Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Insight from Burger and Starbird

I'm in the process of reading "The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking" by Ed Burger and Mike Starbird. I'll start with a quick insight that can help your teaching right now.

Consider the two ways to approach the usual situation where a teacher tries to see if the class understands what is going on.

"Are there any questions?"


"Talk to your neighbor for sixty seconds and come up with two questions."

Asking "Are there any questions?" is no longer as useful a line of approach or teaching technique as we'd like it to be.  How often have we been met with silence?  The problem with silence is the lack of data about student understanding.  If you want to know you need them to produce something (an answer, an idea, an example, a question,...).  And you should want to know what your students are thinking or not thinking.  Knowing exactly where your students are at is vital to teaching, just as making a proper diagnosis using evidence is necessary to medical doctors.

Another way to look at this is the following.  If a certain teaching strategy doesn't elicit the response you need, then find another approach.  If you do not give your students a chance to opt out of thinking of a question, then they are going to be more engaged.  Moreover, students will learn how to ask questions and also to seek to find new questions.  Thus, setting the stage for questions has benefits far beyond checking for understanding.  Questioning becomes part of the intellectual life.