So often I think of teaching as saying the right thing at the right time. If a student doesn’t has his homework, I try to remember to smile and ask him in a friendly tone, “How are you doing?” If a student explains a homework problem accurately, I restrain myself from issuing a quick “Good Job” and opt for a wordier description of the presentation. I know, that is issued thoughtfully, my words have the power to make a student feel care for and confident.
Equally as important is the ability of my comments and questions to foster thinking and engagement. If a student’s comment in a discussion doesn’t quite demonstrate understanding, and I try to move the class along by saying “almost,” then I lose the chance to see what that student is thinking and he loses the chance to come to understanding… even if my “almost” is super upbeat.
When I saw Sam’s idea for this blog on twitter, I happened to be reading chapter 3 of Ron Ritchhart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking which is about using language to bolster a culture of thinking. While this chapter isn’t entirely focused on questions, there were plenty of example questions that could serve to push a discussion or interaction forward (I will write again when I get to chapter 8). The following quotes are my favorite questions from pages 64 – 78, which I plan on adding to my teaching vocabulary.
“What do you think might be going on…” informs the class that there are multiple possibilities and elicits more participation.
“What did you mean when you were saying…” shows that the teacher is listening and encouraging the student to think deeply.
“What do you think is the main idea behind this question?” encourages the student to evaluate.
To encourage our students to take initiative, shorter statements like “Tell me what you just did,” or “Where will you go next?” will remind the student that he is charge of his own learning.
Using hypothetical questions such as “Could we do this?” or “Should we be thinking about it another way” encourages students to make decisions and “ensure that students are doing the thinking.”