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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 5, April 2004

Teachers' tips

by Steve Naylor

Never have students needed our skills as teachers more than they do now, in Campbell’s B.C. As the B.C. Liberals continue to make our work more difficult by increasing class sizes, removing support workers, eroding social services, and attacking our professionalism, students come to us with questioning eyes, wondering how their needs will be met. As professionals, we continue to do the very best we can, despite the bleak circumstances under which we work. The following strategies are offered not as a way to increase our workload, but simply as a reminder of what we already know and do.

Strategies to extend student thinking

• Call on various students, not just those with raised hands. The technique keeps all students on their toes.

• Utilize Think-Pair-Share. Give two minutes of individual think time, give two minutes of discussion with a partner, and then open up the discussion to the class.

• Remember wait time. Allow several seconds to pass after asking a question, even up to ten seconds or more for a higher level question.

• Ask follow-up questions. After students have offered answers, press for elaboration. Some useful follow-ups: Why? Do you agree? Can you elaborate? Tell me more. Can you give an example?

• Remember to withhold judgment. Respond to student answers in a non-evaluative fashion. Say thank you after a response to indicate you appreciate the fact that the student responded.

• Ask for a summary to promote active listening. When a student answers a question, the rest of the class may feel off the hook. Try asking, Bob, can you please summarize Jane’s point.

• Survey the class. Sometimes it is more effective to ask students to raise their hands collectively rather than to focus on one student. Consider such questions as How many of you agree with the author’s point? and Who still has questions about this topic that need to be answered?

• Ask students to call on other students. You do not need to be the only one to ask students to respond. Try such questions as, Richard, will you please call on someone else to respond? and Betty, will you ask someone to read an answer for question number two?

• Play devil’s advocate. By taking an unpopular or a different point of view in a discussion, you may inspire students to rise to the challenge or to defend their reasoning against contrary points of view.

• Ask students to unpack their thinking. Show the students how you arrived at your answer or opinion. This technique is often called Think Aloud. Then ask students to do the same. Randy, how did you arrive at this conclusion? is a question worth asking.

• Ask students to create their own questions. Once students realize that they have the opportunity to ask questions, the sky’s the limit. Giving students a framework upon which to formulate questions will improve their questioning techniques. For example:

Right there questions. The answer is in one place in the text. For example, Where did Martin Luther King Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech?

Think-and-search questions. The answer is found in several sentences, paragraphs, or pages of the text. For example, Give three reasons why Martin Luther King Jr. feels that African Americans were issued a blank cheque by the white majority.

Author-and-you questions. The answer to the question is an inference. The answer is not stated directly but is implied by the text. For example, Why does Martin Luther King Jr. tell the protesters to go back to their homes?

On-my-own questions. The question is asked before students read, view, or discuss. After the reading, the students must re-evaluate their answers. For example, ask students, What dreams do you have that you hope will be fulfilled before you die? Then have them read Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream."

• Cue student responses. Often students feel there is only one correct answer when in fact there is a range of correct answers. Cue students that you are looking for a range of thinking by asking, What might be a reason that the character did what she did? and What are some of the political, social, or individual actions that led to World War I?

Steve Naylor teaches at Salmon Arm Senior Secondary School, Salmon Arm.

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