#19 Ask me two questions
This prompt can lead to some insightful comments from students
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💡 A quick tip to try in class this week 💡
At the end of an explanation, worked example, or having gone through a series of answers, it is a good idea to see if students have any questions. Perhaps they are confused by something or have an alternate answer or method that they want to check is valid.
For the first twelve years of my career, my go-to way to elicit such information was to ask: Does anybody have any questions? Seems sensible enough. The problem is this was often met by a wall of silence (which I often interpreted as a signal of understanding), or at best a response from one or two of the more confident students.
The problem with Does anybody have any questions? is that it is too easy to opt-out. A student might choose to do so because they lack confidence and so don’t want their lack of understanding to be on display for all to see, or they simply cannot be bothered engaging with the question.
So I made a simple tweak. Instead, I would say: Ask me a question. Straight away things got better. The fact that this was now a command instead of an inquiry meant more students were willing to engage.
But in recent years I have gone one further. I now say to students: Ask me two questions. Asking for just one question usually results in the same one or two questions from all students. This is really useful information. But asking for another question really gets the students thinking and can reveal an aspect of your explanation, worked example or set of solutions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
In terms of logistics for collecting these two questions, I am a fan of what I call the Holy Trinity of Participation:
Students think of their two questions on their own and write them down on their mini-whiteboards. When instructed, students then hold up their mini-whiteboards so I can check for effort and get an initial sense of the types of questions students are asking
Students then turn to their partner, place their mini-whiteboards in the middle, and compare their questions. Are any the same? Does one student know the answer to any of their partner’s questions? During these discussions, I circulate the room to get a further sense of the questions students are asking.
I then Warm Call students (Warm Call is just the same as Cold Call, but you have a sense of what students are going to say before you ask them) to share their questions based on my initial check of mini-whiteboards and what I have learned during circulation. I can then respond to their questions by offering an explanation or instigating a further discussion.
I will write more about the Holy Trinity of Participation in a future newsletter, but in the meantime maybe try challenging students to ask you two questions about an explanation, worked example or set of answers.
What would you need to change to make this tip work for you?
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📺 A video to discuss with a colleague 📺
Psychologist, Bradley Busch, discusses how we can develop resilience in our students
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👂 A podcast episode to listen to on your way home 👂
Maths teacher, Sammy Kempner, shares his five tips:
Pick the student least likely to know
When doing group work, make clear the group is responsible
Use the same questions, with different numbers
Question, don’t tell
Trick your students to test if they really understand
Listen to the podcast here.
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