Good questions and conversations don’t just happen. They come from deep thinking and careful planning. The hardest part is establishing a routine to make them happen, and then sticking to it.
My brother Steve– also a high school social studies teacher with a background in philosophy– developed a routine to foster better classroom conversations. He’s had really good success in a very challenging urban teaching environment on the west side of Chicago.
Coming from a suburban environment, I thought it would be interesting to integrate my focus on essential questions into what he is doing.
Here’s the comprehensive process we’ve come up with so far, broken up into three specific phases: Select, Dissect and Connect
This post extends last week’s debrief of ideas from the sschat “Teaching Teachers and Students to Ask Big Questions,” held on April 2, 2018. Short commentary follows each comment with links to past blog posts relevant to the idea shared.
Thanks again to all who participated! The next chat is Creating Podcasts with Your Students #sschat April 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm Hosted by @listenwiselearnContinue reading →
Last week I wrote about how the famous story The Giving Tree inspired this Big Question.
Here’s how I used it in a regular level government class:
I started by playing a read-aloud of the story. Then the students– working in groups of two or three– came up with three takeaways from the story, which was then followed by an open-ended discussion. There was nothing I told them specifically to look for since at this point I just wanted them to be interested in the story. The read-along was around nine minutes and the group work plus discussion of the takeaways around 20 minutes. Continue reading →
Over the years I’ve noticed something about professional development. Whenever a new teaching strategy is introduced, there tends to be a focus on the many benefits of the strategy but little consideration of what must be given up to enjoy those benefits. This is unfortunate because assessing the costs of a strategy alongside its promised benefits is the only way to make a smart decision as to whether it is worthy of adoption.
So let’s not make the same mistake with the Big Questions approach to teaching.
We ended last week’s post with a question: What are the overriding benefits of using the Big Question approach that justify the costs?
Here’s something to think about after the Super Bowl.
We know why we like instant replay so much. We get to see reality in slow motion
to catch what we missed the first time. With instant replay we have the power to paint a more in-depth, accurate picture of what happened. With a clearer picture in mind, we gain a deeper understanding.
As teachers, we are interested in understanding too, but unlike football, we don’t get the benefit of replay. We must catch our mistakes the first time and make on-the-fly adjustments based on intuition and incomplete information. Thus, we’re always chasing certainty and our picture of reality is always fuzzy. Continue reading →
Do you have students who can’t function unless they have clear answers? Or students who question you to death about everything? I do and I always find myself imploring the first group to tolerate the ambiguous nature of questions and the second group to appreciate the definiteness of answers. Helping students find a healthy balance between these two extremes is a daunting task.
A few years ago a student in my philosophy class sent me this delightful comic strip by Kostas Kiriakakis titled Mused: A Day at the Park. The comic is a conversation between a bizarre looking alien with one eye, holding a mysterious box in his hands and a disheveled monster wearing an oversized coat and undersized hat. The monster wants to know what’s in the box, and the alien happily complies with the request…
They then embark on a conversation exploring the pitfalls and possibilities of questions and answers and the relative role each should play as a guide for learning and life.
The conversation is fascinating. I’ve shared it with many colleagues and hundreds of students. Each person who reads it comes away with something different.
It also really gets me thinking about my own teaching philosophy:
Am I more like the alien or the monster with my students?
Which one SHOULD I be more like?
If being an alien and a monster are both important, then how do I know when to switch from one to the other to inspire the most student learning?