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Five dangerous questions in the classroom

Kristy Kendall
Aug 23, 2019 9:19:57 AM

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My favourite thing in the world is young people. When I made the choice to become a Principal, I expressed clearly to the Board that I would not give up teaching. My colleagues often say they can see a difference in my body after I have been teaching. I walk taller, stand prouder and glow with enthusiasm and excitement. For me, there is no better profession than teaching, but I also believe it is the most difficult. 

Teachers teach through 20 different methods, with 20 different ways to encourage, and 20 different ways to discourage, at 20 different paces, with 20 different back stories, and 20 different emotions, with 20 different goals and 20 different journeys to get them there…all at once!

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So, what can students do to help? The answer is simple. They need to take responsibility for themselves. As teachers, we can hear in a classroom when this is not happening. 

Here are my least favourite questions to hear from students in a classroom that indicate a lack of ownership of their own education:

1. "Will this be on the test?"

Our brains try to sort for meaning. By asking this question, students are actually asking, “Is this important to my teacher or not?” However, I want students to ask, “Is this important to me or not?” By asking if this content is on the test tells me that a student is only committed to learning what they have to in order to pass, not learning what they want to learn in order to deal with life beyond school. Why does it matter if it will or will not be on the test? It is all knowledge and that is what education is all about. Students should not be prioritising what information is assessment worthy and what is not, but rather how it will be relevant to them later in life. 

2. "Do I need to write this down?"

Memory is an intricate and complex thing and understanding how it works is incredibly important and enlightening. A student needs to discover how they best learn and then utilise those processes to ensure they are absorbing as much knowledge as possible. So this question is insignificant. Writing it down in your own words, drawing pictures or creating flowcharts are all different ways to record information. The art of note taking helps to support or trigger the learning and understanding. We are not trying to collect a perfect bank of collated information, but instead, trying to give ourselves hints, tips and tricks to provoke our thinking in the future.

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3. "What colour pen should I use?"

Learning how to organise notes is a key skill. A student should not allow a teacher to do it for them, instead, they need to focus on the main idea, then the sub ideas and continue to break it down until it is digestible. If a student finds that using a red pen for headings and a blue pen for body text works for them, then that is the process they should adopt. This kind of question alludes to the fact that these students have not gained a strong sense of independent thought. They still have a long road to travel in order to be confident enough to pick how to organise their thinking and understand how they can interpret knowledge. 

4. "How long should my answer be?"

This is another problematic question for me. Yes, there is often key criteria that needs to be addressed and often a word limit too, but intuition is needed to step in and say, “What does the question require me to do?” The answer should be as long as the student needs it to be. A question has requirements and the student has knowledge, the task is to put these two things together. Writing is about showing off their knowledge, a student should ask themselves, “How do I best do this?” They need to learn how to incorporate the criteria with their own individual flair, rather than worrying about providing only the bare minimum responses. This behaviour does not show sophistication of thought or understanding of how to interpret questions.

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5. "If I redo this, can I get my lost marks back?"

The answer is no. Losing marks is all about learning from those mistakes. A student does not need those marks back, they are not a physical thing. What they do need to remember is why they were lost and how they can learn from them for next time. Giving back those lost marks only defeats the purpose of building resilience and personal growth. We should not try to undo the lesson we have learnt, but instead grow from it.

This year, I am teaching Year 9 Psychology. In a recent annotation task, I wanted to guide them through dissecting important parts of a question. So, I instructed, “Pick up a highlighter.” One student then asked, “Mrs Kendall, what colour highlighter should I use?” The whole class turned to her and said, “Mrs Kendall is not going to like that question!” 

The girls of Toorak are learning fast! 

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