Ask More; Talk Less

When students are talking academically, they are also (usually) thinking academically. I try hard not to out-talk my students because I don’t want to be the only one generating new ideas and critically thinking through issues in class. Of course, the beginning of a course or unit is an exception to this rule; setting up norms and routines requires me to talk more than I usually do. But once these things are in place, I try to step back and allow my students to lead. Giving them time and space to talk (and ask their own questions) is one of the most important ways I can get them to think deeply and critically. They know they cannot rely on me to do this for them.

Teaching isn’t telling, Ross!

Teaching isn’t telling, Ross!

Our historic, unspoken understanding of teaching is “telling,” or transmitting information (typically from one person who ‘knows’ to those who ‘do not know’…yet). This practice, however, out of step with the profession today, and our desire to prepare students to tackle serious local and global issues in the decades ahead. How do we avoid defaulting to the idea and practice of “teaching as telling”?

1) Set Up Norms for Talking & Listening

Ask students to reflect on and practice active listening skills

Students are asked to pair up (finding people they don’t know or rarely speak with) to share a story about a time when they weren’t heard, seen, respected

Students are asked to pair up (finding people they don’t know or rarely speak with) to share a story about a time when they weren’t heard, seen, respected

We really cannot assume our students know how to talk with each other. Engaging in civil dialogue is a complex skill, one that requires explicit teaching and practice. Even adults need reminders and examples of things like sharing air time, active listening, and asking important questions.

Take time to front-load, model, and practice these skills before using discussion structures like: Turn & Talks, Socratic Seminars, Harkness Discussions, and Spider Web Discussions as vehicles for understanding content.

One of my favorite ways to get started with promoting a healthy ‘talk culture’ is a simple, 35-minute exercise called Heard, Seen, Respected from Liberating Structures. Students pair up and take turns sharing a story about a time in their life when they didn’t feel heard, seen, or respected. Each person shares for up to 7 minutes while the listener practices, well, listening. It’s worth noting that for this particular exercise, listeners are asked to simply be attentive and attuned (see chart above). The listener’s job, in other words, is not to verbally probe, solve, or soothe (at least in this exercise). Afterwards, everyone in the class discusses the commonalities of the stories they heard. It’s worth noting that these conversations should be held in strict confidence; no bringing the story back up with one another, even after class.

When students understand the full, emotional impact of not being heard, seen, or respected, they become much more conscious of avoiding this situation in the future. I use Heard, Seen, Respected now at the beginning of every course I teach. It’s great for staff meetings and PLCs, too.

2) Ask Questions That Deepen Thinking

The classic image of an inquiry classroom is of a teacher asking a thoughtful series of convergent and divergent questions leading students elegantly (and sometimes subversively) to new understandings and insights. How can we channel our inner-Socrates? One of my favorite books right now is Think Like Socrates by Shanna Peeples. In it, she shares ideas on how to develop and apply “leveled and big questions” in content-specific ways. She also includes samples of student-generated questions throughout the book.

For non-content specific questions, I like to keep this Questions Reference handy. I’ve either videotaped or asked colleagues to come into my class to check off which questions I’m asking a lot, or not enough, of. I’ve also seen this Reference taped down on student desks, so that students themselves can remember to use them during discussions.



3) Get Students to Ask Questions

In her talk about the Origins of Human Curiosity, Williams College Professor, Susan Engel, concludes that Kids learn best when they’re trying to get the answer to their own question.” Unstructured time (like recess) is a great opportunity to catch a whiff of authentic student inquiry. What are kids asking when no adult is listening? Which questions do they truly own? What do they truly care about knowing?

The QFT: Students generated these questions in 10 minutes while looking at an image of striking teachers

The QFT: Students generated these questions in 10 minutes while looking at an image of striking teachers

What about eliciting authentic student questions in the classroom though? One of my “go to” activities is the Question Formulation Technique developed by The Right Question Institute. Students are asked to observe a provocative image or sentence for a period of time (10 minutes or less, depending on the students’ ages) and record all the questions they can about the image. Then, they systematically analyze the questions together, such as: Which ones are open and closed? Where do they cluster? Which question(s) would they most like to answer? While I love the QFT, I don’t always feel that it generates the most authentic list of questions, especially given the time constraint (students often get ‘competitive’ with who can generate the most in the shortest amount of time). Authentic questions need time and space!

The readings are on the left and space is provided on the right for students to read one another’s questions and record the question they “loved” most from their list

The readings are on the left and space is provided on the right for students to read one another’s questions and record the question they “loved” most from their list

Inspired in part by Lynda Barry’s Syllabus, this quarter I’ve asked students to purchase a Comp Book and turn it into a “Query Book.” Students are asked to write down all the questions that come up for them as they read a text or listen to a podcast for class. We then use these student-generated questions to engage in small group discussions. At the end of the quarter, students read each other’s Query Books, appreciating the questions they read and then choosing their favorite for each assignment. Not only has this practice helped create some accountability around preparing for class, but it’s also strengthened and vastly improved students’ question-asking skills.

4) Create discussion structures you can use in any context

If you and your students are getting tired of using the same discussion structures, mix it up a bit. For some great ideas on new structures, be sure to check out these fantastic resources:

EduProtocols

Students share out their reading annotations before placing them into a Venn diagram or “cyber sandwich”

Students share out their reading annotations before placing them into a Venn diagram or “cyber sandwich”

Be sure to visit the EduProtocols website to download free protocols (including) adaptations for younger learners). EduProtocol authors’ “field guide” is where you get access to all 16 of them (highly recommended). I recently used the Cyber Sandwich activity, where students talk together after reading the same text to discuss what stood out for them. They then complete a Venn diagram illustrating what observations they shared in common and what really differed. Fascinating!

Liberating Structures

Students get up and find a partner to discuss a reading-related prompt for four minutes (there were 90 undergraduate students in this class and we did five rotations)!

Students get up and find a partner to discuss a reading-related prompt for four minutes (there were 90 undergraduate students in this class and we did five rotations)!

Liberating Structures offer a goldmine of ideas for helping students (and adults) reach decisions and expand their thinking. There are 33 different structures offered with the goal of “unleashing and including” everyone in the room. The one I am using most frequently right now is called Impromptu Networking. This is a very simple yet powerful structure that invites students to stand up, move around the room, find a partner, and have a short, reciprocal conversation together based on a prompt or question. Impromptu Networking is a great way to warm students up at the beginning of the day or center them after a break. It’s also an ingenious way to help students review content or whittle down topic choices. There are many ways to “change the dials” on this activity (new prompts, less or more time for discussion, number of rotations, etc.).

Pecha Kucha

Have a lot of content but want to avoid “death by PowerPoint”"? You must check out this rapid-fire approach to presenting content in a concise and aesthetic way. A Pecha Kucha is 20 slides each one lasting only 20 seconds. I usually model it first for students (it’s more challenging than you think!) and then unleash them to use it as a way of synthesizing, organizing, and presenting content to one another. They love both the freedom and structure it gives them to be creative. You can also turn the 20x20 format into a 10x20 format (10 slides each lasting 20 seconds) or any other configuration that works.

The Big List of Classroom Discussion Strategies from Cult of Pedagogy

Jennifer Gonzalez has a treasure trove of highly-readable and relatable blog posts on instruction. The Big List of Classroom Discussion Strategies post is one of my favorites as it offers 15 different ways to get students talking.

I will conclude this post with a quote from my friend and colleague, Kath Murdoch, who reflects in the foreword of Experience Inquiry on her student teaching experience. In this beautiful piece, Murdoch reflects on her student teaching experience, and her mentor teacher, Frank Ryan, someone she “didn’t recall saying much,” but inspired true curiosity in his students by asking questions and nudging on their conversations.

“I wanted be someone who could teach without telling, someone who would truly listen to students and encourage them to think deeply.”

How do you teach without telling? How do you ask more, and talk less? Please share in the Comments section below!

Please join us!

Please join us!

Stay Curious: In Celebration of "Madness"

Mad-Scientist.jpg

My children may be past the age of trick-or-treating, but Halloween is still celebrated with gusto at our house. Vampires, princesses, and ghosts make their way through our smoke machine, ringing the doorbell throughout the evening. I make them linger a few seconds after they grab their candy so I can fully admire their costumes. This year, I was thrilled to see a “mad scientist” at our door; a first! She had a poof of untamed wild hair, a white lab coat, and taped-up glasses.

And, it got me thinking about Strategy #2: Stay Curious.

What is the mad scientist archetype after all than the most comically curious person alive?!

A mad scientist is fueled by insatiable curiosity, embodying our need-to-know and our need-to-solve. But was it really ‘science’ that fueled this madness? Does it have to be chemistry and astrophysics that drives people to abandon their hygiene and spend all day researching, experimenting, and discovering? I don’t think so. I’ve known mathematicians, lawyers, bakers, poets, doctors, archeologists, entrepreneurs, parents, gardeners, artists, and historians indulging this type of “mad” curiosity.

It’s the madness, not the science that counts.

Which then led me to think about teaching. How do we keep this madness alive when we’ve taught the same lessons year after year? How do we keep it alive when we already know ‘the answer’ or the results? How do we retain a disposition of ‘mad’ curiosity when we’re stressed out and racing to cover curriculum?

First, take a deep, cleansing breath. Then, read on.

1) Say ‘Yes’ to your students’ ideas

Mathematicians, Dan Finkel and Katherine Cook, started Math for Love to help restore our love for the beauty and fun in learning math. In Finkel’s must-see TED talk, he suggests that we say “yes” to students’ ideas, even when these ideas may be wrong. Saying “yes,” he emphasizes, isn’t the same as saying “you’re right.” When we say yes, we ask students to think critically, to take some risks, and to involve others in the discussion. We also model a disposition of curiosity. Instead of being annoyed by a student’s wrong answer, how about being curious about how they arrived there?

According to Finkel and Cook, “To have your idea dismissed out of hand is disempowering. Having accepted, studied, and disproven is a mark of respect. It’s also far more convincing to be shown you’re wrong by your peers than told you’re wrong by the teacher.”

So, how can you respond with curiosity when a student gets it wrong? Here are some ways to say “yes” without saying “you’re right”:

“Tell us more.”

“Show us how you got there.”

“What do the rest of you think about this?”

“How do you know that?”

“How could you prove that?”

2) Wonder meta-cognitively

Maybe the content isn’t what you focus your madness on. Instead, your curiosity can focus on the learning itself. According to Child Mind Institute, “[Metacognition] is the running conversation we have in our heads, mentally sounding ourselves out and making plans. Training kids to use it proactively to overcome obstacles, it turns out, can be a powerful tool.”

Stop the lesson periodically and ask your students:

“How might I teach or explain this differently?”

“What is most frustrating for you in this work?”

“How did you approach this problem?”

“Is there something a classmate said that made you change your mind or alter your thinking?”

Not only can you get students to think about their own learning, you can also bring your students in on your pedagogy once in awhile. Let them try teaching the material once they’ve got a handle on it. Ask them to develop and lead their own mini-lessons and evaluate one another’s approaches. Demonstrate your passionate madness for the complexity of teaching.

3) Learn alongside

Have you ever learned something new in front of your students? What are you curious about? Is there something you are still curious about, even though you already know a whole heck of a lot about it? Learning in the moment, alongside our students, requires some vulnerability; you’re not the expert anymore. However, it can be extremely liberating for students to watch role models learn and collaborate, not just teach and lead.

Take a few minutes each day or week to learn something new with (or from) your students. Maybe you all try juggling, engage in Chinese eye exercises, or puzzle through geometry problems.

Our own curiosity is modeled every day through our words, expressions, and actions. When our students see that our own curiosity is sparked, theirs is sparked as well.

What is working for you? How do you stay curious in your work? Share in the Comments box below.

Get Personal: The Foundation of Every Inquiry Classroom

Inquiry-based classrooms thrive on the foundation of trusting relationships and strong emotional bonds. How do we create emotional bonds with our students at every stage of learning?

Teaching is one of the most cognitively and emotionally complex professions on the planet. Not only do teachers need to plan, teach, and assess for individual academic growth, they also need to develop a personal relationship with each student. When asked about what good teachers have in common, cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham writes emphatically that it’s not about the style of teaching that is most important to student learning, but the emotional bonds that are forged. In his book, Why Don’t Students Like School? he writes: “The emotional bond between teacher and student - for better or worse - accounts for whether students learn.”

Think back to the teachers in your own life who made the biggest impact on you academically. Likely, there were strong emotions associated with that teacher. Hopefully, good ones.

At the start of each quarter, I ask my undergraduate students in my Teaching as a Profession course at the University of Washington to list all the K-12 teachers and coaches they remember. Even fresh out of K-12, this is a tough assignment. I then make it tougher and ask them to choose the one teacher who had the biggest positive impact on their life. The exploration culminates in a letter to that teacher, explaining what made the difference for them. I now have hundreds letters with some predictable patterns and common quotes:

“She took the time to talk with me 1:1. It made me feel like I mattered.”

“He told great stories.”

“She shared her life with us. It felt like we were a part of her world.”

“He got on our level and didn’t treat us like kids.”

I never read a letter that complimented teachers on their well-organized lesson plans, in-depth writing feedback, or excellent pacing. Of course, these things are important, but without strong emotional bonds, they lose their power. Knowing and Teaching like Yourself, whether you are shy and reserved, an extroverted showboat, or somewhere in between is really the key to this strategy. For those looking for ways to deepen emotional bonds, we offer three ideas this month:

1) Tell Stories

Consummate storyteller, Carmen Agra Deedy, at the 2011 National Book Festival

Consummate storyteller, Carmen Agra Deedy, at the 2011 National Book Festival

“[Stories] teach us how to treat our enemies, how to fight our monsters, how to die with dignity, how to laugh at ourselves,” asserts Agra Deedy in her brilliant speech at the 2011 National Book Festival. Humans think in narratives, so if you want students to remember something, stories are a great way to get new information to stick. Stories don’t always have to be content-related, however; they can also be used to reveal more about ourselves to our students. Share stories about your pets (past and present), children or yourself as a child, your mistakes, embarrassments, accomplishments, dreams. Trust me, they will be riveted and won’t forget these. Your stories don’t have to take long, but they do have to be honest and honestly told. Here are three sites that offer specific ways (and videos) to help increase and improve your storytelling repertoire:

  1. The Power of Sharing Your Story (Edutopia) https://www.edutopia.org/article/power-sharing-your-story-students

  2. Build Student Trust by Sharing Stories (EdWeek) https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2018/08/15/first-day-school-sharing-stories-builds-trust.html

  3. How to Tell a Great Story: Using the Science of Storytelling To Share Your Message (Science of People) https://www.scienceofpeople.com/how-to-tell-a-story/

2) Create Rituals, Routines, & Rhythms

Fred Rogers (1928-2003)

Fred Rogers (1928-2003)

For anyone who needs some loving kindness in documentary form, be sure to check out Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the life and legacy of Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers was a fixture in my life as a child. He was one of the few adults in my life who spoke with me as an equal, not at me like a child. He was prompt; I could depend on him. And, perhaps most noticeably, he stuck to a routine; I could anticipate his moves and join in. Whether he realized it at the time or not, Mr. Rogers was picking up the best of what we know from cognitive science about the importance of rituals and routines in establishing emotional bonds. He brought a semblance of order into a chaotic and often dissonant world. Religious schools are uniquely able to apply the rituals of their faith in a similar way; prayers, services, song, candle-lighting reassure students that there is an order, that they are a part of it, and that this order can be learned and followed.

Many use the word “rhythm” to describe their ritual or routine. A rhythm implies something beyond order, something harmonizing and vibrational. The word rhythm also reminds us of the power of music and song in learning (too often ignored in secondary classrooms). Below are some rituals, routines, or rhythms that you may want to incorporate into your classroom, if you don’t already:

  1. Routine, Ritual, and School Community (Edutopia) https://www.edutopia.org/blog/routine-ritual-and-school-community-greg-schnagl

  2. Student-Teacher Conference (Goalbook Toolkit) https://goalbookapp.com/toolkit/strategy/teacher-student-conference

  3. The Music Connection (ASCD) http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept08/vol66/num01/The-Music-Connection.aspx

3) Share The ‘Why’

Because students can’t help but “pay attention to the man behind the curtain”!

Because students can’t help but “pay attention to the man behind the curtain”!

Instead of stating the objectives at the beginning of class, I now share the ‘why’ behind objectives, from a personal point of view. For example, one objective in my Comparative International Education class is to draw a freehand map of the world in five minutes or less. Here’s what I say to get them invested in the ‘why’:

“In this course, you’re going learn to draw a freehand map of the world. This might strike fear and loathing in you. When I first learned to do this, I felt the same. However, I can tell you from personal experience that knowing where countries are located and where they are in relation to one another has really helped me when I read news articles or try to understand history. Too many of my friends will have to pause and review maps before moving forward when they read. So, this skill has really saved me a ton of time. Plus, it’s a great hidden talent to have!”

Sharing the ‘why’ is particularly important with older students who are starting to question the purpose of ‘doing school’ beyond getting to the next grade level. Let students in on the ‘why’ behind what you are designing and assigning for them. Narrative your thoughts about content and process. Invite students into your head a little, setting up a conspiratorial “we’re in this together” vibe. Pull that curtain aside and let them see what it’s all about. Here are some other ways to let students in on the ‘why’:

  1. Sharing Learning Intentions (Improving Teaching Blog) https://improvingteaching.co.uk/2013/10/06/how-ive-tried-to-share-learning-intentions-better/

  2. The Well-Balanced Teacher: Teaching with a Sense of Purpose (ASCD) http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111004/chapters/Significance@-Teaching-with-a-Sense-of-Purpose.aspx

  3. What is the Purpose of Your Lesson? (The Progressive Teacher) https://www.progressiveteacher.in/what-is-the-purpose-of-your-lesson/

Sharing stories, creating unique rituals, and remembering / sharing the ‘why’ behind the work you are asking students to engage in are all great ways to strengthen the foundational relationships necessary in inquiry-based, cognitively demanding, and happy classrooms.

What works extraordinarily well in your classroom? Please share your story in the comment box below.

Webinar: We hope to see you next Wednesday (October 10th) from 5 - 6 PM PST- (https://zoom.us/j/317105783)  for our one-hour Webinar. Please read this Tips for Zoom calls sheet first.

Twitter Chat: Wednesday (October 17th) also from 5 - 6 PM PST for a one-hour Twitter Chat (#ExperienceInquiry) to connect with others and explore the Get Personal strategy in greater depth. Remember that by participating for the full hour, you will be eligible for one clock hour for each event. Questions? Contact Kimberly: klasher@mac.com.

Thank you for continuing to explore inquiry with us!

Kimberly & Maggie