Sunday, February 15, 2015

I must ask... Why must you tell?

Approximately 2 times a week we have visitors in my 3rd grade classroom.  Other teachers come in to watch us do math and after my lesson with 3rd graders, I have the privilege to debrief with my colleagues and share some thoughts about what I'm learning from my 3rd graders.  This year has been an amazing journey, and I have learned so much from both my students and my peer observers. 

Last week, during one of these debriefing sessions, a teacher asked me this string of questions (I'm paraphrasing), "You don't really teach much do you?  I mean they teach each other, right?  You just guide their discussion by asking questions, right?"

Exactly!  You got it.  That's exactly what happens in my classroom.  The students teach.  I facilitate.  There has not been a single day of direct instruction for my third graders all year long.  By direct instruction I mean I have not stood up in front of the classroom and said here is a problem, and here is how you solve it. Nor have I said, we're going to learn about this concept today, here is what it means and this how you do it.  (Well there was that one day, when I accidentally modeled, read about it in my post "To model or not to model. That is the question.")

Yet my students are learning.  On a daily basis.  They learn from each other.  I pose a problem, or a task, they share their thinking and I ask them questions to refine their thinking.  We discuss and argue and discuss until we come to a consensus. I ask questions like:

How is your way different from hers?
Can you explain to the class what you meant by that?
Will you tell us what he helped you understand?
Can you repeat what she said?
Do you have something you would like to add?
Did you use a similar or different strategy?
Who can help us understand his thinking?
What do you think she meant when she said that?
Can you tell your shoulder partner which strategies convince you?
Has anyone's thinking changed?
Do you agree or disagree and why?
Why does that make sense?
Would you like to revise your thinking?
How can we help this mathematician be more precise?
What questions do you have for him?

With so much of the focus on my students and their thinking, it could be easy to assume that the discussions in my classroom are random and unpredictable.  That's not true though, because I do more than just ask questions.  I also listen.  I listen with a purpose.  Whatever task or problem I posed was posed with certain learning goal in mind and as I listen to my students discuss the task I listen for connections to be made.  I listen for key ideas and orient my students toward them.  I am the guide that helps the discussion reach its final destination.

If you're thinking you don't have time for discussions like this every day, then I have a challenge for you.  Just try one.  Try one day where you don't tell your students anything.  Do nothing but ask questions.  Just let go and let them.  I think you'll be amazed.

If you need some motivation to keep you going during this challenge, just listen to my new favorite song before you get started...

Let it go...