Welcome to my ramblings!

Welcome to my Blog. Here you can find the ramblings of a old high school principal. I've created a number of blogs over the years for a variety of reasons. A large number of them I use with my staff which are password protected from the outside world. This blog is for my fellow educators and anyone else who wants to read the ramblings. I guess my target would be building administrators, future administrators, teachers and educators in general.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rigorous Questioning

Rigorous Questioning

An area of focus for the 2013-14 here at SHHS has been to create more rigorous questions in our classrooms.  We started back in August 2013 during inservice when we identified one of our Best Practices as Questioning. We had our instructional coach Fred Hollingshead develop some training that would be used throughout the first semester. With each monthly inservice a group of our teachers would work with Fred on ways they could improve questioning in their particular curriculum. 

To help assess our teachers we added questioning as part of our walkthrough template with and expectation that we would hear higher level questions in the classroom. There were several components of this walkthrough which included selecting Blooms and a section that showed the teacher was using our best practices. 

It started out as simply as asking more "WHY" type of questions of our students. We asked our teachers to stop just accepting the answer and force the student to explain "why" they gave the answer they did.

Let me share an example:

U.S. History classroom - the teacher asked the students "What did we do on the home front to help the war effort during World War I?" The first student said, "We purchase War Bonds". The teacher said yes and prepared to move onto another student for another answer as normal but then stopped to implement what we were asking them to do. He turned to the student who had just given the answer and asked - "How did purchasing War Bonds help the war effort?" The student didn't have a clear answer so he followed with "So what are War Bonds" and again the student couldn't answer. So he turned to the class and started the questioning process. "With your partners he said discuss what  War Bonds are?" He gave them a brief moment and followed up with a classroom discussion which lead to a discussion on CD's vs. Savings Bonds. Once he had a clear answer of what the War Bonds were, he turned to the student again and asked him to put in his own words what War Bonds were. Once the student had done that he restated his original question "How do you feel War Bonds helped the war effort?" The student gave a nice answer at this point. How often do we as teachers take the correct answer and just move on without really knowing how well the student understands the answer they just gave? 

This teacher did several things right. He asked a student for more then a right answer. He asked them to be able to explain. When he discovers the student didn't know the full answer, he allowed the class to assist in developing and answer. More important he went even farther where I see many teachers fail. He came back to the student and had the student put the answer in his own words and he asked the student to give the answer to the original question. 

Besides asking higher level questions we have included other factors in our process. This includes:

  • Random selection of students - to make sure we are holding all students accountable for a possible question our teachers are using various ways of selecting students. This includes using Dice, Cards and various apps on the iPad. 
  • Strategies - we have been working with our teachers on how to handle situations like a) you ask a question and get no answer, b) you get the wrong answer, c) ways to help take the student off the hook, d) how to get the class involved in the question. 
  • Supporting Evidence - as we implement Common Core we are working with our students to provide evidence from various resources to back up their answers. This occurs often in our math classroom who have been at this for several years and we are seeing more of it in our other core areas now. 
  • Higher Level Assessing - each month we are asking our teachers to take one of their assessments and apply it to the HESS Matrix (will have a blog on this in the near future). This helps the teacher see how many higher level questions are being asked as well as what kind of higher level questions. More important it helps create a focus for the teacher on asking higher level questions.
While we are seeing more rigorous questions there are still issues.
  • Time - it takes time for students to answer the longer questions. With the U.S. History example the teacher spent roughly 5 minutes on what he would of normally taken less then a minute. When you do this often it adds to your class time. But when I hear teachers talk about how much time something takes I use an example I heard years ago. During the Civil War we learned that washing our hands helped stop spreading of disease. In a field hospital a surgeon was moving from patient to patient without stopping to washing his hands. When someone said something to him his response was "I don't have time to wash my hands I'm to busy saving lives." If educators take that same approach we will have a lot of students dying from disease we need to slow down and make sure we are getting it right.
  • Skill - being able to develop quality rigorous questions in the heat of the classroom can be a challenge.  To assist teachers who are struggling with this we have asked them to create a few questions in advance and create follow up questions so their better prepared. To be honest, this strategy hasn't been very popular and I believe most teachers are taking the more I practice the better I will get.  
  • Off Track - when you ask higher level questions and work through the process there are times that the questioning can take you on a track you didn't plan. In some cases teachers struggle to get the students back on the right track or forget their original question.
  • Story Telling - this occurs mainly in the Social Studies classrooms but as the teacher is lecturing or what I often call story telling they ask a lot of lower level questions to help drive their story. I believe this creates a different type of classroom culture. The students become use to answering the simple questions and then when given the higher level question struggle or in some cases I've seen teachers ask lower level questions quickly and in the heat of telling the story give the answers. Again, the classroom culture develops that if I the student wait long enough the teacher will answer all questions. 
The last piece of advice I want to offer is keeping this on the front burner. As educators we are busy and most of us are willing to try new things. However, if we struggle or are allowed to loose our focus on something new we tend to fall back on what we've been doing for years. Teachers need to know they will be held accountable for asking higher level questions until it becomes old hat. 

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