Practice seeking questions – #AskDon’tTell

Do you create carefully crafted worksheets to guide student learning?  I did for years.  I wanted my learners to be successful, and I thought it was my job to step them through the problem-solving process.  It would foster confidence and success, right?  Year after year, the next teacher of my learners would ask me if I taught X, Y, and Z topics.  Even when the learners in my care did everything I asked of them, they were not always successful at retaining what needed to be learned.

Do these carefully crafted worksheets really promote learn in the long run? Are we teaching perseverance, critical thinking, and problem solving when the path is so carefully crafted? Does having a step-by-step roadmap create opportunities to learn or handicap a creative process?

What if we offered our learners more opportunities to chart their own path from where they are to the target? Is the path they take as important as the learning they acquire?  How can we create investigations that prompt students to make observations and ask their own questions?

In writing LEARNing: Linear Functions Investigation – #AskDon’tTell and LEARNing: Quadratic Functions Investigation Zeros and Roots – #AskDon’tTell, I’ve been trying to work out an idea for prompting student investigation and questioning using dynamic investigations without much scaffolding.  I continue to reflect and ponder Steve Arnold’s great comment on the  LEARNing: Linear Functions Investigation – #AskDon’tTell post.  Here’s a snippet if you missed Steve’s comment:

My own experience is that “free orientation” (to use van Hiele’s terminology) tends to occupy kids for between 20 seconds and 2 minutes tops. It helps them a lot to be given some goal or curious thing or something to get them started… but I could well imagine that, in the right hands (i.e. yours) a class could be trained to be curious and capable of exploring.

Hmm…Could I help young learners learn to be curious and capable of exploring?  Are there protocols that I could employ while I am practicing the art of questioning?  I think I already engage in the art of questioning regularly with learners, but I am asked often about how to teach other teachers to “do what I do.”  I want to continue to hone this craft, to learn more, to become masterful.

So, what do I do to continue to learn?

  1. Read, read, read…Currently high on my list:
    1. Grant Lichtman‘s The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School,
    2. John Barell’s Developing More Curious Minds, and
    3. Dan Rothstein’s Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions.
  2. Practice, practice, practice…Remove the scaffolding:
    1. Watch Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover and try it.
    2. Stop creating slideuments.  If your TI-Nspire document, your PowerPoint presentation, or your worksheet has multiple pages, slides, or steps, eliminate lots! Create space for questions, investigation, and thinking.
    3. Use Gamestorming games to develop techniques for learning to ask questions. I like Brainwriting, 3-12-3, and others.
  3. Risk, reflect, revise:
    1. Try it – more than once. One trial does not make an experiment.  Celebrate even small successes.
    2. Have strong wait time, and have questions in your “back pocket” if prompting is needed.
    3. Seek feedback from a trusted colleague. Engage in peer observations to help you see from another perspective.


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