How did I learn this summer? I didn’t have a graphic organizer, charts to refer to, or questions to answer. What I did have was a driving question — How can I get my students to become passionate readers and writers. I also had access to information and and resources to stimulate my thinking, namely:
- great PD publications including (Notice and Note, What Readers Really Do, Choice Words, The Book Whisperer and The Units of Study in Opinion, Information and Narrative)
- “virtual talk” specifically tweets and blogs of the driven, passionate learners of Twitter.
What I learned made me look hard and question my teaching. Are the tools I’m giving students driving them to become passionate learners? Am I giving them the opportunity and tools that will spur that learning?
Strategies, strategies..does it stick?
I teach strategies, lots of them. The strategy for every situation and the matching chart to go with it. All these lovely tools — modeled, practiced, available and ready to be used. Nothing was wrong with the strategies themselves. But were they being used effectively? When the scaffold and I were gone, did the strategies transfer?
I stopped short, Actually I had it backwards. The strategies worked in a controlled environment, but student transference was weak. Not because the strategies were bad, but because my thinking stimulated the use of the strategy, not student thinking. They weren’t thinking. They were mimicking my thinking. My big aha: provide room for student thinking.
New Rules — Listen, pose open ended questions, acknowledge thinking and get out of the way
There is nothing wrong with setting up the strategy, modeling it and charting it to make it clear. The trouble was how I got there. The source of the strategy needed to be lifted from student thinking. Model yes absolutely. Then as students try it, acknowledge their thinking and then push in subtly, teasing out their thinking with powerful prompts and questions. Peter Johnston’s Choice Words gives good direction:
Say more.. What made you think that? What else connects to that idea?
Show me…How did you get that idea? How did you figure that out?
Why? Why would the author do something like that?
Making Room for Student Thinking
As teachers we so want our students to “get it” we push in and in the process we disable and we disrespect their thinking process. We take away the possibility of development beyond us because we don’t trust that they can. And they “get” that, so they don’t think. They don’t think they can. Johnston’s choice words and questioning creates a wide and respectful yet structured space for students to put their thinking in.
This just in — Another Great Resource for Questioning:
Providing questions that will stimulate process, problem solving and synthesis without leading is difficult! So here’s another great book to put on your to be read pile: Essential Questions written by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. It offers a structure for formulating questions that are important, timeless, and recur throughout our lives, organically. They are universal questions. They don’t dead end with a one word or one sentence response. They are intriguing. They beg to be answered. They foster investigation. They require critical thinking. Check out the link above and get a taste of what EQs are and aren’t.
7 characteristics of essential questions:
- Open ended
- thought provoking
- requires higher level thinking
- raises additional questions
- requires support not just an answer
- recurs over time, needing to be revisited
- is important and transferable within disciplines
Here’s to a year of student-driven strategies. Driven with questions and prompts that foster room for student thinking and questioning. Here’s to a year of passionate learning.