It’s certainly true that even when I take the time to plan out a decent lesson, I am often at a loss for how to manage students “in progress” during a learning activity. This is especially true for me in math, as students may be working at different paces on a given problem. How do I scaffold for some of the learners as I wander the room with my clipboard, while stretching the thinking of others?
Happily, a monograph exists, one which I skimmed and scanned several months ago, but have not really had the time to fully integrate.
Asking Effective Questions is part of the Ministry’s Capacity Building Series, and was published in July 2011.
The monograph points out that it is not enough to simply pose a “rich problem”, and hope that the students construct the learning. As my observations in my own classroom this year and in previous years confirms, many students will need to be continuously “prodded” and challenged through the teacher’s use of effective questioning to turn student experimentation with mathematics into observations, and to think about their observations and what they might mean (i.e. can conclusions be drawn and generalizations made? Why or why not?)
I find myself particularly struggling when trying to support students who seem to be at a complete loss for what to do. Reihnhart (2000), quoted in the monograph, writes, “Every time I am tempted to tell students something, I try to ask a question instead.” Easier said than done, when you’re in the midst of it and – let’s be honest – don’t always understand the math as deeply as you should yourself!
With this in mind, I used some of the suggested questions from the monograph to develop two documents which I hope will come in handy as I forge ahead with my teaching: The first is a list of possible questions to ask students as I circulate during the “action” part of the lesson. I plan to keep it on my clipboard for easy reference. The second document is one I will print on 11x17 paper and post for students to consult, especially when they are “done”, as they wait for the consolidate/debrief part of the lesson. When I am not immediately available to push them further, perhaps the questions for consideration posted on the wall will do so.
Thinking about thinking, considering Blooms’ or other taxonomies, and becoming familiar with specific stems from which to form open questions as students work through a lesson can help us to become more effective teachers.
I want to do this, but am not ready, yet, to move away from the scaffolds of a prompt template like the one I created, above. This week, I will try to begin asking better questions during my math lessons, with the help of my new checklists!