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Who Should Ask the Questions in the Classroom?

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Raised hands in classroomIn the past, teachers asked the questions and students answered them – if they could. But just because it’s always been done that way, it doesn’t mean it should continue to be done that way. A number of teachers are now encouraging students to both ask and answer questions! That was the topic of my Studentcentricity discussion with Aleta Margolis, Dan Rothstein, and Jason Flom.

Following are additional thoughts from Aleta and Dan. They provide some excellent rationale for reflection.

From Aleta come these takeaways:

The kinds of questions that we ask of young people and the kinds of questions we teach them reveal how we fundamentally see children. Inspired Teaching sees children as "potential-full" people and so we equip children with the kinds of life-long learning questions that empower them to become the future community builders, makers, creators, inventors, innovators, and caretakers that they have the potential to be. The following paragraphs, from the Inspired Teaching Guidebook, capture the essence of this:

Rather than empty vessels waiting for a teacher’s knowledge to fill them up, we see children as full of intelligence, inquiry, imagination, and integrity. It’s our job as teachers to draw that out of our students, and to prepare them to thrive in the world beyond our classrooms. When you understand that students are full of potential, your task becomes much less about how quickly and accurately students can answer questions and much more about how they can reason through a problem and derive several different approaches to finding an answer.

 The shift continues with a realization that teaching for children who are full, who are ready for the spark of your instruction to ignite their endless curiosity – that kind of teaching will look fundamentally different from what you’ve done before.

 You will have to plan differently, set your classroom up differently, create, evaluate, and give feedback on assignments differently. You’ll have to manage your classroom as if it’s a NASA lab. At times every scientist will be working on something different. But you’ll need to know what they’re doing, what their goals are, and how to guide them if they start to veer off course. You’ll have to know these potential-full students in a way you didn’t have to know your kids before. You’ll have to know what inspires them, what they need to be “sparked” into action, what they need to quell their anger or move through their frustration.

And from Dan:

What could be more fundamental to learning than asking questions? We need to honor ignorance, not knowing, as the starting point for setting a learning agenda. What's the best evidence of a learning agenda, one that students own? A question. Many questions. 

We need to deliberately foster students' ability to produce their own questions, improve them and strategize on how to use them. We created the Question Formulation Technique as the simplest, most powerful way to accomplish that. It's not the most comprehensive tool you could build (which could then be a bit intimidating to learn and apply), but rather, an easily-learned strategy every teacher, on every level, can use to help students learn to think for themselves. 

Listen to the discussion here and let us know what you think!


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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Monday, 15 July 2019