Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Teaching Them How to Think By Asking the Right Questions!

Hello!  I hope everyone is ready for spring!  If you are like me, you are back in the trenches after a little break and are ready to hit the ground running for the final chunk of the year.  If you follow my blog at all, you know that constructivist learning is BIG with me!  I firmly believe that our job as teachers is to watch our students, provide them with meaningful learning opportunities, and then coach them to increasingly higher levels of understanding.  This requires the careful selection of learning targets, constant formative assessment, and REALLY knowing your students--how they learn, how they DON'T learn, and what they need.

I just finished a huge month-long fraction unit with my class, and I really worked hard to get to know my students as "fraction experts".  This took time and, most importantly, it took lots and lots of questions on my part to really try to get to know my students as learners.

We drew . . . 

We sorted . . .

We critiqued . . .

We "proved" . . .

We modeled . . .

We even debated!

And what was I doing while all these things happened?  I watched.  I took notes.  I took photos (I am a very visual "rememberer"!) and I planned based on what I saw.  So what was at the root of all of this?  I truly believe that over the last 20 years of teaching, I have learned how best to QUESTION my students to get to know them as mathematicians.  I have watched the type of questions I ask evolve as I have grown as a teacher.  No longer do I ask questions that are purely related to the ANSWER such as

What did you get?


Did you get it right?

Instead, I try to to ask the kinds of questions that accomplish other goals.  I want to know things like--

Are they stuck?  What do they need to get "unstuck"?

Can they get started?

Can they explain what they have done?

Do they have the right strategies to solve the problem?

Do they know what tools they should be using?

How are they feeling about their status?  Are they confident?  Frustrated?

It is amazing to watch the students grow as thinkers when I do less of the work!  By putting the responsibility back on them, students must take a more active role in their own learning.  Confidence grows.  Mathematical understanding grows.  Self-sufficiency and perseverance become the norm.  So, I have a challenge for you!  Watch yourself in the next few math lessons you teach.  Try to track the kind of questions you are asking.  If you think you are in a rut or think that maybe your students aren't doing enough of the work--try printing off the list of questioning prompts I've written up for you!  See if you can incorporate more of them into your lessons and see how your students respond.  It takes time, a gentle hand, and patience with yourself!  Sometimes it's hard to relinquish control--but, boy, is it worth it!  I've included a link to the questioning prompt freebie below.  I'd love for you to check it out and let me know how it goes!

I would also love for you to see this in action!  Stop by my blog and check out some of the fraction posts (there are 16!) to see how I modeled this.  If you are looking for even more guidance, I did put all 16 fraction investigations together into a giant unit available for purchase.  Reviews have been great and success stories are pouring in!  Check it out if you are interested.

Thanks for stopping by!  I hope you have a wonderful week at school . . . it won't be long before we will be saying goodbye to this group of learners so make the most of every day!

or find me on Twitter at @FourthGrStudio


  1. I absolutely LOVED following your fractions unit on your blog! I am so excited that you posted all of the activities and cannot wait to use them with my kiddos! Thanks so much, Meg!

    Mathematically yours,

    1. AWWWWW...thanks, Jamie! That means a lot! I appreciate your kind words. Now we are deep into division--always fun to watch the students constructing meaning!

  2. I am always amazed by the fantastic math lessons posted here. If I had math teachers like all of you when I was a student, I might like math today! What a great post! Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Thanks, Peanut. That means a lot to me...I love teaching math so much--it breaks my heart when I hear of people who don't like it! Our class mantra is "MATH MAKES SENSE"!

  3. This is just PURE AWESOME! It oozes collaboration, motivation and fun and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall. I am a HUGE ADVOCATE for open-ended questions for students to show what they know beyond just a black/white answer and I think you are doing awesome with this!

    Jennifer Smith-Sloane

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. Sometimes I wish I could have all you experts teach with me. Imagine how good we could be if we could bounce ideas off each other all day!

  4. I am so glad I found this blog since I might be teaching 6th grade math next year for the first time ever. YIKES!

    I'll be revisiting this summer so that I CAN RELEARN THE MATH THAT I HAVE FORGOTTEN. :)


  5. Glad you found us, Shannon! Math is the BEST! Let us know how we can help you! :)

  6. Glad you found us, Shannon! Math is the BEST! Let us know how we can help you! :)


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