Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why Questioning?

Found at From-Student-to-Teacher Tumblr
From Joy of Literacy

Last week became questioning week with student teachers. It came up in two action plans and we were able to have some really interesting discussions about it.

A lot of what I'm writing about here is from work with David Coffey, inspired by Kathy Coffey, and processed from Mosaic of Thought (link includes Chap.1 as a sample) among other books. Neither Dave nor I can remember the actual origin... which is sometimes symptomatic of having done it yourself.

In my own growth as a teacher questioning is definitely one of the places where effort and reflection have helped me improve. The first level was just asking better math problems. More open-ended, that required more problem solving. When the problems are better, there's more interesting things to ask the students about later. The next was to ask more appropriate questions. Some of those excellent problems I gave to students were too much for students. This is a zone of proximal development idea. When it was too much, I needed to scaffold. Later I learned about rephrasing the question instead of narrowing it. Later still I learned about demonstrations of how I think about a problem, sometimes more appropriate than guiding students through it. Then you ask 'what did you notice?', which is - of course - one of the all time great math questions.

One of the best things I ever learned was to stop being the authority. I don't say what is right or wrong. I ask the students if they 'agree or disagree?' That might start an actual conversation. 

One of the first things I really noticed about teaching was that students would tell me that they couldn't do it (whatever it was at the time) but when I asked them questions they could get from beginning to end with no difficulty. So, obviously, I needed to teach them to ask those questions of themselves.   It was difficult. Really difficult. Shifting from asking them 'how to do (next step)?' to 'now what?' and 'how do you know?'

Literacy learning experts are good about this idea of questioning as a process, with the idea that questions are how we move ourselves forward. I like this framework to help me think about the kinds of questions that I'm asking.

Obviously, we have had a tendency to ask too many literal and application questions in math class.  I think about inference questions being predictions, reading between the lines, hypothetical questions and the like. Analysis questions are reflections, synthesis, connections, recommendations and so on.

What I shared that seemed to tie it together for the student teachers is a simple idea: ask to find out what I want to know about. I don't need to ask for answers - I know those. I don't need to ask right or wrong. I need to ask about what they are thinking. Students know when a question is genuine, and this simple idea has improved my assessment more than anything else.  I'm more persistent in getting answers when I really want to know them, also.
From A Softer World
Some good student teacher writing on questioning:

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