How can I help students listen to each other’s questions?

Tomorrow is the first quiz in my Calculus class and in preparation, we spent some of today in a Q&A session. I allowed them to ask questions and I endeavored to answer them clearly. (There are times when I prefer to let students answer each other’s questions as much as possible, but the day before the first formal assessment when nerves are high didn’t seem like the best time for this.)

Overall, I think the Q&A session went well, but there were two problems. The first was one that I know every teacher has experienced. Student A asked a question, and I gave an answer. Then Student B asked the exact same question, down to the choice of numbers they used in their example. Student B wasn’t trying to be snotty, they just weren’t listening to Student A (on a conscious level…. however I have to believe that she heard A but didn’t fully register it since the question was the same).

The second problem was that students misheard what other students asked. They would get confused and freaked out because they heard a different question than what was actually being asked and so my explanation was causing them to doubt their understanding.

I think that students can get a lot out of sessions like this, but I need them to carefully listen to each other. Any ideas out there about how I can help students to listen carefully to what their peers ask?

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5 thoughts on “How can I help students listen to each other’s questions?

  1. I haven’t tried this, and it may go terribly, but an idea:
    Could you ask students to rephrase each other’s questions before answering them? Something like this:

    Amanda: “How do I find the equation of the tangent line to y = 3x^2 + 2x + 4 at x = 3?”
    You: “Bartholomew, can you help me understand Amanda’s question?”
    Bartholomew: “Yeah, so, she’s not sure how to take the derivative of the function.”
    Amanda: “No, that’s not it! I know how to take the derivative, but what has that got to do with the tangent line?”

    Maybe?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have tried similar things in the past and it often works. I also have used and like the idea having students answer each other’s questions and/or restate answers that they give. It definitely increases engagement with the content. I had forgotten the idea and was out of form since the school year is still pretty young. Thanks for the reminder.

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  2. There are five talk moves summarized here: http://www.mathsolutions.com/documents/9780941355537_ch2.pdf

    1. Revoicing. (This is where you, as the teacher, state back to the student what she has said in order to clarify.)
    2. Restating. (This is where you have, e.g., Student B repeat — but in her own words — what Student A said.)
    3. Reasoning. (This is where you ask if students agree or disagree with what was said — and why!)
    4. Prompting. (This is where you ask for more details — possibly from other students.)
    5. Waiting. (This is where you fight the urge to, e.g., answer your own questions. In this way, you establish the norm in your class that students are expected to participate actively.)

    “Any ideas out there about how I can help students to listen carefully to what their peers ask?”

    2, 3, and 4 above are all good ways to do this — if routinely implemented.

    Here is how I might actually institute this in practice:
    [Student A has said something of import.]
    You: “Could everyone hear Student A just now? Student B, did you catch that? And do you think you could try putting Student A’s idea into your own words, or adding something on?”

    Now, it is possible that Student B was not listening. For whatever reason. And if you sense hesitation or a lack of surety on the part of Student B, then try this talk move.
    You: “If you didn’t hear Student A clearly, feel free to ask her to repeat herself.”

    This sends a lot of messages. It sends the message that Student A’s voice is valued. It sends the message that Student B (and, by extension, everyone else) needs to be listening to their classmates. And it sends the message that a student could be called on to restate a classmate’s reasoning – so just listening isn’t enough. There needs to be that shared understanding.

    To this latter end, Student B will probably say: “Student A, could you please repeat what you said?”

    After Student A says what she was thinking again, be sure that you stay with Student B.
    You [to Student B]: “Okay: How would you state Student A’s idea in your own words?”

    There are a lot of variations with these interactions that you might need to improvise around (e.g., when Student A repeats herself, she ends up saying something different from her original comment…) but hopefully the sample phrases / talk moves above are helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are awesome ideas! Thanks for the detailed response. I have used many of these before, but I forgot how powerful they can be. I have gone through fits and spurts where I successfully use these techniques, and then somehow I get derailed. However, the reminder was helpful. I sometimes forget how important little things can be in the classroom. These are simple ideas that signal big and important things to the class overall. I’ll be trying to implement these some in the coming weeks.

      Liked by 1 person

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