Teacher questioning, student thinking.

Concordia Shanghai flew in U.S. math man, Steve Leinwand. Steve spent a week working with our students, teachers, and administrators. While here, he validated two of my core educational philosophies. The first, that powerful professional learning takes place when we observe our colleagues in action (peer observations). Read more here about how Steve modeled PD.

The second philosophy connection---the importance of asking students powerful questions. I have this poster on my wall as a daily reminder to pause and ask questions that promote thinking.

I learned that Steve is a master at asking “Why?” “How do you know?” type questions. It seemed like he responded with a “Why?” “How do you know?” question 95% of the time. 

For example:

Steve: “What is the most efficient way to determine the area of this rectangle?”
Student: “Multiply the base by the height.”
Steve: “Why?”

Notice, Steve did not confirm that the student had given him a right answer to his question. He asked, “Why?” Steve did not even give the student a non-verbal cue. When the student responded, Steve neutrally replied with a question to dig deeper into the student’s thinking.

As teachers, we are natural question askers. However, from my own teaching experience, I tend to be more focused on the right answer, and less focused on the thinking behind getting that right (or wrong) answer.

"Which fraction is greater, 2/4 or 5/8?" With the pace of the lesson I may be content with students simply feeding me the correct answer. I quickly move on to the next question. "Which fraction is greater, 1/3 or 3/6?" The “give-us-the-right-answer” cycle continues. By the end of the lesson every student is able to compare fractions, but very few students can explain their thinking and reasoning behind the answers, let alone teach fraction comparison to other students.

If we want students to think, we must give students opportunities to practice their thinking. How? By asking simple, yet powerful, questions

As an aside, it was interesting to observe Steve interact with my own two kids, a four and a six year old, in a social, non-academic setting. He asked them question, after question, after question. Not silly lower level yes/no questions, but “let-me-get-you-thinking” questions. Dad chirps, “Guys, can you tell that Uncle Steve loves asking great questions?” My kids nod and smile.

Thanks for great learning and growing, Steve. Here’s to a great week fellow educators. A week filled with asking students “Why?” "How do you know?”

With something to think about, this is Mr. Russell.

Tweeting here: @rssll80