Asking the Right Questions

Are you someone who likes to ponder? Think about both sides of an issue? Wonder why something has occurred? Don’t we all?

Then why don’t we ask this of our students? Why do we tend toward direct instruction so much of the time? True, if learning content is our goal, direct instruction is faster, more efficient. But if we want to help students become thinkers, independent learners, and creative participants in society, then asking questions is a better model.

Ewan McIntosh shares his thoughts on a system, where “content isn’t king” but students are encouraged to “interact around content.”

To me, effective teaching and learning comes down to asking the right questions. I read a post on The Eloquent Woman this morning, which listed suggested questions for good panel members. These same questions are great places to start with students:

What if?

Why not?

How is this like?

How is this different?

What makes you wonder?

Learners must know how to think and reflect, and for teachers it starts with the right questions.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.Voltaire

image credit: by Oberazzi

More on Fear

And while we’re on the topic of fear, check out BrendaDee’s post that makes great points about teacher innovation vs tradition:

Once in practice, educators discover that preparing students to be design thinkers, tinkerers, creative problem solvers, leaders etc can be highly abstract and that many of today’s teachers are uncomfortable with the pedagogical changes needed to shift from traditional teaching practices to the education reform required to “make schools places that cultivate creativity” (Florida, 2004).

She also references Nancy Stuewe’s post on teaching and innovation. Powerful questions to ponder:

1. What opportunities do teachers have to make sense of their experiences with innovation and change?

2. We do not make it easy for students to be innovative by making it difficult for teachers to be innovative. Can we describe clearly what is standing in the way of teachers becoming both creative and innovative?

3. Technology changes quickly, teachers regularly come into contact with technology they have no experience with. How do we help them gain this experience and reduce their frustration?

4. To become an architect of learning requires teachers to teach differently than they were taught (we can not give what we do not have). How can we support teachers to build their own profession learning networks during working hours?

5. Given that People not technology will be the solutions to problems, how do we adjust the structure of the working environment to allow for the free flowing exchange of ideas to support their personalized learning?


I’ve been wondering about how to make these changes more feasible within the constraints of our working hours as well (though I recognize that traditional “working hours” will be another necessary change). This may be the heart of the matter:

…how do we shift a the system that once discouraged participation to now encourage teachers to engage in mindful, thoughtful interaction with why we have school?


image credit

Mapping the Curriculum: To What End?

A few years ago, my school started mapping our curriculum. I remember being somewhat frustrated because I wanted us to have the hard conversations first: what does it mean to be a good teacher? Why do we teach certain courses in a prescribed order?

I wondered what purpose would be served by putting our existing curriculum online before those moments of discussion as to why we taught geometry when we did or how we were going to prepare students to be independent thinkers.

But time constraints and shifting priorities gave way to finishing the project. I understood. Sometimes going somewhere is better than going nowhere.

However, readings and conversations have made it abundantly clear to me that our ideas about curriculum need to change. As I read Future Lab’s curriculum report, authored by Ben Williamson and others from DML Central, I found myself nodding constantly as he described “the death of the center.”

The ideal is that school is to be decentred as the sole site of learning, and learning is to be understood as more fluid across diverse contexts: from the home and the family, across informal sites of learning such as communities and youth group settings, to the potentially global, interconnected online space of networks. Young people’s own knowledge from home and community, and especially from the electronic networks to which they belong, are to be welcomed into the classroom as a source, subject and resource for learning.

The report puts forth a concept called  “centrifugal schooling,” a term that embodies vision and possibilities. Listen to their description.

Rather than the curriculum being a self-enclosed and firmly boundaried body of knowledge, internally comprised of strictly defined and individually insulated subject disciplines, within the emerging decentred logic of centrifugal schooling, the curriculum is to be penetrated both from outside and within. Subjects are to penetrate one another, while the school curriculum itself it to be penetrated by outside forces and hitherto non-school, ‘illegitimate’ knowledge. As such, the curriculum is being viewed as a site for multiple kinds of border crossings or boundary penetrations, where the organization and selection of school knowledge is challenged, even transgressed or redefined.

Curriculum development today, then, should not simply an issue of mapping existing content and/or even skills. Our focus needs to include discussions of what is possible? What might be?

But this won’t be easy. Even the writers call this idea “ambiguous and contradictory…” and ” an ongoing curriculum debate, not as a utopian solution.”

Still I love this last paragraph with the hubs and rails analogy:

“….view schools as hubs and rails in learning networks, linked via information processing and network technologies to other institutions, both formal and informal; to ‘authentic’ learning spaces within industry, vocational and community sites; to vast ‘clouds’ of information available online rather than merely to authoritative printed texts and knowledge sources contained in libraries; and it would focus on learners constantly updating and upgrading their ‘personal portfolios.’ The idea of ‘school’ or ‘education’ as institutions would be questioned, if not jettisoned, in favour of fluid learning experiences involving wider skills and a more diverse conception of intelligence than the implicit model of intelligence in much curriculum design
Both the report and Ben’s post are well worth your time. And I’d love to hear your thoughts….

Mind Over Matter

That phrase has been around for a while. I believe it, and this research helps cement that.

I’m trying to take care of myself this year–focus on good eating, exercise, and meditation. I’ve had good luck with the first two: I am trying to eliminate sugar and processed foods; I am also starting Boot Camp next week. This isn’t just a new resolution. I do this periodically because it makes me feel better.

But I struggle with the meditation, the mindful visualizations that are so important. The Cleveland Clinic lists these benefits to mindful thinking (which is different from positive thinking):

  • Decrease anxiety
  • Decrease pain
  • Enhance sleep
  • Decrease the use of medication for post-surgical pain
  • Decrease side effects of medical procedures
  • Reduce recovery time and shorten hospital stays
  • Strengthen the immune system and enhance the ability to heal
  • Increase sense of control and well-being

That’s where the meditation comes in. I am going to take five to ten minutes each day to sit, eyes closed, music playing in the background, and breathe. We all need time to regroup, and I am starting today.

Wouldn’t it be great to help students find the time to meditate each day? What benefits could we accrue by taking a few minutes with our kids to stop and breathe?

Myths: Can we move forward?

L&S Rules for Students 3photo © 2009 Michael Stout | more info (via: Wylio)I’ll have to give @pcwoessner credit for sending me to Allison Zmuda. I was not familiar with her work, but her latest book is something I wish I’d had in the classroom.

Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning takes her research from 2008, using her format of essential questions, to make us think about this:

Is fundamental change possible given the myths our culture holds related to schooling?

I like the way she thinks.

In this article (I haven’t gotten my hands on her book yet), Zmuda lists the myths and expounds upon them:

Myth #1: The rules of this classroom and subject area are determined by each teacher.

Myth #2: What the teacher wants me to say is more important than what I want to say.

Myth #3: The point of an assignment is to get it done so that it’s off the to-do list.

Myth #4: If I make a mistake, my job is only to replace it with the right answer.

Myth #5: I feel proud of myself only if I receive a good grade.

Myth #6: Speed is synonymous with intelligence.

Myth #7: If I get too far behind, I will never catch up.

Myth #8: The way I want to be seen by my classmates affects the way I conduct myself as a learner.

Myth #9: What I’m learning in school doesn’t have much to do with my life, but it isn’t supposed to —it’s school.

Please visit her article for the discussion on each point. Her conclusion echoes Carol Dweck’s research,

The discussion of the nine myths above calls attention to those ways of thinking that may be familiar, but still jeopardize the power and joy of learning for teacher and student alike. Change your thinking; change your experience.

She encourages us to look beyond the myths, to “be free to imagine a better way.”

I think it’s a rather  hopeful way to start the year. Don’t you?