I’m The M.E.T.H.O.D. Man (Classroom Questioning, Tiger Style)

Jose VilsonJose, Resources7 Comments

Wu Tang Clan

Wu Tang Clan

Never be afraid to keep students at arms’ length from you work-wise.

Therein lies the struggle right now with the immediacy of our work as educators. Too often, we torture ourselves trying to give away all the answers instead of waiting patiently for the right time to insert ourselves. The more we keep feeding them and feeding them and feeding them, the less we can expect our kids to think for ourselves.

Rather than knocking you off your cloud, let me tell you about me and a little more about my style, of which I have many.

Here I Am, Here I Am

I’m OK with saying “I don’t know” when students ask me about the Do Now. I like mixing in a reflective question every other day to kick off a lesson just to see if the students remember anything from what they did for homework. Even if they get the first question / activity right, I’ll give them a quizzical look and keep moving along. They doubt themselves for a quick second, but at least they know not to depend on me for the right answer.

The Master of the Plan

Secondly, my lesson plans already have a few predetermined questions on them. It’s less about “how” and “why” questions, but what answers you intend on hearing, and which questions will lead to a conversation. For instance, “Why is it cold right now?” doesn’t require deep thinking. “What contributes to climate change?” does. People think “How” and “why” are deep, but it’s less about the adverbs we use, and more about what we expect about the answers.

This Ain’t Your Average Flow

Asking questions doesn’t mean a rapid-fire barrage of life-savers tossed out to sea. Instead, wait a bit after your deeper questions. I would suggest counting to six, and preventing those who get it immediately from answering right away. A couple of students might cry “Mercy” or say “I don’t get it.” That’s fine. Instead of just passing the mic to another student who you know has the answer, ask a question of similar difficulty to the student and prompt them to think again. The point isn’t to embarrass the student, but to signal to everyone that you honestly want them to think.

Don’t Huff and Puff

A few of us, including myself, get angry when we don’t see students thinking. Every so often, even I need to remind myself to take a step back and learn to retrace steps, especially if the students aren’t used to someone who waits for them to think before jumping on them for an answer. Bathe yourself in the awkward silence and let the tension simmer a bit. Nobody will like it, and that’s OK. The next time you ask a question, students will want to fill that space better, and more thoughtfully.

Freak A Flow and Flow Fancy Free

During the classwork, after whole discussions are over, students will want to ask the question they were too embarrassed to ask out loud. Make it hard for them then too. It largely depends on the student, but retrace the steps through questions and have them answer their own questions through more questions. Then at the end, you can proudly proclaim, “See? You knew it all along!” and walk away before they know how you did that.

There are limits to my methods, but that’s why I have so many approaches, so many styles. This is but one of many. How does your questioning chamber work?

Mr. Vilson

*** above image c/o http://fr.my-walls.net/wu-tang-clan-de-fan-art/ ***

*** inspired by this ***

Wu Tang Clan, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Wu Tang Clan, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Comments 7

  1. I have always believed that thinking is an innate process, not learned. I also believe that teachers used to challenge students intellectually. Now that testing is being used against teachers, teachers are just worried about having their students pass the test so they can get a raise or save their jobs. We don’t have time trying to force students to think. I love your idea but right now I and many other teachers have to worry about the SGOs, Charlotte Danielson and her useless framework, standardized tests and keeping our jobs, especially if you are older. Unions and older teachers are who the system wants to eliminate.

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  2. Jose,

    One of my colleagues in my Master’s program at the University of Michigan directed me to your blog, and I am happy that he did. My student teaching experience thus far has been in a school district where many students need remedial instruction. This causes me too fall all too easily into “giv[ing] away all the answers instead of waiting patiently for the right time to insert ourselves” as you said. In our classes, they teach us the importance of asking probing questions, but what they have often failed to remind us is that probing the heck out of a student until he or she regurgitates the answer I was looking for is not substantial learning.

    I love that you said that “how” and “why” questions are not useful purely because they incorporate those key words. Instead, we need to be asking questions that will generate more thinking and generate answers that will help lead students in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is easy to ask a “how” or “why” question that does not do these things. I also found your section about “Don’t Huff and Puff” to be very useful. I find it so frustrating when students are doing nothing in class or just waiting for me to give them the correct answer. I believe following your approach and taking a step back instead of giving in to giving them the answer will make both my and their experience more enjoyable.

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this blog, and I look forward to reading more of your posts.


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  3. Thank you! This is something that most teachers can benefit from. As we are teaching kids who are uncomfortable waiting because they have Googled all of their lives, it’s great to be reminded of these techniques. I was recently named 2014 Texas teacher of the year. In that role, I will travel as the voice for 330,000 teachers in this state. I hope to not only be a voice for teachers but to also show them the power of their own voice. In my quest to read and study the educational trends in the state and country, I ran across your blog and started reading. I plan to order your book because I appreciate your perspective. Keep it up!

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