#AMLE2013Day2 – Questioning

As I dive back into my notes, I’ll post some highlights and important ideas that I want to use in my classroom. On day 2 I attended Spence Rogers’s session How to Use Questions to Engage and Teach All. I fully expected to get into another session or two, but this one ended up taking up the entire post! I hope some of these ideas hit home for you in terms of how we ask questions of our students.

Instead of using the traditional model of initiate-respond-evaluate in which we get one answer from one student and assume that all students understand, we need to hold every student accountable.

Spence put it like this: we should teach as if we were a coach. If I was coaching a basketball team that was getting ready for our first game, I would want to make sure we had the basics down. “Let’s see if we know how to dribble. (Pull out a popsicle stick from a canister.) Bill? Will you dribble down and back for me? (Bill dribbles successfully.) Ok, looks like we got that down! Time to move on!”

Questions that are important enough to be asked are important enough for everyone to participate and learn good answers. Rogers’s big idea was Total Directed Learning, which says all students find, record, learn, and say the complete correct response. Instead of saying, “What is…” say, “Learn…” This does not let students off the hook who do not know right away. They must learn the answer by searching, discussing, or reading.

iStock_000003401233XSmall-300x199“Make sure everyone around you can tell me…”

Instead of calling on one student, call on all students. Of course we will not be able to hear every single voice, but teachers know who to watch and read lips of! And when students use complete answers, the words are very similar to each other. Make sure everyone has acquired and written the same complete sentence in an area in order to be on the same page.

The class then can repeat the sentence three times in order to get all involved and to allow the teacher to check for understanding of all. Don’t be afraid to play it up and act like you have a superhuman gift that allows you to hear and separate all voices in your head either. Also, keep it interesting and have a little fun with this by using different voices to repeat the answer:

  • Like you are talking to a three-year old
  • Write it with a finger and say it as you write
  • Say it like you are really angry
  • Like you’re falling off a cliiiiiffffffffff…..
  • Like you are completely in love with the answer
  • Or in any voice that you choose!

I was a little skeptical at first with the repeating of an answer like that until we did it. I can still remember that e = 2.718, and the AMLE conference was almost two months ago!

Unfortunately many students are held back by fear in the classroom. They do not want to be embarrassed, and when we give a wrong answer that is exactly what happens. In fact, we become incapable of learning for up to 20 minutes due to the adrenaline caused by the fear and embarrassment of giving an incorrect answer. Having the confidence of a group making sure everyone is on the same page is one way to combat that.

The deflected question is another way to avoid fear. Allow the student to put the pressure on someone else with questions like these:

  • What did you hear as an answer to that question?
  • What would someone else in the room say the answer is? This way the student should say, “I heard someone say…”
  • “What will the next class struggle with the most?” This one is my personal favorite. We all know that when we get to the point where we ask, “Any questions?” that the room is going to be completely silent for as long as we choose. By asking for advice one what the other class will think is the most difficult concept or idea from that day, we are allowing the question to be deflected to another class. Brilliant!

So what would the teacher in the next room find most helpful about this post?


Well isn’t this a conundrum ?

Give me technology! We absolutely need it in our schools. Netbooks, Chromebooks, iPads, or student-owned devices. I am a firm believer that we need devices in our students’ hands in order to prepare them for success, engage them with relevant and current information, and explore creativity and make a difference.

But really though, let’s get rid of this whole one-to-one mass deployment of technology.

Now let’s talk about how to do this. My district has been moving towards a one-to-one, and all of my 7th and 8th graders have their own Asus netbook. I’ve mentioned some of my students’ grumblings about these devices in my previous post, but hey, at least we have something! But I’m not sure I am always in the majority on that feeling.

Here’s my recommendation: let’s find out which teachers would like the technology in their room, and which devices would best suit their purpose. Those teachers could then apply to have the devices and would therefore be more likely to use them and build lessons to suit.

Until our schools are properly suited to store personal technology owned by the school, it is difficult to ask the students to take care of a device. If our lockers were charging stations, sure! If students brought their own device, absolutely! 

I picture my students reading and annotating articles in order to build background knowledge for meaningful discussions on iPads that are housed in my classroom. As the teacher who is issued the devices, they become like a textbook in terms of how they are tracked and issued.

We can also open the door for students to bring their own device to school in order to use something that they are used to. This Edutopia post is a good one for thinking about BYOD and its potential. One of the most important things that I have learned from our current one-to-one deployment is that students need to feel ownership of a device to take care of it and always have it. They need to feel like it is important to them and to their learning. It’s hard to create a sense of ownership, but it is much easier if actual ownership exists!

Part of the reason that people advocate for the widespread use of personal learning devices is that students will be using devices similar to these to create and collaborate in their future occupations. But not all jobs use Asus netbooks or iPads or Macbooks. By helping students become familiar with multiple devices, we are helping them to better prepare for the world that lies ahead of them.

Now with every teacher having their chosen device housed in their classroom, what do we do about flipped classrooms where students need devices to view lectures at home? Ok, maybe I don’t have all the answers…

Excuse me, but what’s the point?

“Mr. Sanders, wh-…oh never mind. I shouldn’t ask that.”

Now I’m always too curious to let something like that go. We were nearing the end of creating short stories in our 8th grade English class, and this comment came up while discussing the standards for narrative writing and revision. So, of course, I pressed on, assuring my student that it was fine to ask the question.

“Well, what is really the point of this creative writing story? I mean, I like it and everything, I just don’t know when we are going to use it.”

The showdown at the OK Corral was on. All eyes were on me as the first bullet had been fired in my direction. What would I do? How would I defend myself against this personal affront? How dare a bright, hard-working student dare question her teacher!

But I was thrilled that she asked! We were able to talk, as a class, about the fun, the practice with words, and the experimentation that narrative writing encourages. We talked about other students’ uses for being creative and telling a story, even though nobody wanted to be a published author. And we were able to talk about the power of a story in persuasion and argument as well.

Narrative writing, however, is not the point of today’s post.

The point is that an 8th grader was so worried about asking me if she would ever use something we were doing in class that she almost didn’t ask it. Our students have been trained that the teacher will teach, and learning will happen in our classrooms. But where does the ownership and freedom come in?

If I am going to choose something for each of my students to do in my classroom, I better be able to articulate exactly why we are doing it, what my students should get out of it, and how it will benefit them now and in the future.

Why would I be offended? At what point in our school culture did we decide that our students should not be able to think for themselves, value their education, and be concerned about doing something pointless?

When a student politely asks me why we are doing something, it shows me that she is interested in owning her learning and is engaged enough with what we are doing to care about why she is doing it. Now how could anyone be upset about that?

And because I had an answer for her, it was a worthwhile experience in everyone’s eyes.