Questioning, I Need Your Help


 How do we go from toddlers and preschoolers asking questions about everything around them, to school-agers who hardly ask questions at all? What is the message being sent to students in the way we view and deliver teaching and learning in the standard classroom?

Our staff is reading articles about questioning and student engagement. When is a child truly engaged? What is our definition of student engagement?

With these question running through my head during Winter Break, I feel torn by what is expected of me as a teacher, and what I believe is best for the whole child in my classroom. Where is the balance? What is best for one child is not necessarily best for another. How do we get children to be engaged for true learning instead of pleasing the teacher and finding the right answer. 

Some of the things I have implemented this year is the focus on effort vs. getting the right answer. The focus on learning vs. the right answer. The focus on effort vs. correct spelling. I have to say this again and again in my classroom. I find students slowly taking more risks and less fix-mindset, negative thinking. But I cannot do this alone. 

How do we change the culture of school? How do we change a classroom into a learning/wonder/investigation studio? 

I do not have the answers. I cannot begin to pretend to know how to make this change. But I know what I believe in my heart, and I am torn. 

I am turning to my PLN, Twitter community to help me begin to find the answers to these questions. Please help me start the conversation. Please help me find the courage to move forward.


7 thoughts on “Questioning, I Need Your Help

  1. This may sound extreme, but it worked in college level, from “No idea about Statistics” to final year Control Systems Engineering, and it is:
    Be very very sparing with giving the “Right Answer”
    If they ask “Is this right, miss?” ask them “What do you think?” or similar.
    Ask them to explain their reasoning. I don’t mean the latest fad of “explain your working”
    If a kid can’t do something suggest changing the numbers, preferably not to 0’s and 1’s !
    If they are to “own” their work it needs to be theirs, and that includes approximations, checking, finding another way, comparing with others,
    I am not saying that the “Right Answer” is not important, as we don’t want our bridges falling down.
    Make a few mistakes in your worksheets. Obvious ones are easier for them to spot.
    With numbers there are lots of “tricks” to use for checking, and they are iteresing anyway. Simple example: If you keep adding up the digits of a number until you have one digit left and it is 0 or 3 or 6 or 9 then the number is a multiple of 3, so “Johnny says that 3 times 7 is 22”. This cannot be true. and so on …….


    1. Thank you! Math is one area that students have a hard time working on the understanding of numbers and not just the right answer. I have used Number Talks strategies which have opened up class discussions and numerous ways to one upon an answer and how to explain your thinking. I do need to work on making more visible mistakes for the students to find.


  2. “What do you think?” is always on my tongue when the kids ask me if they’re “right.” The book TALK ABOUT UNDERSTANDING by Ellin Oliver Keene has a great line in it… When kids don’t know “the answer,” ask them this –> “If you DID know the answer, what would you say?” That helps the conversation along, and de-stresses the importance of ONE answer.

    I don’t know if your PLN will have answers – just encouragement to keep asking the great questions. Be that role model for your students as you’re trying to be. Share with them this blog post and your thinking process. You may not get to all of them, but some will pick up on it. (And then hopefully they KEEP this questioning mindset after they leave you!) Keep chugging along!! We’ll be there with you!


  3. What wonderful questions. I also grapple with many of these same issues. Although you’ve framed them as classroom questions, I think they cut to the heart of our current education system. And as such I think these are the types of questions that need to be constantly dissected and negotiated. Here are just a few of my thoughts.

    -How do we go from toddlers and preschoolers asking questions about everything around them, to school-agers who hardly ask questions at all?

    This is an especially tough one. Although Sir Ken Robinson would blame this trend on our antiquated education system (an alluring reduction of education history), I think this is part and parcel of a larger culture that approaches learning as primarily a transaction. We socialize children to accept knowledge as pre-constructed units to be devoured. Predetermined paths (to college, to an ambiguous job) shuffle children down roads that decrease the need and viability of inquiry.

    Children also pick up pretty early that doing what the adult says is really the best way to go about the classroom. As schools/society we often praise cognitive obedience and getting things “right.” Also parents and students are consumers of a school’s educational product. These roles restrict and delegitimize active inquiry.

    -Our staff is reading articles about questioning and student engagement. When is a child truly engaged? What is our definition of student engagement?

    This is always good to hear. This is where I’d warn against throwing ed tech and bells and whistles at children as a strategy for engagement. Software and devices and ‘personalized learning’ can’t make up for lackluster content and a lack of control. It’s also important to realize that schools and teachers can only do so much for a child. Many students will continue to be ‘average’ despite any amount of ‘remediation/intervention’ we throw at them. All we can do, which is also the most we can do, is try to provide authentic experiences for children to use knowledge to come into being, to push themselves to articulate who they are at a particular moment.

    -How do we get children to be engaged for true learning instead of pleasing the teacher and finding the right answer.

    Oooh. What a tough one! I came face-to-face with this when I de-graded and de-tested my classroom last year. For me, I have to remember that our children are firmly acculturated within a paradigm of capitalism. This means that no matter what you do in your class, in your 45 minute or block class, children exist in a world based on hierarchy, ranking, and sorting. I would suggest making all sorts of mistakes, highlighting mistakes, and teaching in a way that restricts a single right answer.

    Just some thoughts. Best of luck!


    1. Thank you for you thoughts! I definitely need to be more visible with my own mistakes to model the learning process with my students. I also agree about this cutting at the heart of the educational system. I find myself torn with what is my traditional role as a teacher (what is expected of me) and what I believe in my heart. I don’t think this is going away anytime soon. Again, thanks for the encouragement. I hope to continue this conversation.


  4. Hi Jen,

    I think your blog/question is one which lots of teachers ask as well, and it’s definitely a relevant topic of today’s generation of students.

    The one solution I could think of to help with your question is by modeling to the students that it’s ok to make mistakes-in fact, it happens every day! Whether on purpose or on accident (usually accident), anytime I use the smart board in my co-taught math class, ( I am the special education teacher by the way), almost always something goes wrong. I can’t figure out how to change the function of the marker (from writing to erasing), how to change fonts, how to move the problem to different part of the board, how to create more room to show my work on the problem, etc. Other times my problems will get stuck, not move, or start spinning and shrinking in size-lots of things can happen. I think some students see it as a joke, (and sometimes that’s because I use humor or “poke fun” at myself and my relationship with the smart board. I might make a comment such as “Oh boy..the smart board just does not want to be my friend today!” or “Whoo…Ms. McCormick is riding the struggle bus again!”) But then other students take it as an opportunity to help, and are very eager to help me. This then helps them understand that the teacher can easily have struggles, too. I don’t let myself get all frazzled, or give up on using the SmartBoard method for instruction- I use my resources (them, the other teacher if needed), or I take few extra minutes to problem solve and persevere.

    Other times, I’ll be up at the board, showing the steps on how to solve the problem- then mid way through, I realize I took the wrong step, or have incorrect answer. I’ll literally step back away from the board, sometimes puzzled as to why I can’t figure it out. I then challenge myself and communicate to them to “hold on…” and let me try to map it out. Then they see that challenges aren’t a bad thing- and even the teacher makes mistakes. If I truly can’t figure it out, I use my resources and ask either my co-teacher or students to “help me out”. If they start to show me, I might model questioning techniques to show that I am confused such as… “Wait…how did you do that again?” or “I’m stuck right now….Can you explain how you did that?”
    It just takes a little bit of re-thinking or sometimes my resources to help solve the problem.

    Anyway, hope that helps you!


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