Dude, It’s Literally Questions… About Questions

So, my CT forwarded me a document from Dr. Chan (aka the head honcho of science for the RCSD) on effective questioning in both planning and instruction. He also added in his email that this was what he was looking for when he observes his teachers, so for those of you with the RCSD in your future the document is below. You’re welcome!

Lesson Planning Questions II

A few big takeaways that I got from reading the bullet points on his attachments:

If a student gives an incorrect or weak answer, point out what is incorrect or weak about the answer, but ask the student a follow-up question that will lead that student, and the class, to the correct or stronger answer. “

I always aim for being positively reinforcing of a student answer that is not totally correct, but I think i err on the side of being too positively reinforcing to the point where I feel sheepish about correcting them in front of the class. I don not want to harm their self-confidence, but I do have to clear up misconceptions so there has to be a way to do both. I suppose a good approach is always to ask for feedback from another student and ask, “So-and-so, do you want to elaborate on/add to/ So-and-so’s answer?” This would be done both for correct and incorrect responses. It allows correct answers to be fully developed and incites more thinking, and it allows misconceptions to be corrected because I ask the follow-up for all questions, right or wrong, so the student doesn’t feel singled out for trying.

“Do not interrupt students’ answers. You may find yourself wanting to interrupt because you think you know what the student is going to say, or simply because you are passionate about the material. Resist this temptation. Hearing the students’ full responses will allow you to give them credit for their ideas and to determine when they have not yet understood the material.”

I find myself in a habit of cutting off students’ answers, even though I know it is a poor habit to have. It may be a habit of novice teachers (it is for me) to ask a student a question and simply listen for a few key words. from there we (or at least I) will say “nice,” and will fill in the rest of what we think to be the students’ answers. For me at least, I think this comes from a certain insecurity in my ability. I should have more faith in my ability and my formative assessment, but the critical and reflective sides of me sometimes get in the way, leading to my cutting off of students answers because I am relieved to hear that they are using the right vocabulary in the discourse. What I miss from doing so is missing a chance to formatively pick up on my misconceptions or to celebrate student understanding because if I fill in the blanks, it cheapens the thought-out answer the student gives. So here’s to fear giving way to a bit of courage and being confident that I know what to do on the spot if I need to fill in a misconception.

“Determine what the question is trying to address i.e. what is the purpose of the question. What is the format of the question and what is the level of the question.”

To make more meaning of class discussions and instruction, the questions one asks have to be deliberate. Have them up one at a time on the board for kids to see, and have a few in your back pocket pre-planned with an anticipation of what students might say or where their troubles might be. The back pocket ones will get better with time, but for now, doesn’t hurt to plan them out.

“The questions you ask should help them practice these skills, as well as communicate to them the facts, ideas, and ways of thinking that are important to their learning in your course. “

The questions you ask prioritize for you and for your students which concepts, which skills, and which directions are going to be vital. By asking the right question, major concepts get sorted from details. Students often have trouble differentiating the essential from the non-essential and therefore will try to absorb everything with equal weight only to miss the core idea in favor of a vocab word that is useful but not necessary. If you choose to ask the big questions about the main idea, and more fact-checking questions on the smaller details, then it helps differentiate them.

Oh before I go, download clearprint. It’s a free chrome widget. What it does is… Say you wanted to print something from a website like a news story. What the widget will do is clear all of the clutter (the ads, the comments, the spam) out of the document and convert it into a pdf for you. You can then choose to delete portions of the article you find unnecessary or at the wrong level for your students. It is awesome. Trust me.

Bye for now!

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