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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, secondary school students often find the question 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. 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.
20 mixed regulatory cards (see below).

Read about why students need self-regulation in maths classrooms here.

What regulatory cards should a teacher use?
A teacher should use cards that reflect the profile of her or his 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 inquiry pathways 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 structural and transformational reasoning. 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.
im 6 starter cards
im 20 mixed cards
im 10 social cards
im 10 inductive cards
im 10 deductive cards
im Template to write your own regulatory cards
Developing independence and initiative
This card was written by a year 7 (grade 6) student at Haverstock School, Camden (UK) in only her second inquiry. The teacher gave her the set of six cards, but none suggested a course of action that she wanted to take. On the blank card, she wrote that her immediate aim was to work out the areas of the three shapes in the area prompt. In this way, she began to develop independence from the teacher by directing her own inquiry.
Using the regulatory cards in the classroom
In feedback about orchestrating inquiry 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 statements 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.
(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 to the the choice can take different forms: 
  • If the choice is clear – for example, 'inquire in a group' to 'find more examples' - then the teacher would agree to that, unless she feels that the majority of students lack procedural knowledge to make progress. In that case, the teacher would instruct the class first or ask a student to explain, and even have a worksheet ready to allow (some) students to practise.
  • If the class is split into two or three distinct groups - for example, 'find more examples', 'ask the teacher to explain', and 'practise a procedure' – then the teacher might divide the class along those lines and build in time at the end for each group to report back.
  • If students select cards about how to inquire only, which is typical of classes new to inquiry, then the teacher has to decide on the line of inquiry. This should be done publicly by 'talking-aloud' thoughts on students' questions and statements. Furthermore, the teacher should make students aware of the type of cards they have chosen and next time require them to choose two cards - one about how to inquire and one on what to do next.
  • If students select a variety of different cards, then the teacher might suggest a sequence of actions involving as many of the choices as possible or permit individuals to follow their own paths, especially if the class is experienced in inquiry.
(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. The teacher could also remove cards if the class resorts to picking one card automatically without giving thought to the specific situation. This might be the case, for example, if students repeatedly request to develop fluency through using a worksheet.
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 as self-directing inquirers. There are clear signs when the class is becoming independent:
  • Students choose different cards by reflecting on their prior learning. In effect, students differentiate tasks in the inquiry for themselves, rather than defer to the teacher's direction.
  • Students are able to select two cards, combining an activity with how they will carry it out. 
  • Students are able to select a number of cards that constitute multiple steps or a sequenced pathway through the inquiry. 
  • Students make up their own cards. Teachers might encourage this by putting blank cards in the sets of cards.
  • Students make suggestions about structuring the lesson without waiting to be asked.