Asking questions

Maybe it's because I've been reading a lot of research the last several months for my Master's Project. Maybe I've just had time to adjust to a new school and am starting year two with a fresh perspective. Either way, I've found I'm thinking a little more deeply about why and how I do things this school year.

One goal I've set for this year is to push students towards thinking more deeply about what knowledge they truly own and what knowledge they really don't yet grasp. It's a hard thing to get at, but I feel it's terribly important. Do they truly understand why larger stars have shorter life spans, or have they simply memorized that's how it goes? Could they explain it in their own words?

The articles I've been reading and my own experience tells me there's only really good way to get at what's truly going on inside my freshmen students' heads: Talk to them. Make them explain. Ask questions.

Not yes-n-no, true-false, or multiple-choice. I want to expose thought processes, challenge complacency, discover weaknesses and strengths. When starting a project I ask: "What do you want your final project to look like?" And when they reply, "I want it to be creative, and good, and for it to earn an A+," don't let the little buggers off the hook . "What will 'creative,' 'good,'  or 'worthy of an A+' look like?" I scoot1 from group to group requesting updates on their progress and asking follow up questions. I often reply to their questions with questions of my own. I try to frame questions in a conversational tone2, attempting to avoid the impression that I'm interrogating everyone.

So far, so good. Students haven't yet stopped giving canned responses (Q: "What's part of your project are you the proudest of?" A: "Everything!"), but they do give deeper thoughts when prodded- you just need to do the prodding.  However, the past few days I've found my questioning format coming too close to interrogation and not close enough to conversation. I need be very conscious to include more personal and non-class related questions. I want students to give me their best thoughts and best efforts. To earn that from them I need to do a little better job at showing that I value who they are outside of my classroom as well.

Most interestingly of all, my focus on exposing thought processes has me thinking about my thought processes: Why do I do things the way I do? What are the weaknesses? Strengths? What makes it good? What makes it engaging?

Questions beget more questions.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by grunge

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  1. utilizing my fun rolly-chair, natch     (back)
  2. a la Tim Gunn (back)