What do I do when my child can’t get started on a task or problem? Explore how your modeling of questions can assist your learner in developing questioning skills that are key to critical thinking, reflection, problem-solving, creativity and more.
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Parent Well-Being and Student Learning During School Closures
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on education, I’ve started a new podcast grouping called Parent Well-Being and Student Learning During School Closures. The hope is that these podcasts can be forwarded on to parents by teachers, schools, and districts to help support them and in their new role with their children during this time. Feel free to send me your questions or suggestions that I can share with others. You can contact me at sbarkley@PLS3rdLearning.com. Thank you for listening.
Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning during School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as quote school learning with this. In future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:34 Providing questions to support learners. Questioning is critical to learning. As students develop their questioning skills, they advance their learning as well as their ability to learn. As teachers and parents, our questions should model for learners, the connections between questioning, critical thinking, problem solving, reflection, creativity and more. Consider that if I watch you cooking a special dish, as you’re stirring the mixture, I need to ponder what you’re asking yourself about what you are seeing or feeling. If you’re frying something in a pan, I
ponder, what are you looking for?
Steve: 01:33 When you’re tasting a sauce, I’m wondering what are you asking yourself? To learn to cook what you are cooking, I need to learn the questions you are asking yourself. Just watching and recording what you’re doing won’t allow me as an observer to create what you are preparing. My wife is now learning to work with clay on a potter’s wheel. She watches YouTube clips of artists and when the artist describes what they are feeling for or what they are looking for, it advances my wife’s learning and understanding way beyond just watching what the artist is doing. You see questions guide our learning. Consider these examples from classrooms and where they might show up in your work with your learner at home. I observed a teacher asking students this question in a science class. In what order, bottom to top, would the following items be found in sediment.
Steve: 02:47 Pebbles, sand, clay and rocks. The students had to write down their answers on a whiteboard and the teachers seeing that some of the students had answered the question incorrectly, called upon a student who had the answer correct to explain her answer. The student described that because the rocks were heavier, they would be found at the bottom, followed by the pebbles, then the sand and on the top would be the clay. The teacher then reminded the students of an experiment they had done shaking up all of those elements in a bottle and watching what happened. It seemed to me that at the end, all of the students understood that the right answer was rocks at the bottom, then pebbles then sand then clay. My concern observing was that I wasn’t sure that the students knew the questions to ask to solve a similar problem. Too often students think that they should know the answer rather than develop questions that would lead them to a solution.
Steve: 04:03 The students who successfully answered the question about sediment hadn’t memorized the order of the items, rather they knew to ask themselves critical questions. First, what would influence the order in which the elements settled to the bottom? Deciding that the answer was weight, the student would then ask what was the heaviest item. Identifying that rocks were the heaviest that led them to then calculate the next lighter and next lighter until they had put the elements into the right sequence. Here’s another example. I observed a student tackling this problem in math class. If a recipe calls for one fourth teaspoon of salt, how much would be in eight recipes? When I looked at his work, the student had written one fourth times eight equals 32 over four. And he divided 32 by four and arrived at eight as an answer. When I asked him what he did, he said, multiply. At that time it would be possible to approach the student’s work from a multiplication of fractions approach.
Steve: 05:31 In other words, where did he make his mistake in multiplying one fourth times eight. Instead, I asked the student to draw me a picture of the problem. He really didn’t know where to begin. Through a series of my questions, he eventually produced eight one fourth teaspoon pictures. He realized putting four of them together made one teaspoon and soon arrived at the two teaspoons answer. Then we went back and tackled the multiplication problem solving approach. He was delighted when he arrived at two teaspoons answer with a different math strategy. One last example, I observed in an English class and the students were addressing this question from a test. Which of the following words would be the best synonym for enthralled as it is used in paragraph eight in the passage. There were four choices for the students to select from the teacher reviewing the question, explained how students could rule out two of the choices and then select from among the two remaining. A model that I was thinking about was asking the student first, what’s the first thing you would do to solve this problem?
Steve: 07:07 In my mind, I would read the paragraph and ask myself, what do I think in enthralled means? Taking that from the context. Then I would try putting each of the synonyms that had been provided in and I’d realize that two of them really don’t work. Then of the remaining two, I’d say, of the two words that are appropriate, does one seem better than the other? Learning to ask those questions prepares the student to tackle the next issue. As your learners approach their work in solving a problem or starting a task, begin by asking them what questions come to mind as you think about figuring this out. If they are stuck, help by offering the questions, not the answers. You might even write down some of the questions as a starter and then leave your learner alone to work on those questions. Then return to further build those questions into an answer or response.
Steve: 08:26 Here’s an example. Suppose your child was given this task. Write a response to this question. Why are friendships important? What are questions that your learner might explore before starting to write a response? Here’s some that I thought of. Who are my friends? How are my friends the same and different? What do I do with my friends? What have my friends done for me? What have I done for my friends? After a student worked on answering those questions for a while, I might return and help them pose this next question. What are the important things about friendship that you want to include in your writing? Now the learner is ready to begin to complete the task. The phrase that I like to use is what are the questions behind the question? When I read the question or look at the problem, what questions come to mind? Those questions are what lead me to a solution. If you take the time to model and have your learner practice forming questions, you will be enhancing their learning to learn skills. Those are important skills for future success. Isidor Isaac Rabi, a Nobel prize winner, attributed his science success to his mother. Each day as he came home from school, she posed the same question to him. “So what good question did you ask today?” Invest in building your learner’s questioning skills. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 10:31 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.