No Questions?

A colleague and I introduced a project to our classes today. It’s a somewhat complicated project involving linking to and responding to newspaper articles and other students’ opinions. I thought the explanation this morning, complete with projected examples and checking for understanding, went well. I actually felt even a little pleased when there were only a couple questions.

Once our classes returned to our respective classrooms, a student raised his hand and asked, “So what exactly are we doing for the project?” Two others chimed in, “Yeah, we don’t get it either.”

*deep breath as I considered slamming my head against the table*

“I’m happy to go over it, but I’m curious why you didn’t ask that question when we asked for questions.”

He said, “You guys seemed really into the explanation, and I didn’t want you to think I didn’t get it.” The student beside him said, “I didn’t feel like I knew enough to ask a question.”

“So, why did you ask now?”

“You usually take our questions seriously, even the silly ones,” he said earnestly.

So, I broke the assignment into as small as components as I could (Do you understand finding a newspaper article? Do you understand finding a newspaper article about the Middle East? Do you understand finding a newspaper article about the Middle East and linking to it in a blog post? etc). At any sign of hesitation, I stopped and we talked through the requirements.

A good reminder that no questions isn’t necessarily worth patting yourself on the back.


Asking Good Questions

While reviewing vocabulary for the week, I asked, “What might be your rationale for getting up in the morning?” Two or three hands reluctantly went up.

“Wait, that’s a not a good question. What might be your rationale for staying up until midnight?” Every student’s hand shot up.

My students all knew what rationale meant, but it would have been easy to assume otherwise based on the response to my first question. A good reminder that the question matters.

Answering Questions About Education

A teacher working on her post-bac teaching certification wrote to ask me some questions for her Foundations of Education class. Below is my response. Feel free to push back/disagree or extend in the comments section.

Those are some big questions! I could write for pages on any one of them, so a caveat that this isn’t all I could say.

What do you think the purpose of education should be? I’m going to be a bit lazy (energy conserving) this one and point you to my philosophy of education. I think it addresses this question.

What knowledge do you think is of the most worth to students? I’m not 100% sure how your professor is using the term knowledge. I generally think skills are more important than knowledge, if knowledge is construed to be a particular set of facts. Perhaps the most important skill is how to learn. As a teacher, I don’t delude myself that students are going to carry with them the majority of the discrete pieces of information that they come across during the course of our classes, but I do hope they have built some habits and skills they can use forever.

(I was struggling a bit to formulate my thoughts on this question, so I tweeted it out. Here were some of the responses:

What values should teachers encourage their students to develop? Perseverance, self-discipline, curiosity, and joy.

What do you think is the best way for a students learning to be evaluated? I think students should play a role in the evaluation of their and their peers’ work. I wouldn’t advocate solely for self-evaluation because I think it’s often difficult to adequately assess our own work. (See Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality) That doesn’t make self-evaluations useless in my opinion; it just means I wouldn’t use them as the only measure of a student’s work. Ideally, the audience for a student’s work is larger than the classroom (through public presentation, posting it online, etc.), which opens up additional avenues for students to receive feedback on their work. I think many of the evaluation schemes used in education today are designed to be convenient for adults to grade and collect quantitative date from, not necessarily beneficial for structuring lessons and activities for student learning. I don’t think quantitative, standardized data should not be used, but I don’t believe it should be the sole evaluative strategy.

What Questions Interest You?

I had a number of great conversations at the Klingenstein Summer Institute; it was an intellectual hothouse. I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with Liz Perry, a co-director of KSI and co-lead teacher of the English cohort. She has an MEd from Harvard, and I was interested in getting her perspective on graduate study in education. Her program was a self-designed degree that alas, no longer exists at Harvard.

At one point, she asked me, “What questions interest you?” Not what do you want to do with your degree or what kind of degree are you interested in, which is often the way people frame the conversation. The question gave me pause.

It shouldn’t have been a surprising notion to me- one of the cornerstones of my educational philosophy is inquiry– but I’d never though of it when considering what kind of graduate study I might do.

So, I’m mulling over the questions that interest me. I don’t have any fully-formed ones yet, but words like technology, community, inquiry, literature, history, data, adolescents, literacy, and story are floating around. Oh yeah, and student debt 🙂