“Questioning” Due Oct 12

Assignment from Syllabus

Questioning (1 class period)

You should observe one entire class period. This observation does not have to be in your endorsement area(s). How did the teacher use questioning to gauge students’ level of understanding? What types of questions were asked (closed or open-ended, percentages of each)? Were the same students called on repeatedly? Were boys or girls called on more frequently? Were students called on who did not have their hands raised? What types of formal and informal checks for understanding were used? What could have been done differently?

Teachers at Big Picture regularly do Socratic Seminars where ideas/concepts are discussed and all are asked to participate and contribute their ideas.  Students are reminded to speak to ideas and not people.  However I don’t think that is the spirit of this assignment.

This past week, teachers and staff met with all the freshman students to solidify the learning plans for those students.  Each learning plan is a contract of sorts between the advisor and the student.  Each learning plan has three key parts, the Vision, the Goals, and the Projects.  These learning plans outline what the student will present at exhibitions which are like final exams where a student will present a summary of their work over the semester to family, advisors and other staff.

What impressed me as I observed some of these student-teacher interactions, or heard them summarized later is the richness of questioning that exists at this school.  Here’s an example of an interchange:

J:  what are you interested in P?
P: photography
J: oh tell me more about that?
P: I like taking pictures.
J:  what type of pictures?
P:  pictures of people, mostly.
J:  if you do a project on photography, what would be your goal?
P:  I don’t understand.
J:  what are some things you have learned about photography?
P:  I don’t know, framing, I guess or exposure
J:  What do those things do?


There is just no better way to draw out a student and really find out what they know than by asking questions.  Creative questioning, and suitable wait times are I think key to masterful teaching.  Speaking to the questions:

As my peer teachers interviewed freshman students on their core, or most motivating, interests, they really knew very little about those.  And that was highlighted by questions.  Their understanding of something that they say interests them is surprisingly shallow.  (Good opportunity for the educator!)

Due to the setting we were in, I would say 90% of the questions were open-ended.  The open-ended questions are really on the most appropriate for a conversation with a student of how they would like to spend their time over the coming semester.

Since these were one-on-one interviews, there was unambiguous focus on one person and one questioner.  In other classrooms I have been in, there is a constant struggle to call on all folks in the class.

The formal check for understanding would be this Learning Plan that is hammered out between student (and parent), and advisor (and mentor).  This plan details what the student needs to do to gain understanding and demonstrate mastery on a goal that aligns with their vision.  It is interesting that in this progression of scope from broad to narrow to narrowest, students easily detect lack of alignment or lack of authenticity in aspects of their vision, goals, and projects.

What I think could have been done differently is a better capturing of action items in the learning plan.  Some teachers type into the students plan document itself.  I am of the opinion that we should comment around the plan, and make the students own the verbiage and presentation, format and voice of the document.

I also think that my own questioning skills are not near as good as that of some who have been at it longer than I have.  I have a ways to go.

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