Read an extract from our best seller, newly revised...

    Do Less. Do it Better


    This book is framed by the New Zealand Curriculum. But as we write, we are aware that said document may be gathering dust or propping up the leg of the Principal’s chair. This curriculum once so full of hope – is becoming severely compromised.


    As Beauchamp (1981) has written with unhappy acumen:

    Many curriculums have been planned, but few have been systematically implemented. We are all familiar with the circumstances in which the curriculum, once it is produced, collects dust on the shelf or is filed in the bottom right-hand drawer of the teacher’s desk. In the meantime, the teacher reverts to the same pattern of teaching that he used prior to the planning of the curriculum.   (Curriculum Theory, p.171)


    But we remain optimistic. There are a number of brave primary schools that have made the curriculum central to both their planning and their daily teaching. This is despite the imposition of National Standards and ever more paperwork. We are also aware that there some enlightened secondary schools whose leaders encourage and underwrite the changes needed to overthrow our factory model of education. So, there are some encouraging signs of change. But not nearly enough.


    There are two parts to this book.  Part One covers all the “nuts and bolts” of teaching, which if you do not have, will cause your carefully planned teaching programme to fall apart and ruin your relationship with your students. It is about meeting the integral needs of teaching and learning – safety, belonging and esteem. As Maslow notes, these needs are essential for teaching and learning – not just for students but for teachers too.


    Part One gives the advice, support and practical ideas needed for all stakeholders to feel secure, settled and valued in school.


    Part Two is for all teachers who want to move their teaching from good to great through the medium of the New Zealand curriculum.  Underpinned by the ideas of thinkers such as Ken Robinson and Guy Claxton, our curriculum presents a new way of thinking about learning...


    In this section of the book, we move away from practical classroom organisation and management to a focus on big ideas, rich tasks, higher-level thinking and deep learning. These are the fundamentals of our curriculum that have sadly been overshadowed by high stakes assessment. 


    In Part Two of this book, we encourage you to take up the challenge of the curriculum and to realise your own gifts and talents as an educator - and in turn release the gifts and talents of your students. All the research points to the need for a major shift in the nature of education, and particularly to a change in our secondary schools. This is why all school teachers need this book. 


    ‘Do Less. Do It Better’ is our philosophy for teaching in the 21st century...




    In every class, there is a bell curve of behaviours.  In the middle are the majority – the average students who will get on with their work with good will and usually cause no problems.  At one extreme, there will be a handful of outstanding students who are totally self-managed. At the other extreme, there will be a small group of problematic students.  You need to have strategies to deal with this group, because they are in every class. On top of this, a recent NZCER survey has found an estimated 9% of students exhibit 'very disruptive behaviour'. That means, in an unstreamed school, you will usually have one or two students per class who will border on the sociopathic.


    Below are some strategies we have tried. All involve a low stress approach to the issue of managing behaviour in which the relationship with the student is preserved.  This is very important.  The “scary teacher” mentality is not conducive to quality learning. As Goleman (1995) has said succinctly, “Stress makes us stupid.”


    Embarrassing a student, setting unrealistic deadlines or unreasonable tasks and creating a high-stress and uncomfortable classroom environment will mitigate against engagement and learning (Jensen, 2008).


    Avoid Confrontation 

    It is essential you do not have an aggressive interaction with the students.  Whatever happens, you do not want the rest of the class to take sides. Often a difficult student can be charismatic and powerful and you can end up alienating the whole class and thus creating more problems for yourself.   Sometimes you need to pick your moments carefully.  If a difficult student is chewing gum, it is sometimes better to let it go.  There may be so much else going on with this student. 


    Don’t ask questions of a confrontational nature. These may set you up for an inappropriate response.


    Questions you should never ask! 


    'How many times do I have to tell you?'

    'Why are we still waiting for you?'

    'Would you do that at home?'

    'Why are you wasting my time?'

    'What did you say?' (In response to being sworn at)

    'What am I going to do with you?'

    'Why am I repeating myself?'

    'Is it me...?'

    'Why are you wasting your time?'

    'Could you tell everyone what is so funny, Sina?'

    ‘If you don't want to be here, could you take your desk outside?’ (we once saw a whole class pick up their desks and head for the door! Gridlock.)


    Use Ear Messages

    It is important you do not confront the student by criticising him/her in front of the whole class.  This is where ear messages come in. If Charlotte is continuing a hilariously loud conversation while the rest of the class is getting on with their work, it is better to go up quietly and speak very privately and politely to her. Point out that she is making a very poor behavioural choice at that moment, and tell her of a consequence if this behaviour does not change.  Use a disappointed tone.  The class will think you are having a conversation about her work, the student will not feel victimised, and in most cases this will change the student’s behaviour, for a while at least.




    To read the rest, buy Do Less. Do it Better  here


    Read an extract from our other best seller...





    Table of Contents


    50 FAQs                      

    Chapter 1                    

    Models of Inquiry

    Chapter 2                    


    Chapter 3                    


    Chapter 4                    

    The Inquiry Itself

    Chapter 5                   


    Chapter 6                   

    Taking Action

    Chapter 7                  

    Reflection and Evaluation

    Chapter 8                   

    Won’t Do. Don’t Care


    50 FAQs



    ‘Every good teacher is a catalyst to creativity, a liberator. Every bad teacher creates cages’

    Anna Craft (2008)



    1.    What is the difference between inquiry learning and research?


    Lots of things!  Inquiry learning is as much a habit of mind as it is an assignment.  The inquiry centred classroom trains students to think with curiosity about everything. Questions are central to this type of classroom and the way to ask questions is actively taught and modelled.  Inquiry can be a five minute thinking exercise or a term long project.  With inquiry, teachers are involved throughout the process, scaffolding students to hone their skills.


    ‘Students learn most effectively when they understand what they are learning, why they are learning it,

    and how they will be able  to use their new learning.’

    New Zealand Curriculum (2007)


    Research is a far more formal and structured process where the teacher has little input after the initial handing out of the assignment. It usually involves academic writing, and is very focussed on one curriculum outcome.  Often, the research question is identical for every student. Inquiry learning is student centred. Questions are driven by the student. In fact the topic itself should come from the student and not be inflicted by the teacher who may not have changed their ideas for the past 25 years. As we know, there are research topics that have been on TKI for the past ten years that have hardly changed. Sadly, teachers continue to download these and use them year after year. This is not inquiry.


    2.    Why is there a move to inquiry learning?


    ‘…principles put students at the centre of teaching and learning.’

    New Zealand Curriculum (2007)


     Finally, we have a curriculum that, if interpreted correctly, puts the student at the centre of their learning. This means that the learning should be driven by the student’s needs and interests rather than those of the teacher and departmental resources. Being wedded to textbooks is no longer necessary, or appropriate, in an age where information is ubiquitous. The New Zealand curriculum encourages an integrated approach to learning. Inquiry learning is by its nature integrated. Further, inquiry learning develops the key competencies that are necessary for 21st century living.  This type of learning is the ultimate in differentiation. In purest form, students choose their topic, their questions, mode of research and their style of presentation. It is an empowering form of learning.


    3.     I am a primary teacher. Aren’t we already doing inquiry learning?


    Oh, primary teachers with your overviews, long-term plans and WALTS. The answer is no, not necessarily. An overly full curriculum, by its very existence, will inhibit inquiry learning. Too much focus upon, and separation of, the skills of literacy and numeracy will inhibit intellectual curiosity – don’t tell us you don’t do it like this because we know that you do. The recent emphasis on testing basic literacy and numeracy skills is in conflict with the dynamics of inquiry learning.  Inquiry learning is a slow process that develops the whole brain, indeed the whole child.


    ‘You can get good results in the arcane world of ‘educational standards’ and still lack resilience, resourcefulness and the ability  

    to organise and evaluate your own learning.’

    Claxton (2006)


     4.    Isn’t inquiry learning what we all did in the 1960s and 1970s? Why are we reinventing the wheel?


    Well we’re not all as old as you and anyway while discovery based learning and its junior relative developmental learning were once in vogue, these gave inquiry learning a bad name. Teachers would pose the question then sit back and read the Best Bets OR Women’s Weekly. If the student didn’t discover that two plus two equalled four or that black surfaces retain heat, then the child was clearly dim. The teacher’s role was simply to contain students’ behaviour while the student did all the work. In inquiry learning, the teacher has an active role throughout the process by providing intellectual stimulus, motivating students, developing skills, co-ordinating groups, promoting reflection, and conferencing. Whew!


    ‘The teacher needs to be the guide on the side, not the face in the space’

    Robinson (1999)


     5.    Does inquiry always mean that students work in groups?


    Not as a hard and fast rule. The size and make-up of the class must always be taken into account when forming groups, as well as the nature of the inquiry. You may have a class where some work in groups and others work independently. Further, the requirements of NCEA may sometimes constrain the nature of group work. However, inquiry where students work as a team is very much a 21st century skill so, where possible, encourage group inquiry. 


    ‘The promotion of collaborative practices and ‘team work’  prepares pupils and students for work in organisations

    that need to be creative and single-minded if they are to be effective in their highly competitive markets or in

    service industries that are underpinned by high levels of accountability.’

    Craft (2008)


     Remember, though, that the skills and responsibilities of working in a group must be taught to the students.


    6.    I have been teaching 20 years and I know what works and what doesn’t. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.


    Are you Mrs Ludd from Te Pakeke High School, room 15? It is time to change or move on! This is the 21st century. Have you noticed? Or did the Y2K bug, the twin towers and the royal wedding completely pass you by, dear?  We have a new curriculum. We have a different type of student in our classroom from 20 years ago. We need to teach differently. Twenty-nine thousand students wag our schools every day, according to Ministry of Education figures. Students are voting with their feet and there is probably three times the number who are voting with their heads - sitting in class but blobbed out. We cannot blame the students. We must take responsibility and make changes.  What profession, apart from teaching, trains its professionals just the once and assumes they will be up with the play for the rest of their career? How many doctors do you know who still use leeches and trepanning?


     7.    This will never work with NCEA, will it?


    ‘…another nagging issue is that, so far, the new curriculum covers the early years,

     yet is missing the detail of what happens over the NCEA years. It would be

    helpful to have that sooner rather than later.’

    Duff (2008)



    The curriculum mandates inquiry in our schools. NCEA does not mean you can opt out of implementing the new curriculum. With NCEA there is a definite learning goal in sight, and inquiry can be successful with a good understanding of the requirements of the standards.  Further, standards are a lot more generic than they were in the past so there is a lot more leeway for teaching.  You need to get the students on board with inquiry and reassure them that their finding out answers and solutions is a far better way of learning than being told to memorise facts. The teacher must, of course, carefully monitor the students’ progress as they work independently, or in groups, to make sure they are heading in the direction of the standard. You don’t have to do inquiry learning all year with an NCEA class but you should still have an inquiry based classroom filled with rich tasks, questions and wonderings.


    8.    How can I keep control of my difficult class if they are all working on different things?


    Well, what have you got to lose? The difficult class is often a bored class. Handing over the topics to be studied can be empowering and help focus the students. Rugby, wrestling, tattoos, fashion, movie stars, hip-hop are all great topics that can create fine inquiry modules so long as you, as the teacher, take an active role in helping students to formulate questions and guide the entire process. You may need a buddy teacher to help you in the initial stages. Think about bringing in your Specialist Classroom Teacher (if you are in a secondary school) or Team Leader (in primary) or HOD, Dean or parent help.


    9.    I have hardly any access to computers at school. Surely inquiry learning will not work for me?


    Certainly, computers are helpful in enabling access to up-to-date information but there are ways to overcome a dearth of technology.  If you have limited access to the net, you may consider reducing the range of topics that students can inquire into. Print off information for individual students or groups. Put information on the walls if students are studying the same topics. Bring in newspapers, books and, yes, even textbooks. Use the National Library (Freephone: 0800 474 300) which has specific research librarians. Encourage students to interview teachers, the school nurse, the caretaker, the accounts lady, the Board of Trustees Chairperson, the IT guy (if you can prise him out of his air-conditioned suite), the interesting parent or other students. Find YouTube videos for students to watch and take notes from. Ask your librarian to put on a display and to organise books from other libraries. Take your class to the local library where the librarians can also help and where computers may be available. Encourage students to use home computers, if they have them, to bring in information for the group to look at.  It isn’t always a bad thing if students cannot access computers because they can be very distracting. Computers can also lead to information overload. Encourage students to use their smartphones or even bring laptops from home, if possible.


     10.  I have good access to computers at school but my students have virtually no access at home. What should I do?


    As all good teachers should do – don’t expect students to work at home. With school work and homework students often do longer hours than their parents. Child slavery is over. If you are pushed for time then you need to de-clutter your curriculum. All work should be done during school hours. 


    ‘Indeed, Selzer and Bentley (1999) argued for a reduction in schools’ statutory curriculum content

    by 50% to leave more time  for creative and other thinking.’

    Craft (2009)


     11.  How can I teach things that are essentially rote learned – dates, times tables, sight words, equations, using inquiry learning?


    ‘This curriculum represents a shift away from focusing on knowing facts and figures to knowing also how

    to use knowledge effectively  and apply it outside the classroom.’

    NZ Herald (2007)


    Dates and vocabulary should be an integral part of an inquiry unit. For things like times tables, using patterns of numbers should help with the learning. Basic facts can be integrated into the immersion process of inquiry learning - see Chapter 2, Immersion. We must query the need for rote learning in the 21st century. If we still need to have rote learning in order to pass tests then we must query the sanity of the Minister of Education.


     12.  Won’t my students be working at different rates and levels?


    Is that you again, Mrs Ludd? Yes. Is this a problem? Differentiation has been around for a long time now. Students differ in their rates of learning and interest. It is a part of inquiry to work within a timeframe, and students need to be supported in a variety of ways to achieve this, but it should be accepted that at any stage of the inquiry, students may be working at different rates.