Sunday, March 8, 2015

More Effective Classroom Discussion and Questioning - How I'm Working to Make it Possible! (part one)

As a teacher you can find yourself in some very uncomfortable positions when standing in front of a classroom full of students, especially pre-teens or teenagers.  While you get pretty good at deflecting the inappropriate questions and comments and redirecting students who are heading off on a tangent, if you are anything like me, you still struggle with how to get responses out of students.  One of the most uncomfortable moments come when you ask a question and you get cricket eggs.  Not even crickets, just simply their eggs waiting to hatch.  It's that Ben Stein moment in Ferris Beuller...anyone, anyone, Beuller, Beuller...?   You ask, no one answers (or the same students who answers every question shouts something out), you ask again, still no response.  Then, nine times out of ten, you end up giving hints or just straight up answering your own question. 

In an attempt to combat this, I have spent this year on a quest (in that "free" time that we all don't have) to find more effective ways to facilitate classroom discussion.  I started by examining my own question techniques during a lesson to see if changing up HOW I am asking a question has any impact.  For example, I changed from asking "Does anyone have any questions" which gives students an out from asking any questions, to "What questions do you have" which assumes that there are questions that need to be answered.  This can prod students into thinking about whether they really get it or if there might be something that they are unsure about.  I have seen a rise in the amount of questions asked just by this simple change.

Taking into account that fact that many pre-teens and teens really like to "save face" in-front of their peers and not admit to not knowing something I have also expanded on this.   I will often ask  "If your friend wasn't here today, what question would they have tomorrow" or "Tell me one thing that your friend might be confused about if they just walked in and looked at the board".  Both of these questions allow students to have make it seem like it is someone else question and not their own.  Additionally, both encourage students to think outside of the box and look at a lesson or topic in a new light.  By asking students to put themselves in the brain of another person, they start to examine connections to prior knowledge and make those connections to new knowledge. 
The other major change I have made during classroom lessons and discussions is to put forth a concentrated effort to get students talking to each other and working with each other.  Once a student has answered one of my questions I will often not tell them if they are right or wrong (mean of me I know!).  Instead I will chose one a few different paths for follow. 

1)  I will ask someone else (or multiple someones) if they are agree or disagree with what the student said which serves multiple purposes. First,  it makes students really pay attention to the lesson and discussion since I call on random people not just those with their hands up.  Secondly, it makes them listen to each other since they can't explain if they agree or disagree if they don't know what the first student said.  Lastly, it helps students to focus their own thinking and understanding to figure out what they believe to be correct or not.

2)  I will ask someone to rephrase or expand upon what the student just said.  Rephrasing helps students to align their own understanding and to express it more coherently.  When I ask students to expand on what was just said, it takes the discussion to the next level and takes a simple answer to a rich mathematical inquiry.

3)  I will ask the student to convince me that they are correct.  Odd I know, but it makes students take ownership of their answer instead of just saying something for the sake of answering.  Additionally, when I go this route, I often find students pulling up prior knowledge, using better vocabulary and often asking if they can come to the board to show me.  Other students will chime in to help with the support needed or to correct misconceptions.  They love to be right and being given the opportunity to prove it is always a winner!

I don't have all of the answers, but I am seeing positive results so far so I'll keep at it and hopefully continue to improve!  Next step, improve discussion during group work and activities! :)

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