Blog post for July 7, 2015
During our jigsaw conversations today about comprehension, I was struck by an intriguing theme that seemed to come up more than once: not answering questions. Indeed, inquiry is a tool that provides among the most meaningful and rewarding educational pursuits, but how to respond to inquiry, as a teacher, is a topic worth visiting. After all, a question might be thought of as only half a coin, the response being the other half. I’m intentionally using the word “response” rather than “answer”, because there doesn’t seem to be any room for growth with an answer, but a response…I guess it could be anything. And that’s what came up today. In order to foster the most meaningful comprehension, how do we, as teachers, respond to questions?
One way could be responding with another question. This could be a method that intentionally redirects the train of thought in a productive way, maybe such as responding with “Do you see any context clues?” if a student asks about the meaning of a word. Or maybe “Do you remember what we mentioned about [blank] in the previous paragraph?” Something like that. Moreover, responding with a question seems to provide the opportunity to continue exploring new questions that wouldn’t have otherwise been thought of. Maybe as a response, a question could take the form of something like “Can you think of a similar question that involves [blank]?”
Another way to respond to a question without exposing an immediate answer is to solicit responses from classmates. “Who thinks they have an idea about how to answer that?” for example. This seems like a good tactic to get more people involved and get more ideas flowing. In my mind, whatever keeps the discussion alive seems to be the best choice. A straightforward answer, while satisfying, seems like it could cut things short.
My favorite way to respond is exemplified in the Close Reading article from today, where the teacher is explaining a possible thought process to understand the meaning of the word “revile” from a sentence about waiting in a checkout line. Simply asking about what the word “revile” means prompts so much if we’re willing to delve in. Notice what the teacher responds with:
I don’t want to get stuck on the word reviled, so I need to think a bit more about it. I see that it has -vile inside of it, so I think it’s something bad because I know the word vile is like “disgusting” or “gross.” Re- is “again,” but I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense to think that this is “gross again.” I’ll reread the sentence. The author says that it would be even more frustrating if there wasn’t some technology advances in the grocery store line. So I am thinking about the lines I have waited in, and I’m thinking that, yes, they were frustrating and that maybe that word means “bothersome.” I also noticed that some of you circled bottleneck or tally. Can you talk with your peers to see if you can unpack the meaning of those words, even if you didn’t circle them?
I love this. It’s unbridled thought, and simply exposing it seems like a suitable technique to build similar strategies for students, sort of like a model. It goes through morphology thinking, and is honest about how that doesn’t seem to provide the most fruitful perspective to get where we want to be in this case. It brings in past authentic experience outside the classroom to provide insight that gets us to the next step. It appeals to the context of the sentence and ends with another question about other words that could serve as clues, and ends with a question that prompts more discussion and interaction.
It seems that responding in these ways much of the time is actually the opposite of simply answering. The goal is to guide students to create valuable answers themselves rather than have an answer be placed in front of them. This seems like a recipe for more personal ownership of the content, skill-building that can be applied in the future, and more discussion and questions to follow. I guess the value of a question is just as valuable as how it’s responded to.