Questioning and Coaching - Steve Barkley

Questioning and Coaching

As I read the September 2015 ASCD Educational Leadership, which is focused on questioning for learning, I was struck with how many of the issues explored equally connected to coaching work with teachers.

A research alert (page 8) cites a study from the journal, Neuron (October 2014), that indicates when a person’s curiosity about a topic is piqued, it becomes easier for that person to remember information on the topic. If teachers can get students curious they can enhance students’ ability to learn the material. “How to tap students’ curiosity” in a required standard or content unit is often an element to be explore in PLCs.

If instructional coaches can tap teachers’ curiosity they will increase teachers’ investment in experimentation, learning and innovation. Just as a teacher’s goal is to generate students’ questions that foster curiosity, as coaches we need to generate teachers’ questions that foster their curiosity.

Teachers often ignite curiosity by sharing their own with their students. Coaches should do the same.

I recently had an example arise as I was conducting a post- conference with a middle school science coach who made a video of a learning activity she modeled. She developed a game that had students practicing analysis and induction thinking as they reviewed classifications. She had waited until the end of the lesson to debrief the thinking processes that the successful students were using. In the conference I “pondered out loud” about what impact doing that half way through the lesson might have. A discussion pursued regarding focusing on developing thinking processes vs specific content knowledge. Which approach would produce the content (tested) mastery with the best retention? Several action research possibilities emerged from our conference.

Questions to ask

An article by Cris Tovani, Let’s Switch Questioning Around, (page 30) examines the importance of students’ questions and questions the teacher might ask that generate students’ questions. Tovani suggests questions that don’t have one right answer and expand the way students think.

“What background knowledge do you have about the book, topic, author, or characters?”

“What are you wondering about the book, topic, author, or characters?”

“What predictions are you making?”

“What questions do you have?”

Here are some questions a coach could use to expand a teacher’s thinking:

What do you want students to gain from this work beyond what the system is testing?

As the year begins what message do you want students to get regarding your beliefs about teaching, learning, and relationships?

At what spot during the learning activity today did you see/hear what you had hoped for when planning? When did it differ from what you desired?

What questions are you currently examining about your teaching options and choices?

If you had the opportunity to change the systems’ curriculum, what change would you make? Why?

What do you want to accomplish with your students that you have not previously accomplished?

oct 4 clock

Another article in the edition, A New Rhythm For Responding, (page 46) addresses teacher wait time in questioning:

Wait Time 1: After a question is posed but before a student is called on to answer.

Wait Time 2: Directly following that student’s response.

 The authors identify that the value of teacher wait time emerged in 1969 research (Marry Budd Rowe) and has been embedded in most teacher pre-service and graduate service education but still today relatively few teachers consistently incorporate wait time in their practice.

So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that many coaches have difficulty with wait time and pausing in their teacher conferencing. Coaches share that they are uncomfortable with silence and feel a need to have the next question ready before they have listened to a teacher’s answer.

The authors recommend a shift from the term wait time to thinking time. They suggest that three conditions need to be present for students to value and use the pause:

#1 The questions teachers ask must be worthy of thought not retrievable, memorized information.

#2 Students must know what they are supposed to do with the time allotted.

#3 Students need to know that their teacher will hold them accountable for answering.

These same three conditions are true for coaching conferences. Questions coaches raise should generate teacher reflection and creativity. Teachers should expect the coach to wait or return to an unanswered or by-passed question. I often hear coaches ask an open question and then offer choices rather than wait for the teacher to respond.

What do you think is most important? (one second pause) This or this?

Coaches have a great opportunity to model facilitation of thinking for teachers as they conference with them.

 (Educational Leadership, Questioning for Learning, September 2015, Vol. 73 No. 1


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