    • Video record one or two sessions for later analysis.

    • Gather and organize initial observations, considering what seems to be working and what’s not.

Week 4: Mid-Sprint Reflection

  • Objective: Review, analyze, and identify areas that need further refinement.

  • Actions:

    • Spend time watching recorded sessions, focusing on student engagement and quality of responses.

    • Use sticky notes to identify patterns, successful moments, and areas for improvement.

Week 5: Refinement

  • Objective: Implement the adjustments and continue to observe the outcomes.

  • Actions:

    • Make necessary changes to the questioning techniques based on the mid-sprint reflection.

    • Video record one or two sessions for later analysis.

    • Continue to keep a teaching journal for daily reflections and observations.

Week 6: Final Reflection and Planning for Next Sprint

  • Objective: Review the entire sprint, assess progress, and plan for the next cycle.

  • Actions:

    • Use the See, Think, Wonder technique to analysis videos.

    • Read through all journals and highlight key words, phrases, and important ideas.

Week 7 & Beyond

  • Objective: Conduct a compressive review of the entire sprint, assess progress, and plan for the next cycle.

  • Actions:

    • Conduct a final review of videos and journals, using mind mapping for a visual representation of progress and areas of improvement.

    • Prepare a summary of key learnings and areas to focus on in the next sprint.

Activating Her Sprint

Then came the most thrilling part of the sprint - putting the plan into action! In each class, Ms. Patricia made a point of using her newfound questioning style. It was awkward at first - like trying to salsa dance when you've only ever waltzed - but each class brought more confidence, and slowly, she began to see a shift in the classroom discussions.

She noted that students were no longer just regurgitating facts; they were engaging in thoughtful analysis, debating interpretations, and even - gasp! - beginning to enjoy these discussions.

After implementing her 6-week sprint it was time to do a deeper dive in reviewing her data.

Analyzing Her Data

Ms. Patricia chose a simple yet effective approach to analyze her data, ensuring that it remained manageable and insightful.

1. Video Observations:

  • She started by watching the class videos and applied the "See, Think, Wonder" technique.

    • See: She focused on descriptive observations, noting what was visibly happening during the discussions.

    • Think: She considered the implications, effectiveness, and potential reasons behind what she observed.

    • Wonder: She noted down questions or curiosities that emerged from the observations, allowing for future exploration and understanding.

2. Teaching Journals:

  • Alongside the videos, she reviewed her teaching journals. Weekly entries helped her track the evolution of her questioning technique and its impact over time.

  • She paid close attention to her reflections on the effectiveness of her questions and the variety and depth of student responses.

3. Synthesizing Keywords and Phrases:

  • Through multiple reviews of her data, she began feeling comfortable identifying patterns and key insights.

  • She highlighted keywords and phrases in her journals and "See, Think, Wonder" charts that stood out or were recurrent.

  • These highlighted words helped her in categorizing her observations. For example, words like "engagement", "curiosity", and "in-depth" became pivotal in creating categories.

4. Creating Categories:

  • From her highlighted words, she began to sort and cluster into key groups - called categories.

  • She identified the following categories: "Question Effectiveness", "Student Engagement", and "Depth of Discussion".

  • These categories allowed her to organize her observations and reflections more coherently.

5. Visual Mind Mapping:

  • Ms. Patricia used a mind map to visually organize her findings. Different areas of the map were dedicated to each category.

  • Using colorful sticky notes, she began to place her individual observations, reflections, and "See, Think, Wonder" insights under the respective categories on the mind map.

  • The color-coding allowed her to easily distinguish between different types of observations and thoughts, such as positive outcomes, areas needing improvement, and new curiosities or questions that emerged.

By keeping this process non-evaluative and iterative, Ms. Patricia could intuitively navigate through her journey, allowing the categories and mind maps to evolve organically based on her observations and reflections. The simplicity of this approach made the overwhelming task of data analysis more accessible and actionable.

Reflecting on Her Sprint

But the sprint wasn't over. Reflection is an essential part of the process. Ms. Patricia found that some questions worked better than others, and not all discussions took off as she hoped. She realized that her sprint wasn't a one-and-done deal. It was a cycle - plan, act, observe, reflect, and repeat.

So she revised her strategy, took her new learnings on board, and tweaked her questioning technique. The next round was even better. And the round after that? Better still.

Ms. Patricia's Key Learning & Wonderings After reviewing her reflections, Ms. Patricia was ready to name her key learning and wonderings.


  • "I learned that preparation is key. Having a list of open-ended questions ready before class helped guide deeper discussions."

  • "I found that some questions sparked more engaging conversations among students, allowing them to explore and express their interpretations."

  • "I noticed that student engagement increased over time as they became more comfortable with this style of questioning."

  • "I recognized that it's okay to adjust my approach based on the class responses and not every question has to be perfect."

  • "I learned that this is a continuous cycle of improvement, and there's always room to learn and enhance my questioning technique."


  • "I wonder how I can further refine my questions to consistently promote deeper and more insightful conversations among students."

  • "I’m curious about how different texts might invite varying levels of discussion and whether some literary works naturally lead to richer student engagement."

  • "I wonder what other professional development or resources could further enhance my questioning techniques."

So there you have it, a whirlwind tour of the practitioner inquiry sprint.

Just remember: process over product, small improvements over time, and an approach that’s iterative and cyclical. It's like the most intellectually satisfying merry-go-round you've ever been on.

Sure, sprints may sound daunting, but remember - no one is expecting you to break a world record on your first go. The point is to learn, grow, and refine. And if you stumble and fall? That's fine too. Just pick yourself up, dust off those teaching pants, and keep on sprinting.

Oh! And if you happen to be in enrolled in a practitioner inquiry course taught by yours truly, don't fret. Each class session walks you through this process as you implement your sprint. Doesn't mean you're off the hook entirely, because let's face it, even the shortest sprint can make you sweat a little. But the support, feedback, and guidance is all built in.

Ready? Set? Sprint!


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