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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

CHALLENGE: Using questions

Our questioning helps to define our classrooms, to give it its feel and energy—or lack thereof. As such, questions are culture builders. Within this context, we need to understand how their use can help us foster a culture of thinking, that is, help us create a place in which the group’s individual as well as collective thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular day-to-day experience of all group members. RON RITCHHART, CREATIVE TEACHING & LEARNING, VOL 2.4
With this quote in mind, a simple challenge was issued:

CHALLENGE: Take a block of time, about 30-40 minutes, and only ask questions. Every word out of your mouth for that period of time must be phrased as a question. Capture your reflections. Share.

The purpose of this provocation was to get teachers thinking about the power of questions, and how often, we don't need to tell our students anything, but just prompt them in the right direction.

Here are some of the brief reflections from one of our teachers:
It was clear that students were doing more thinking!
A question requires you to think. Often we do a lot of the thinking for our students. We put thoughts into their mouths, answers into their minds. We don't do it on purpose, but we do it. Even the best teachers. Which is why it is beneficial sometimes to just slow every thing down and do an activity like this. To really focus and reflect on our use of questions. Record yourself teaching (just audio is fine too) and then watch (or listen) and analyse what you say. Classify the language you use. Compare questions to statements. Categorize by types of questions. Make a graph. 

But don't ask questions all the time. Sometimes we need to give answers. Kids ask a teacher questions because they are genuinely interested in finding the answer. They choose to ask the teacher because they see the teacher as the Lead Learner in the classroom. It can shut down inquiry if the teacher is always answering a question with a question. Just like in can shut down inquiry if the teacher is always answering with an an answer. There is a harmony to be found. 
Once I had it in my mind that I would ask only questions, the questions came out naturally.  It didn't feel forced, which I thought it might.  
This may be that the teacher is an experienced inquiry teacher, or it may be something more. If the focus of our classroom culture is only on knowledge, knowing things, then the focus will be on answers. If the focus of the classroom is on thinking, then the class will be focused on questions. If we use questioning strategies ourselves as teachers, and we teach our students to use them, a culture of thinking and questions will arise.
"How can you find out?" proved to be a very powerful question that fostered student independence.  Students became less reliant on me throughout the lesson, slowly realizing that I would use this question as a prompt to get them thinking, and not just give them the answers.
I love that question. It moves the focus from the subject or the object being studied, to the process of learning. It is asking students to reflect on HOW they can answer a question, not WHAT the answer is. When answering this questions, students are actually planning what they will do next. 

Another favourite is what makes you say that?  This moves the focus from the correctness of the answer, to the logic and reasoning behind it, the cognitive work that went into the answer. This is the space where we need to live as teachers.

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