I always found the last few weeks of school to be an incredibly liberating and creative time as a teacher. The tests are over. The weather is turning inside out. And celebrations are imminent. The stakes feel lower and teachers can take some risks with their teaching and curriculum.
As you set students loose on spectacular end-of-year projects and problems, try sprinkling these three beautiful questions on students throughout the day (try to ask at least one of every student every day) and watch what emerges!
1) “How do you know that?”
This is a simple but powerful question that is too rarely asked of students. This question prompts students to reflect on a meta-cognitive level about how they really know something. Is it a hunch; something verified; an experience they’ve had? The more you ask this question (and student ask it of one another), the more students will be ready to reflect and respond thoughtfully. If and when students answer with, “I read it online,” be sure to follow up with additional questions about the site, author and publisher to check for potential bias or misinformation.
Students are working in a small group to determine the considerations and calculations they need to make for building a fence around the playground at their school.
Student 1: “We don’t need the fence to be more than three feet high.”
Student 2: “Why not?”
Student 1: “Because that’s how high you need to make it so dogs cannot jump over.”
Teacher: “How do you know that?”
Student 2: “She has a dog?”
Student 1: “No, because I helped my dad build a fence for our neighbor last summer, and they had a dog they wanted to keep inside.”
Teacher: “Did it work?” [Is it true?]
2) “What would be the opposing perspective?”
Yogis around the world swear by the power of inversions. Standing on one’s head allows one to ‘see’ the other perspective and grow. This question, with creative tweaks, can be applied to all subjects and grade levels. You can practically see the students’ neurons firing in new and exciting directions with this question!
After completing the original problem…
Teacher: “What if you weren’t trying to keep dogs out, but trying to get dogs in?
Student: [after thinking about it] “Well, I guess we would have some water & food bowls and maybe a dog run here so they could get in easily but not out easily…”
3) “What questions does this raise for you?”
Teachers plan lessons around great questions…but how can we get our students to develop and ask their own questions? The best part of asking this question is that it can be asked at the beginning, middle or end of a problem or project. The more students engage in question development (and analysis), the better they will get at it!
Students assembled around a 3-D representation of a playground, negotiating the type of material they want to use for fencing.
Teacher: “It looks like you are all working well together here. Can I interrupt for a moment to ask you about the additional questions this conversation raises for you right now?”
Student 1: [after a moment] “Well, I’m not sure we know enough about the ages of the kids who will play here.”
Teacher: “How might you phrase this as a question?”
Student 2: “Who is the playground for?”
Student 1: “Yeah.”
Student 3: “And what color is the best for playgrounds?”
Student 2 “Yes! And does the color even matter? Like, does red cost more than blue?”
Student 1: “You guys…let’s make a list of our questions!”
Use these final days to ask new questions of students. Observe the impact and see which question help students stretch and grow. Share your findings with us at @inquiryfive.