Regulatory cards 

An important aim of Inquiry Maths is to develop students' ability to direct, monitor and regulate their own learning.  

The model encourages students to make decisions on the approaches the class will follow, the goals it will set itself and on the selection of mathematical tools it will employ. A key question for students to answer is "What shall we do next?"

When the teacher first asks the question, school students often find it baffling. "Surely, that’s what you're here for – to tell us what to do," they respond. The idea that they have a role in directing learning can seem strange. 

In Inquiry Maths, students learn to regulate their activity by justifying the choice of a card to their peers and, in turn, engaging with their peers’ justifications. They also benefit from the teacher’s rejection of non-mathematical suggestions and arbitration between contending legitimate ideas.

Regulatory cards help students structure their thinking. Stopping the lesson and asking the class (in pairs) to discuss the selection of a card has the advantage of making students conscious of how they are regulating their learning.

“It’s not only what you know, but how you use it (if at all) that matters.” 

(Schoenfeld, What's all the fuss about metacognition?)

Using the cards in the classroom

In feedback about orchestrating Inquiry Maths lessons, teachers often report that the most difficult part is the regulatory phase. How do the cards work in practice?

The recommended way to use the cards is as follows:

(1) After questions and observations about the prompt, the teacher asks: “What shall we do now?” Pairs of students choose one card and try to justify their choice. The cards are physical objects for students to look through and manipulate.

(2) The cards are also displayed on the board. As students read out their choice and give a justification, the teacher ticks the card on the board. If the students have hand-held devices, they might interact directly with the board.

(3) The teacher's response depends on the students' choices:

(4) The teacher could use the cards more than once during an inquiry, particularly if it runs over two or more lessons. Using the cards at the end of a lesson has proved effective in structuring the next lesson.

(5) As students becomes more experienced in inquiry, a class might add cards to create their own unique set. Each set should contain blank cards to encourage students to write their own regulatory statements. 

(6) The teacher should remove a card if students resort to picking it automatically without giving thought to the specific situation. For example, if Inquire with another student becomes the 'default' choice, then the teacher can withdraw the card from the set.

What regulatory cards should a teacher use?

A teacher should use cards that reflect the profile of her class and serve the aim of the inquiry. If the students are novice inquirers, the focus might be more on using social cards that focus on how to inquire. 

If students find the development of lines of inquiry challenging, then the teacher might use a set of cards in which inductive regulatory statements predominate. These cover the processes of exploration, identifying patterns, developing conjectures and forming generalisations. 

Finally, to promote explanation and proof, the teacher might include some deductive cards that emphasise reasoning about mathematical properties and structure. 

The number of cards might increase as students become more experienced, perhaps using the six 'starter' cards with a class new to inquiry and moving on to the 20 mixed cards when the class has become more experienced.

How do you know when the students no longer need the cards?

The cards are not meant as a permanent feature of inquiry lessons. The aim is for students to become more conscious of how to monitor and regulate their learning and, thereby, develop into self-directing inquirers. 

There are clear signs when the class is becoming independent:

Developing independence and initiative

The regulatory cards are designed to support students in learning both what constitutes legitimate mathematical activity and how to direct mathematical inquiry. Ultimately, the teacher hopes the cards become surplus to requirements as students plan, monitor and reflect without them. When they take the initiative and regulate inquiry spontaneously, students demonstrate independence from the teacher and their peers. 

The first step in developing such independence is often taken by filling out one of the blank cards in a set of regulatory cards. The student is thereby indicating a wish to follow a different direction to the choices offered by the teacher. If the new regulatory statement has relevance for other inquiries, the teacher can create a new card that becomes part of a bespoke set for the class. 

Three examples

The three examples that follow come from year 7 students at Haverstock School (Camden, UK) who had been offered the basic set of six cards. The first comes from the steps inquiry. During the question and observation phase, there was a claim that the difference between the outputs would always be the same. Aisha and Keana, in proposing Trial and error until you find a pattern!, wanted to change the operations to see if the difference was the same in other cases. Their regulatory statement, in pointing towards the mathematical concept of generalisation, had a wider relevance to other inquiries and was added to the class set of cards.

The second card appeared during the area inquiry. In wanting to Work out all three prompts, Somaya’s immediate intention was to measure the dimensions and work out the areas of the three shapes on the prompt sheet (although she later used the card Ask the teacher or student to explain because she did not know how to calculate the area of the circle). The teacher did not add Somaya’s statement to the class set because it only had meaning in that specific moment.

The third card records Jabril's desire to change the prompt in the number line inquiry. It has both a general application to other inquiries and an immediate relevance to the particular inquiry. The regulatory statement (Change the diagram) can be added to the class set, while the diagrams propose a new line of inquiry (linking numbers in a different way to the prompt).

However, the diagrams are important for another reason. By pointing out the inconsistency in the diagrams to the class, the teacher uses the card to lay the foundation for generalisation and proof. The numbers in the last diagram decrease in size from bottom to top, while the first two diagrams follow the prompt by increasing in size. This has implications when the class attempts to generalise and attempt to construct an algebraic proof. When a variable n stands for the lowest number, students might become confused about how to arrange expressions (n + 1, n + 2 and n + 3) if they have not created their diagrams in a consistent way.