On Friday my students and I were taking a walk to the wetlands that are located behind our school. We were going to the stream to test the boats we made earlier in the week. On the way to the wetlands we had to cross the basketball courts. The students were in clumps as we trekked the concrete landscape. They were sharing their thoughts of whose boats would sink or float, which had the best design, and reminiscing on the last trip we made to the wetlands. As we made our way we noticed a baby turtle in the middle of the court (one of my students nearly stepped on it). The students were so excited to find a baby turtle. Finding such an adorable reptile led to a flood of questions from the students. They wanted to know where it came from. How did it get to the basketball court? Where was its mother? What kind of turtle was it? Can we keep it? Can we keep it, please? Mr. Adams can we please keep it!?
I tell you this story because of the reading I did for CEP 812 this week. I am reading the book A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. In the book Berger lays out the question, Who is entitled to ask questions in class? When I read this question presented by Berger I couldn’t help but reflect on my classroom and teaching. I teach Kindergarten where students ask a bunch of questions and sometimes those questions seem to come all the way from left field. When my students ask questions they ask them from a position of exploration and knowledge-seeking. This position is vastly different than where a teacher asks questions. As a teacher I find myself asking my students questions to have them reflect or to explain their understanding. Dennie Palmer Wolf described a teacher’s questioning, “to primarily check up on students, rather than to try and spark interest”( Berger 2014, p.56).
After reading the words of Berger and Wolf I was left with my own questions. Can questions simultaneously spark interest and require reflection? How can I develop these kinds of questions? Can I get my students to reflect and share their learning if I don’t question them? Dan Meyer is a high school math teacher. In a TedX talk he describes how the math curriculum was giving his students too many hints. He wanted his students to have to think more and to ask questions, but not by asking his students questions himself. He showed a video of a tank being filled with water. The tank was taking forever to fill up. Eventually after minutes of watching the tank slowly fill up, a student asked the question, “how long is this going to take?” Dan found a way to transfer the ownership of the question. Rather than asking his students to find out how long it will take a tank to fill with water, his students posed the question. “Meyer understood, if a student thinks of a question him/herself, it is likely to be of more interest than someone else’s question”(Berger 2014, p. 56).
You might be wondering “so, what happened to the baby turtle?”. Well, my students became worried that if one of them almost stepped on it, then someone else might step on it too. They decided that we needed to take care of it. I told them that I didn’t know how to take care of a turtle. One student shouted out, “we can do research to figure out what turtles need!”. (We had just finished a writing unit where students researched topics they were interested in.) I decided that my plans for reading and writing for the day could wait. For about half the day my students took control of the classroom and we only talked about turtles. They took ownership of their learning and shared their new understanding with their classmates. They were so excited about the day’s adventures they had to share them with the rest of the school. In my classroom my students are entitled to ask the questions. Below is a student sharing about our turtle adventure at school [you can view the video here if it doesn’t load correctly].
Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power Of Inquiry To Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Meyer, D. (2010, March). Math class needs a makeover [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare