Questioning myself discovered my students need to ask questions also.

As I start the new year, I ask questions of my practice and of my students’ practice. What is it that prevents students from learning, or from showing their learning?

Most of my students are boys, so after reading about the topic in a blog, I reblogged the post by Grant Wiggins: Design Thinking, postscript: the importance of the teacher

  I appreciated this information:

strategies for teaching boys from the research of Christina Hoff Sommers:

” The most effective lessons included more than one of these elements:

  • Lessons that result in an end product–a booklet, a catapult, a poem, or a comic strip, for example.
  • Lessons that are structured as competitive games.
  • Lessons requiring motor activity.
  • Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.
  • Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.
  • Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.
  • Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.
  • Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.”

I have since discovered that the book on this subject is Reading Boys Teaching Boys Strategies  that Work — And Why by Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley and that The Atlantic Article by Jessica Lahey is Stop Penalizing Boys For Not Being Able to Sit Still At School includes the excerpt above. Most of my students this year are boys. Yet, all of the above elements engage all students, so why not include them?

I am moving back towards projects — a purpose for learning. Just teaching “posted objectives” does not engage learners. Learners need authentic experiences, and in that process learn more that the “posted objective” and learn what each student needs at that time. Over the years we as teachers have been, through mandates and test focus, directed away from themes and projects to disconnected test-prompts and objectives. The results have been a loss of joy in learning. Therefore, projects, which include a product, are the engaging counterpoint to the dilemma, and helps engage the boys — and girls– in the classroom.

In addition, projects usually include movement and collaboration, helping others. That allows boys to dispel their “antsy-ness” and help others (be responsible for the learning of others). By working in teams, boys naturally check on each other (“Where are you?” is often asked as a student walks over to another team’s project). Also, projects allow students their own discovery of solutions and content as they investigate their part and collaborate with their team and the class for the project and product. And good projects include continuous self-assessment, check-ins, and feedback (student/teacher) which can also include the elements in the list (a game, drama, a quick project to share by teams and individuals). Then the “experts” can guide others, building in again the helping of others.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that students don’t ask their own questions; they wait for teacher prompts. Students know how to answer teacher prompts, but do so without evidence. Students are not connecting to the the theme / message of the texts since they are searching for answers rather than analyzing the argument / evidence of the message.

What students need to do and what the Common Core State Standards shift us to include these:

CCSS Shift

Shift 4

Text-Based Answers

Students have rich and rigorous conversations which are dependent on a common text.  Teachers insist that classroom experiences stay deeply connected to the text on the page and that students develop habits for making evidentiary arguments both in conversation, as well as in writing to assess comprehension of a text.

Shift 5

Writing from Sources

Writing needs to emphasize use of evidence to inform or make an argument rather than the personal narrative and other forms of decontextualized prompts.  While the narrative still has an important role, students develop skills through written arguments that respond to the ideas, events, facts, and arguments presented in the texts they read.

Again though, students involved in projects are guided to ask their own questions, and to discover the information, analyze the ideas, and synthesize them into their response, which is revised into a product that explains the topic in a format the audience will understand.

What I need to do to enable students to grow in these areas?

  • Use backwards design to develop projects that allows students a choice in product and process while meeting objectives.
  • Teach questioning strategies.
  • Engage students in rich and rigorous conversations.
  • Ensure writing tasks provide both teacher and student generated essential questions that demand textual analysis to access the evidence for student responses.

In review of questioning, I discovered the Right Question Institute’s protocol for asking good questions. We’ve started using that in class, and considering the many resources on “thick” and “thin” questions (Google It ), I devised a Questioning / Responding infographic (below) to use with Reciprocal Teaching (See Adlit Page also). Teams of students would (a handout):

  1. Predict / Question
    1. Follow the RQI protocol.
  2. Question as you go as well as refer to RQI questions
    1. Generate more questions as they listen and read, focusing on Think and Search (thick) questions:
      1. Right-There questions (answer in the text)
      2. Think and Search (reason through the evidence, looking for facts, claims, examples to support the author’s message over the course of the text)
      3. Author and You (require their experience connected to author’s ideas)
      4. On My Own (require experience, background knowledge connected to author’s ideas)
  3. Clarify
    1. Listen and read while asking what words , phrases, evidence, claims are unclear to them.
      1. How do you pronounce that?
      2. What does the word mean?
      3. I think the author means “___________”… because the text says….”_________”
      4. I’m guessing ‘___” means… because it says “_____”
      5. What do you think the author means when the text says “________”?
  4. Summarize
    1. Students summarize verbally, within pairs or their group, at each section.
    2. Student groups create a final, objective summary that explains the main ideas, why they are important, and a gist statement of the whole article.
    3. Students share the final summary with the class (Google Doc, Comic, Blog, Thinglink, Glog).
    4. Students create a semantic map with key ideas / details / vocabulary / sketch shared by each group member.

Key to questioning is understanding the types of questions that help us clarify and understand the content. The RQI protocol helps students analyze questions for their purpose. Thin questions help us list and analyze the details and facts; thick questions help us synthesize the ideas into concepts and understandings.

To help students understand the types of questions, I created this organizer. The Right There Questions, the facts and details are in the center, completely text dependent. Next are the Think and Search with the focus on understanding the text in parts and as a whole. Third, are Author and You questions that bring the reader’s experiences into the author’s ideas; they can help the reader understand his own ideas and the authors with the emphasis on understanding the author’s ideas ideas. Finally, On My Own questions allow the reader to consider his/her own background knowledge and experience in order to revise or substantiate his/her own thinking while focusing on understanding the author’s message and concepts.

Questioning is key to understanding. Hopefully, through projects, reciprocal teaching strategies that including questioning strategies, students will learn to ask and answer their own questions while collaborating in teams to create products that mean something to each of them while meeting our new Common Core State Standards. And key to all is developing that environment that allows students to flourish. Projects, products, questions, and strategy support is a beginning.



Other Resources:

Higher Order Thinking Skills by Laura Davis

Also blogged at Ask What Else