I absolutely hate that statement when it comes from my students. As hard as I try to not show my disapproval with that statement, I fear that my facial expressions are a dead giveaway of my feeling. Unfortunately, students think my hatred is because they don’t get it. So I often have to follow up with, “Please be more specific about what you don’t get, because I haven’t quite mastered the ability to read your mind yet. ” (Yes, I’m that sarcastic with them, and surprisingly they don’t have a problem with it.)
During the 2009 PCMI Professional Development session, we focused on questioning. By far it was the best aha moment I’ve ever had as a teacher because they encouraged us not to just question for assessment purposes, but to question for probing purposes. Getting our students to think deeper about a topic by simply (well actually its not that simple) asking them a question designed to get them to do just that. I was so excited to incorporate that into my classes the next school year. Unfortunately, my attempt to integrate that fell flat on its face.
I forgot the cardinal rule of teaching, “Know Your Audience”. I was teaching 14-17 year olds who for the past 9-12 years had been trained in a different way on how to question and answer questions. I realized that instead of diving head first into the ocean, I had to test the waters first and come up with a plan to make the transition easier. Here is what I realized.
1. Students use statements of feelings to ask their questions.
The “I don’t get it!?” or “This is too hard!” phenomena is what they consider asking a question, even though their purpose for making the statement is to express their confusion or frustration in hopes that you can either relieve them from any responsibility or help alleviate their confusion/frustration.
2. Students answer every question you ask of them.
We as teachers are trained to identify verbal or hand responses to questions and often think that our students aren’t answering the questions if we don’t see either one of those responses. I’ve realized that if I look at the non-verbal cues, that I can determine the students response. Raising their hand or voicing a reply to respond a question says “I’ve thought about the question and am confident enough to share with you my response”. For the students who didn’t raise their hand or make eye contact or verbally respond, it doesn’t mean they didn’t answer the question, it just meant that they weren’t comfortable with their response to say it in front of the class. (Understandably enough, their response may have been a “I don’t get it” or a “I have no idea” or even a “I know the answer I just choose not to waste my energy answering it”, but the point is they still answer it.
3. Students don’t know how to effectively ask questions.
I find myself having to ask them questions after they have asked their question because they haven’t given me enough information to effectively respond. Often times the question they ask is not what they mean.
4. Initially, students are cognitively lazy.
In other words, you have to build up to deep questioning. Don’t just start off the class with a probing question, first, warm up their brains by asking Level 1 & 2 Blooms Level questions. Let them become comfortable with those questions and then gradually ask them the deeper thought provoking questions.
After I came to these realizations, I know have formulated a plan to ease the process for entering the ocean of effective, high quality questioning.
- Incorporate asking and answering quality questions into their grade. As tedious as it may be to record that, I understand that for most students if I tell them its a grade, they are more apt to take it seriously. If questions weren’t part of the grade, then asking good questions or answering probing questions was of no benefit to them.
- Model how to ask questions effectively. The 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where & Why) are very important in journalism as well as in questioning. Who is this question for, What exactly are they asking, When was this question initiated, Where as in what situation prompted the question, and Why is this question of importance to me. It may be lengthy but it doesn’t have to be. Here is an example: Bad question: “Miss, why are they right angles?” Good question: “While I was doing the homework, I didn’t understand why in example 2 on pg 134, the book said that angles A and B were right angles if they didn’t list the information as given.”
- Plan out my questions and their questions in advance. As tedious as this may sound, it helps me think of ways which I can lead the students toward the more probing questions while maintaining the flow of the lesson.