Linda Kaser: Phases of the spiral of inquiry

Linda Kaser is one of the people who developed the spiral of inquiry, learning and action. In this video she briefly outlines how the phases of the spiral are used in the networks of inquiry and innovation in British Columbia.


We have found a real discipline in every stage of the process by saying:

  • What’s going on for our learners, broadly and specifically?
  • How do we know what’s going on with them? and
  • Why does it matter in each case?

So, that’s a set of a questions that we take to every phase of the spiral.


We start always with scanning. The scanning process, for us, takes about a month because we want people to think broadly. We don’t want them just to grab the nearest data source and that’s all there is, because it will narrow the agenda. We won’t have that holistic part that we’ve talked about.

So, we want to know at the scanning stage, if we came in to – well, if you came in to our schools and you asked the four questions:

  • Does Linda believe that two people believe that she’ll be a success in life?
  • Does she know what she’s learning in a particular area? Does she have the historical understandings? Does she know whose stories we’re learning and why?
  • Does she know how it’s going for her? Does she have criteria?
  • And does she know the next step?

That’s the scanning process.


You don’t focus on five things because that will drive you crazy. There are all kinds of worthwhile things to do. But you have to just take one or two areas that you’re going to make central to your work.

And you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to know if you’re getting better, over a year, in those areas, before you advance them.

I think this is a big challenge for us as educators – and the bigger your staff is, the tougher this is – but the focusing stage is incredibly important.

Developing a hunch

We love the hunch stage. I know some of you have changed that to hypothesis and it does sound more scientific. For Canadian teachers, at the hunch stage we do feel that intuition and pattern finding is valued, so our teachers respond very well to this word.

Also the literature on innovation and change says that often you get powerful change by having a long slow hunch, by just checking it out over time. And when you look at change theory, I think that resonates more with us, as Canadians, anyway.

So, we’re trying to get used to the idea that: You know what? We didn’t know everything last year. Then we’re sort of saying: I wonder if math isn’t advancing because we haven’t focussed on it, or that we don’t know enough about it, or that the young people are really nervous about it and lack confidence and have belonging and certainty and don’t think that this is a territory that matters to them? Or if it’s writing, exactly the same thing; or speaking or collaborative work.

So developing a hunch for us has a couple of phases. One, we say: I wonder if, because we haven’t worked collectively, we’re not making the gains? And maybe we lack confidence in teaching math in these new ways? And, we put some of those out, so that we’re not so defensive as a profession. I think this is a worthwhile stage. That’s why we think it makes sense to have a stage in the spiral where we really take that seriously. And then we test those hunches.

New professional learning

So, new professional learning . You know, you can’t just move from: I’ve got a hunch, or I’ve got a focus, or I’ve scanned and I see this problem looming, without taking on some new learning.

Now we like to tease our university people, because we say that university people often like to spend their whole career in scanning, you know, because it’s interesting and then they take an intense focus and stay with it. But as practitioners, we love to move to taking action and that’s where, you know, we roll up our sleeves, we try something out.

Taking action

Australia is working on a five week cycle. They’re taking some action around early numeracy and early reading and then they’re reporting out to each other their results every five weeks, which is interesting.

In our setting it seems to work better if it’s once a month – and some people work on a three week cycle. Whatever your cycle is, it’s important, I think, to establish those rhythms around: Okay we’re going to try giving better learning intentions, we’re going to learn how to do it, we’re going to read Ron Burger’s book on how to do it and then we’re going to go after it.


And then checking. There should be an enormous word in flashing neon lights above the word checking that says, Are we making enough of a difference?

Everything that we do makes some difference but we want to choose those places of leverage that we are pretty darn confident are going to make the most difference.

That’s why we like the seven learning principals, because we know they’ve all been seriously tested, both for improvement and effectiveness but also for innovation. So, why not, we say, start there – because we’ve got this framework that we can use.


The person who made the visual of the spiral of inquiry is a designer, clearly, but she’s also an educator. She teaches. She says that the centre of the spiral, there, the double loop, from her perspective: sometimes inquiry is tiring, because inquiry infuses every stage, and you need a little bit of a rest.

So, you can see the centre as either rest or reflection, depending on your needs, because you can’t just stay at that intensity all the time. You have to have a chance to, you know, have a bit of a introverted moment and rest.

We have found that this spiral, this way of thinking about inquiry, collaborative inquiry in every case – cause that’s the only way you can get equity and quality – is lifting more learners than what we used to do before, which was individual inquiry.

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