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Questions. The Heartbeat of Understanding.

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
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What if I told you questions are the heartbeat of understanding? I'm sure you would agree.

Tonight I'm writing to you from head and heart. Head, in that I'm focused on student outcomes, heart, because I hope to inspire or re-inspire you and thank you for your efforts. By continually finding out what our students know or don't know and how to best meet their needs and interests, our classrooms breathe, collective hearts celebrating learning. That's why we teach. To get that light switch on with burning desire and sheer joy. Motivate and educate to elevate, today, more than ever.

Building and boosting student understanding, rigor with all its definitions is really quite achievable. Sometimes I think we've made it hard with such high expectations, data-driven everything, shortage of resources, and other such topics. But when all is said and done, the greatest teachers I met and taught with routinely practiced target teaching. It's really a kind of diagnostic-prescriptive-evaluative approach, only this is regarding cognition. 

Technology is amazing. I agree some information no longer needs to be memorized, because kids can just pick up their phones or tablets and check it out. However, building and boosting comprehension, studying for deeper meaning remains key to classroom instruction, curricular design and alignment with objectives and I'm not referring to Data Walls or Data Points. 

Critical thinking is just that, critical thinking. I believe questioning plays a significant role. I'm probably just validating what you already know. That's fine, mentor a newbie, open up your classroom to others to observe and team teach with you, invite your Principal in, talk about prevailing practices with your colleagues or team. Just discuss what you are doing, what's working and maybe any mid-course corrections to get the comprehension results you want for your kids.

With a renewed focus on info-text and STEM it's really important we share common language about what's helping boost achievement and skills mastery. Talk about a growth mindset. I think Skills come first, building self-esteem along the way. I understand about resilience, grit I'm not so sure of. I do know how to teach and that never goes out of style.

I favor Socratic instruction, Blended Learning, PBL (Project-Based-Learning), Inquiry Teaching, Genius Hour, any pedagogy and strategies based around questioning. Questioning is the heartbeat of great teaching, developing understanding and fostering the search for meaning. Regarding student engagement and reflection, let's head for the ultimate, flow state. Those aha and teachable moments make everything so worthwhile. We remember why we wanted to be teachers in the first place.

Metacognition, thinking about thinking is the center of classroom practice. That's where Bloom's Taxonomy comes into the picture.

First things first. There has to be a need to know, and an interest in something to make the learning stick. Questions are indeed the focal point of lesson design. Back to Dewey, we ensure a student is interested and offer more than one way to learn something new.

  1. Check Schema, or background knowledge. Tap it, or build it. Questions.
  2. Review previous learning before you start something new. Questions.
  3. Offer a hook or grabber to enliven lessons and excite students. Questions.
  4. Be sure to Check for Understanding (CFU) before, during and after lessons. Questions.
  5. Use Formative assessment, such as running records, anecdotal observation. Questions.
  6. Chunk it. Consistently format each learning segment with Set, Middle, Close. Questions.
  7. Extend each lesson. There's always more to know.

Next, you can't beat Donna Ogle's original KWL strategy for instructional questions. What I know, What I Want to Know, What I learned. I added a couple extra pieces to this pie. Mine looks like KWLW and KWLWW. I know, I Want to know, I learned, I Want to Know Now, and Where I'll Find it. I think that's a good, workable basis for your questioning strategies. 

In addition, Use Questions as a basis of understanding. The original Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain has seven levels of understanding.

Did you know Bloom's has been around since the late 1950's? I consider it the single most important work to date, in thinking about understanding and measuring learning. Actually I could make a case that Bloom's Taxonomy is Fomative and Summative.

From simple to complex, Bloom's offers methods to reason, analyze, synthesize and evaluate what's studied. Descriptive verbs such as name, list, tell, define, describe make perfect sense in developing critical thinking. Certainly teacher questions are important, but teach students how to use Bloom's, too. Cover the basics, aim for the higher cognitive levels and model strategies with students. That's Metacognition. I think basic Bloom's questions can be used K-12, with a little creativity and practice. Students work in Pair Shares, Triads and any cooperative team learning setting, using tech or any chosen method.

Here are the seven levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, for our review.

  1. Knowledge: Stating basic facts. Recall or memorization, as facts, dates, definitions, etc. Descriptive verbs might be: Name, Define, List, State, Describe, Write. 
  2. Comprehension: Understanding the concept. Putting knowledge into a different format, by paraphrasing, demonstrating, explaining, summarizing and reviewing. Descriptive verbs may be: Discuss, Explain, Describe, Demonstrate, Summarize, Sequence, Review, Write.
  3. Interpretation: Seeing unstated relationships between things. Verbs may be: Explain, Predict, Use, Write.
  4. Application: Using information. Verbs include: Show, Apply, Produce, Draw, Select, Write. This is the beginning of Teaching For Transfer.
  5. Analysis: Checking the parts. Verbs such as: Compare, Contrast, Debate, Classify, Write.
  6. Synthesis: Putting information together. Verbs could be: Design, Create, Construct, Perform, Organize, Write.
  7. Evaluation: Form an opinion. Verbs such as: Decide, Conclude, Rank, Rate, Prove, Write. 

In summary, here's my success recipe for a layer learning cake. Start with Maslow, KWL, add in learning styles, multiple intelligences, layer in Bloom's, top the cake with questions and swirl throughout, now that's a party to celebrate.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita


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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 47 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Rita is currently teaching in a multi-age, fully incuded preschool, ages 2-8. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

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Guest Sunday, 17 February 2019