Today I’m talking to Sara Armstrong about Good Questions. Before I attended Sara’s session at the Fall CUE conference on Good Questions Good Searching, I thought I was asking good questions. Now I know I wasn’t going deep enough. Sara shared a book, Make Just One Change, that opened her eyes to a new path that is straightforward to help us ask good questions. So I decided to ask Sara about the book, the process, and why it is important to use this process in teaching and learning. Info about the book with discount code if you want to purchase it is at the end of this post.
Q.Why are good questions important?
A. Good questions really help us think deeply about a topic. When we develop a project for PBL, good questions drive the process that kids go through to understand the topic. This processes laid out in Make Just One Change provide specific ways for teachers and kids to think more broadly than in the past — techniques that can be applied in all areas of the curriculum.
Q. Can good questions help students be more responsible for their own learning?
A. By empowering students to get to good questions, we can help them make better choices for good research, they can organize their work, and they will begin to think more critically. Actually students can use this process to determine the path or topic they are pursuing in any curriculum area. And the role of the teacher is vital. The authors, Rothstein and Santana, specify a process to help teachers refine the topic so it is not too broad or too narrow. Teachers, too, get better at their role of posing the main theme for kids to spark their brainstorming aspect to getting to the good questions.
Q. Can teachers use this process with existing curriculum?
A. Yes. Any curriculum. Any time. As we’re trying to instill more responsibility for students, the classroom changes to include more student voice and choice about anything they are learning. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking math concepts, cyberbullying or any topic, students can learn from their peers when they ask each other good questions about the topic. I had trouble with learning geometry and wishes she had had the ability to ask good questions with her peers. When a teacher allows discussions about the topic and asks “how are we going to do it?” students own their learning and are more engaged in the process.
Q. What is the questioning process?
A. The process involves meta-cognitive, divergent, and convergent thinking. Here’s a condense version:
- The teacher defines a topic.
- Students discuss the rules for brainstorming.
- Students brainstorm questions about the topic.
- Students prioritize the questions.
- Students analyze questions as open or closed and then prioritize those.
- Students use the questions to help research, complete their project, and learn the material.
- Students and the teacher reflect on the process, what they learned, and what they would do differently next time.
Interested in this book, go to http://www.hepg.org/hep/book/144 and mention sales code MJAP11 for a 20% discount. If you have any questions, you can leave comments here are contact Sara directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to her website (www.sgaconsulting.org)
I started several Scoop-its to curate the resources in one place to use later.
Apps for The Student-Centered Classroom
Creativity, Innovation, and Change
Making Learning Personal
Communities of Practice for New Learning Environments
Curate Your Learning
In doing that I’ve been noticing what people like and follow. It seems to be the Apps and Tools. I know we as educators say not to focus on the tools but it doesn’t seem that way. I notice this at technology conferences and, as a reader, the proposals submitted and accepted.
It seems that adults and teachers have technolust just like the kids. What does that mean for the classroom? The other Scoop-its are about change, pedagogy, communities of practice, and all the things that teachers tell me they want to understand for their own professional learning. However, when you go to a conference and the speaker is talking about change, the future, pedagogy, the room is not full.
For years I have done Tips and Tricks about this tool or that app and the room is overcrowded. It’s like a feeding frenzy. I do a session on change and the steps needed for change, and there’s only a few there. But I know those that are there are really interested.
What I’m wondering is how to take this technolust attitude and use it to make change. I am working with teachers to move to student-centered learning environments. In the process, they are learning new tools that engage and motivate students — and them. School is just not engaging — especially if you read out of the workbook. Kids are bored. They are digital whiz kids now.
How about adding a Smackdown at the end of the week and let three kids share a new tool or app they found for 2 minutes each? Then you as the teacher look at slowly changing the classroom and make student experts.
Think we need to shake things up here and look at the bigger picture. It’s not about the technology. Right? Technology is just a great way to make change.
Just putting technology in students’ hands doesn’t make the environment learner-centered. Change takes time. Actually change takes years. When you put a program together and ask teachers to change how they teach in one year, it’s just not going to happen. I put up a Scoop-it on Apps for the Student-Centered Classroom and it became my most popular Scoop-it quickly. Why? Because it’s all about the apps. I have techno-lust. I love new apps and learning about new technology, but really changes in the classroom.
I created other Scoop-its on Creativity, Innovation, and Change and Making Learning Personal that have followers looking for something different than apps. Well, maybe they are looking for apps and tools too, but the ideas for those apps focus on a changing learning environment.
I am very lucky to have coaching jobs where I facilitate change. Yesterday I saw some Aha moments from some of the teachers where they had all day to collaborate and rethink their learning strategies. Live Oak Elementary in San Ramon, CA is a large school with 6-7 teachers at each grade level. So the school provided them subs for the 3rd grade teachers so they could plan and share and learn without interruptions. What a concept!
I just read “10 Big Problems with Lecture-Based Learning” that is targeted for higher ed but applies to all learning environments.
The 10 points in this article include…
- It’s passive.
- It doesn’t engage every learning style.
- It facilitates rote learning above all else.
- It’s biased.
- It precludes discussion.
- It’s not the right fit for every subject.
- Minimal student feedback.
- Not every teacher excels at public speaking.
- Not every attention span lasts that long.
- It only nurtures a limited range of skill sets.
I suggest reading the article above for more information and just don’t think teachers and professors are going to give up lecturing. Since I said it takes time, we need to rethink how we approach different topics. Student or learner-centered means that learning is personalized for the student. The student drives their learning. It is different than a teacher differentiating learning for each student. When you differentiate instruction, the teacher is working even harder now creating multiple lesson plans for the different types of learners in their classroom. Personalization means the student is curating their learning, finding learning appropriate and relevant learning objects for their topic.
What I suggest is moving slowly to a more learner-centered environment by designing collaborative projects that build in inquiry and student voice and choice. This first project the teachers are creating at Live Oak is still mostly teacher-centric. The teachers are choosing the topic and standards met, designing the driving question, determining groups, roles, tasks, and assessments. Students are working in groups, choosing the types of products. The teachers are creating a collaborative website and link it to their class website. This is the first step toward learner-centered environments.
The power of designing the same project together is that the teachers will do action research on what worked and what didn’t work for each teacher. This feedback will help them design the next project. The mindshift only works if teachers and students are immersed in the process, do the work, see how it works, learn and reflect on the results (not the test scores only) but if students were able to demonstrate evidence of learning and were engaged in the learning process. I think this is cool!
In this article in Psychology Today by Michael Michalko on Creative Thinkering, he explains why experts miss opportunities to be creative. Experts tend to specialize and miss the bigger picture.
The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Phillip Reiss invented a machine that could transmit music in 1861. He was dissuaded from converting it into a telephone because every communications expert in Europe convinced him that there was no market for a telephone as the telegraph was good enough.
When you review the history of inventions, most inventions might have started out as mistakes. Penicillin was invented from a mold that was not supposed to happen. This made me think about education for the last 100 years or so. The industrial model was designed to train people to do specific tasks to meet specific goals. They followed orders. They didn’t question authority. There was no opportunities to allow creativity or inquiry. The teacher did the thinking for the students. The textbooks did the thinking for the teacher. The teacher was the expert. This is mostly what teachers know and were taught.
Sorry, but this model is not working any more. Where are the factory jobs for the students who graduate from the factory schools? Everything is changing. Management is changing. Technology is changing how information and expertise is delivered and shared. Student-centered means that the teacher is allowing student choice in different situations about different topics. Most children can figure out how to use an iPad, tablet, laptop or smartphone. They grew up digital. They are learning to be curators of their own learning. This Ted.com video from 2007 shows kids teaching other kids without any guidance.
Michalko wrote in his article that if you already consider yourself an expert, you might stop imagining a possibility.
If we experience any strain in imagining a possibility, we quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the expert. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years.
I see every child as gifted and unique. We need to stop asking how smart are you and consider what Garner wrote, “How are you smart?” Personalize learning so the learner discovers concepts and ideas and more. Why think the teacher needs to be the expert or that each child can only learn from one expert or one textbook. It’s time to rethink what learning, thinking and creativity is and how important it is to let go as a teacher. This will make the teacher’s role more exciting. Just imagine the joy, engagement, and excitement in the learning environment. I like the idea of tinkering, playing with ideas, being creative, and taking risks.
What about you?
A curator pulls together and oversees collections of materials. The Internet, Web 2.0 tools and social media has expanded the traditional role of publisher to almost anyone. The role of curator is changing too. Anyone can “curate” online material, pulling together their own collections.
I started a new Scoop-it “Curate your Learning” and now I see why curating is important. When you create a Scoop-it, you put in the tags.
Some of my tags are:
curation, curating, curate, curation skills, curating learning, 21st century skills
Because of Scoop-it and other curation tools, there are thousands of results as you curate. If you don’t take the time to read the contents and just Scoop-it, then is the resource really useful and valuable?
Curation skills can include:
- understanding keywords and tags
- scanning text
- reading and summarizing content
- building connections
- choosing appropriate resources
- sharing resources
- promoting and branding topic
When I searched for others with the same topic, there were many so I followed several of those people. However, the content differed because of their background. I couldn’t always tell from the title or understood why some content appeared for me to curate. I started another topic on Creativity, Innovation, and Change. What I’m finding is that this is a great idea to store articles, blog posts, and other resources by topic. I used to use Diigo and Del.icio.us, but I’m a visual learner. I also like the way I can build communities of people and view their topics. I can easily Scoop-it on one of their topics and add it to one of mine.
Something to think about. Is Scoop-it the right tool for kids?
I see a great opportunity for a company to design a curation tool for kids. A few concerns come to me though: filtering, monitoring, providing feedback, measuring what they curated.
The thing with curation is that what you curate keeps changing — just like the real world. Maybe we need to rethink what we measure. 😮
Social media is behind all of this. You can retweet and curate resources other people have shared. My Scoop-it Making Learning Personal made it all clear to me where we are going with learning. All of us can be curators of our own learning.
Dashboard: Your dashboard keeps track of the activity:
- Topic of the Day (whoever is the most active)
- What’s New (your friends who started a new topic)
- your Curated Topics (you can have as many as you want)
- Trending Topics (most active topics)
- Your Community (links to people who you may be following or who are following you or who have the same tags)
- Your Stats (number of posts and views)
- Connect to social media (you choose which ones you want to connect to)
- Link to your profile (keeps track on the progress of your scoop-it and the topics you follow)
Curate: Review suggested content and Scoop-it!
Scoop-it uses the tags you suggested to find sources from other curators. You then either remove the source, discard it (not sure of the difference yet) or Scoop-it! Your latest scoop appears in your Scoop-it which you can use the move feature to move it where you want it on the page.
Explore: Review what’s new on the 5 topics you follow.
Scoop-it uses your tags to find resources with the same tags. You can then rescoop any of the resources.
Another social media tool that lets you curate your learning is Pearltrees that is a social curation community using a visual map. Just signed up so will be learning and sharing more.
This is the first step for learners to own their learning. They get to choose the resources, but I see a problem. It’s easy to just choose anything that maybe relates to your topic. When you do a Google search, the robots and spiders return millions of resources based on your search. Using your tags Scoop-it and Pearltrees retrieve resources where others have used those tags. I’m finding I’m receiving lots of resources that have nothing to do with my tags. So I need to be very discerning and careful about reviewing the resource to make sure it is relevant to my topic.
Let’s be real. Will young learners really do this well? This is a skill we will need to teach learners. How to be a critical curator!
I see the need for a personal guide on the side. This is where teachers, librarians, counselors, and peers as student experts could support learners. Been thinking about this for some time. I’m a coach. Designed a coaching community (My eCoach), and see the need for some type of coach, guide or curator to your curating. Even with a guide, learners will need a new skill:
critical curating skills
Traditional education expects you — the teacher — to be an expert on your content area, collecting and analyzing data, finding relevant resources, designing curriculum, classroom management, differentiating instruction, understanding standards, parent-school communication, and more. I’m overwhelmed just observing this. I work with teachers around the country. It’s the same everywhere. How can one person know and be expected do so much? Teachers in the US are working harder now than ever before and are undervalued and underpaid no matter what people are saying. I see it. I know. They are grading papers when they should be enjoying their families. They are spending their own money on supplies.
Teachers are our heroes. Let’s be real on what teachers can achieve in the current learning environments.
No one can be an expert on so much. No other occupation expects their employees to not only know their field but be expected to teach it and be measured on the success of their clients who are so unique, different, with their own set of gifts and problems and issues. In public schools, there are larger class sizes, less money per student, and a more diverse student body. More new teachers are being assigned to poorer schools without the support they need, and are expected to do more with less. I watch it and just shake my head.
Here’s an idea:
Since each of us including each student has strengths, let’s identify them and use the experts.
- Have students identify their strengths, their passions, and their interests.
- Create a student list of experts.
- Ask students to choose what skills or knowledge they have where they can help others.
- Put that list on the board.
I am a coach. I work with teachers on their prep time and collaborative planning time. I mentioned to teachers to have students ask three students before you and that sometimes works. One teacher I was working with this week (Tiffany fourth grade teacher at Live Oak Elementary in San Ramon USD, CA) mentioned the idea of student experts. She said when she told students to ask three people before her, they asked their friends who said “I don’t know.” Then they came back and asked her. It just didn’t work. So Tiffany worked with her class to find student experts.
I’ve shared the idea of student experts before, but I think we need them more now than ever. Tiffany’s students are experts on:
- different technologies
- lunchtime duties
- paper monitors
- different content areas
Think about your classroom. Your students at any age even Kindergarten have strengths and they love to help others. When you teach others, you learn more. When your students teach each other, they learn more. Teachers then don’t need to know everything and how to do everything anymore. They can ask the student as the expert in the classroom to teach and coach them.
Using student experts makes a class stronger. The teacher is more of a facilitator and guides the learning process. It’s pretty awesome.