For some students there is nothing that inspires more abject fear than participating in a class discussion.
You can almost predict the sequence of events…
The discussion starts. There is a mad rush for attention. Students obsessed with earning participation points shoot their hands up. Others wait back a little and contribute a few ideas here and there. Some talk constantly just to be heard; others simply repeat what’s already been said.
Organic farm serviced by students from local elementary and high schools.
Over the summer 2018 I learned about the power of questions in the most novel of places, Kenya. I participated in an educational trip organized by Me to We, a path-breaking service organization based in Toronto, Ontario run by two social entrepreneurs, brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger. Both have fascinating stories about how they seized on an idea for improving the world and wouldn’t stop until it became a reality. Their appreciation for questions is what I’ll remember most. Continue reading →
My friend’s high school-aged daughter volunteers every week in Chicago at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. There she gains invaluable experience working with individuals who suffer from physical limitations brought upon by a spinal cord injury, stroke, amputation or some sort of traumatic brain injury. She will play card and board games, for instance, to help patients work on memory and fine motor skills. These tasks, once routine, now require intense mental effort and energy. Continue reading →
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 →
How many times have you heard or felt that your classroom should be more “student-centered?”
I’ve lost count.
I know, I know. We are supposed to say “student-centered” and then we’re supposed to follow that up quickly and say that “teacher-centered” classrooms are a relic of the past and don’t meet the needs of the modern learner.
Here’s where we need to just stop, smile, step back and gain some perspective:
Teachers want students to feel a sense of agency over what they are learning; they want student interest to drive the curriculum. They want every student to feel that his/her needs are met at every point in the learning process. These are ideals to which all classrooms should aspire. Sometimes teachers fail; sometimes they succeed. It’s a work in progress.
But there are other things teachers want.
They want to bring their interests and passions into the classroom; they want to feel some sense of ownership over what is taught. They want these things not because they want to marginalize student interests but because they want to experience the joy of learning with their students– and the only way to do that is to feel as though they are meaningful contributors. After all, teachers really are just students too, only a little older, and therefore are uniquely situated to bring value to the classroom experience.
So since teachers and students want such similar and interconnected things, maybe we should stop making artificial distinctions and make a good faith attempt to promote Human-Centered Classrooms in which all people’s needs are met, all of the time.
The good news is that a Big Questions classroom already does this.
In a Big Questions classroom the teacher can contribute by offering questions to drive the classroom experience (as we saw in this post), and at the same time allow for student control in answering those questions. The questions themselves are constructed in such a way as to motivate students to join in to ask their own questions throughout the process, thereby giving them agency over what they are learning. And since we are dealing with Big Questions (not little ones), the answers are incredibly elusive and, as a result, the teacher must become a student again and model the virtues of curiosity and humility needed to find the answers. Everybody feels valued and everybody’s needs are being met, together.
Asking questions is sometimes a painful act of courage, especially when you are asking the group of people whose opinions you value most: your students.
Chris Hallberg, business consultant and turnaround specialist, wrote this provocative blog post for Leadership Now about the questions business leaders should ask their employees about the health of their organizations. These are not flaky questions one might find on a post-workshop survey. Many are unsettling Big Questions which test the emotional fragility of leaders who often fear constructive criticism and self-reflection.
As I read it, my mind gravitated towards comparisons to classroom teaching and so I decided to tweak the questions just a bit into ones that we could ask our students at the end of a semester or year.
Here we go!
Wow and ouch!
As scary as these questions are, the responses to them would give us a wealth of information about the classroom experience, information that we could act upon to improve learning for all.
So if you are looking for something to do in class right after holiday break, look no further!
What is your favorite question on this list?
Which question on the list would you be most interested in getting answers to?
Which question makes you most nervous?
Reply to this blog or tweet a response to @dmfouts
More on Chris Hallberg: Chris is ranked #9 on Inc.’s “Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts,” is a seasoned business consultant, turnaround expert, United States Army veteran, and author of The Business Sergeant’s Field Manual. You will find his blog at Business Sergeant.