When you ask questions in class, do you already have an answer in mind? I loved the phrase in chapter 2 of “guess what’s in the teacher’s head”, it made me chuckle out loud. As someone who has observed many lessons in a variety of subjects, it is easy to spot a teacher that has a preconceived answer to a question being asked. Sometimes lessons, especially for new teachers, are so planned that teachers force the lesson to go a certain direction rather than let the needs of the class lead them. This is not to say that every lesson is left up to chance, but learning to question and listen to your students as you present the lesson can improve and engage student learning.
Have you given any thought to how you make thinking visible in your own classroom? Since finding this book, I’ve thought about this question…a lot! I know that thinking goes on in my classroom and that I tend to ask higher level questions (according to Blooms and DOK), but I’m not sure the thinking process is visible in my classroom. I tend to be a type A personality that pushes through to get the job done and can sometimes forget to slow down and make the connections for the students. We eventually get there, but I love the idea of purposefully making thinking in class an expectation and something visible for the students. Taking it a step further than discussing objectives and essential questions.
I remember one school wide strategy the leadership team implemented called the “Think Aloud”. I’m not sure where they came up with that name as it was a written activity? The goal is to get students thinking about something and not just looking for one answer. The teacher poses a question about math, a science experiment, novel, anything relevant to the class and students write down their answers. Then the teacher asks “Why is that (meaning their answer) important?”. Students then have to think about why the answer they gave was important and write down their new answer. The teacher asks again “why is that important” and the process continues a few more times. When we first implemented this, students hated it. They were not used to having to justify their answers and since it was a school wide strategy they were doing it in every class. With persistence and encouragement from teachers and the leadership team, students eventually began to understand that what we were asking them to do was think about their thinking and learning. Once the students got the hang of it, you could ask them “Why is that important?” and they could respond orally. This has been a great strategy I’ve taken to other schools.
Another great point from chapter 2 was found under the listening subheading. I’ve long known that building relationships with students is important and I try my best to do that with each new class. Great relationships are important for a variety of reasons but as pointed out in chapter 2, learning to listen to your students “must be the basis of the learning relationship teachers seek to form with students” (pg 37). Students need to know that when they answer or ask a question, it will be valued. If every time a student answers a question the only response they get from the teacher is “no, that’s not it” the teacher will quickly loose the student and the class will start playing the guessing game. Students, just like adults, want to be heard and respected. If they know that what they ask and how they answer a question is valued, they will be more inclined to engage.
In chapter 2 the authors do the work of showing us the benefit of making thinking visible in the classroom. They discuss the benefits to the students (they can recognize their own thinking) and to the teacher (understand how to clarify, propel the learning forward). I’m looking forward to part 2 of the book that will focus on building routines in class.