#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?


#AMLE2013 Quotes

There were so many amazing things said over the weekend. As I take you on a tour through my notes, here are some of the quotes (or as close as I could get) that stood out to me:

“They will suffer through this miserable instruction later, so we better make them miserable now.” – Rick Wormeli

It really is cringe-worthy to hear someone say this. Let’s stop making excuses like this and start getting better. We don’t need to hide behind those excuses and blame others.

” ‘You’re out of control!’ is just like ‘For the next 30 seconds, don’t think of chocolate cake.” – Monte Selby

If we want a behavior to change, just pointing at it isn’t going to help! Give the child something to do instead.

“The kids better be more psyched to read and write when you leave them than when they came to you.” – Jeffrey Wilhelm

Build the excitement and the love!

“When the butt goes numb, the brain goes dumb.” – Kim Campbell

Let’s move more often! I am sick of getting stuck in a rut for too long in class. I need to do myself and my kids a favor and switch things up more often.

” ‘I don’t have pencil.’ Who’s fault is that? Yours! You let them in the room… You don’t enter my room unless you’re ready to learn.” – Jack Berckemeyer

If I could avoid hearing a student tell me that they didn’t have something, it would make my day!

And lastly, a serious one:

If the kids can see the target and know where they are in relation to the target, they hit it overwhelmingly more often than if they do not. – Rick Wormeli

It is time for me to help my students understand what their learning goals are and to be able to articulate them.

Sometimes I wish I could write faster…


When I heard that the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) was holding it’s national conference in Minneapolis, it was up to me to do whatever I could to get myself there! Luckily, it happened. I was able hear some incredible presenters such as Jack Berckemeyer, Rick Wormeli, Jeffrey Wilhelm, and Kim Campbell. What a blast!

To make the conference even more valuable, I’ll do what I can to share some of the incredible ideas, activities, and quotes that I picked up. It’s time to do some reflecting through my notes, so I’ll post a few interesting and possibly random points today. Hopefully I’ll dig deeper into some of these in my classroom.

  • Assessment is something we do with and for the student, not something we do to the student.  – This one came from Mark Springer, who has been teaching without grades for over 30 years. His students write a narrative about their quarter in school.
  • Why do we have four columns in our rubrics? (Mark Springer) – Is our implicit message to students that it is acceptable to be “emergent” in a standard? Does a student even know what that means? What if we had three columns: exemplary, proficient, and not yet?
  • Powerful professional development tool: interacting with different scenarios at staff meetings. This came from Wormeli’s session on differentiated instruction. He had many different possible classroom and school scenes, but it is great for teachers to come with their own as well. Have staff members read a couple of scenarios in small groups and brainstorm five ways a highly accomplished, professional teacher would handle that situation. Too often we end up in a situation and only have one or two options. Let’s help each other build our toolbox! Start in a PLC and build some momentum. As Rick says, wherever two or three are gathered!
  • Mad, Sad, Happy (Monte Selby) – If you don’t look happy, and you don’t look sad, what does that leave you? When kids have trouble reading our emotions, it is our responsibility to teach them as well as to be happy ourselves and show it!
  • Use your out-loud manners to show students and children why we are doing something for someone. Instead of just opening the door for someone, let’s talk through it to show why we are doing it as well as how happy it makes the recipient of the good deed. (Selby)

Jeffrey Wilhelm does some incredible things with essential questions, inquiry, and motivation. I’ll give him his own section:

  • Studies have shown that you cannot, no matter what you say, possibly overestimate the role that motivation plays in a child’s education. And to add to that, it was found that students will only match the teacher’s level of enthusiasm for a topic.
  • Good essential questions must do two things: 1. Get at the heart of the discipline. 2. Be compelling to the kids, or as Wilhelm says, “Sexy.” If we aren’t taking the time to pique student interest, we are sunk before we begin.
  • Essential questions cannot be answered by looking it up, understood in a day or two, or easily agreed upon. Let’s have an argument and learn at the same time!

Here are a few examples of essential questions from Wilhelm:

  1. What are your civil rights, and how is this school violating them? (Civil rights unit)
  2. How far are you willing to go to get what you want? (Macbeth)
  3. What makes and breaks relationships? (Romeo and Juliet)
  4. Who will survive? (Dystopian novels/life science)
  5. What determines who wins? (A theme for an entire quarter of math)

The answers to these questions affect students in a way that feels immediate and relevant, perfect for a middle school student.

That was day one of AMLE 2013, from 10 pages of notes down to a few points. Who wants to know more? I’ll be happy to share! Of course, I still have two more days to go through in blog posts…