One simple way to create a more student-centered classroom is by getting students to ask their own questions every day and allowing space for them to explore their curiosities.
The challenge is that most of our students learned to stop asking questions years ago. For some, asking questions makes them feel vulnerable but for most, their curiosity has been all but extinguished and they're just waiting for the teacher to tell them what to think about.
How often do we get crickets when we ask, "What questions do you have?"
One of my goals was always to create a classroom where twenty hands shoot up when that question is asked!
Because if we want meaningful engagement & genuine inquiry, we must empower students to ask and explore their own questions.
How to Get Students Asking Questions Again
It starts with planning an activity that focuses on students asking questions on an interesting topic. Keep it fun and light. With my high schoolers, I’ve used fairy tales like, The 3 Little Pigs, songs and lyrics like Johnny Cash’s, “A Boy Named Sue,” and even Super Bowl commercials. You could also do it with photographs, cartoons, or works of art as well.
After reading the fairy tale, viewing the commercial, or analyzing a photo, allow students 5-10 minutes in groups to create as many questions as possible.
Flex That Questioning Muscle
Be clear that they should not stop to improve questions or erase bad ones. Just create questions together without regard to how good the questions are. The point is to get them flexing that questioning muscle again. Brain dumping with question marks. 👍
There are many different ways you can have students sort their questions. The QFT (Question Formulation Technique) from the book “Make Just One Change” by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, encourages students to sort them by “open and closed” questions. Open questions require explanations and might have more than one answer and closed questions can be answered with a single or few words with a clear, specific answer.
However, I prefer having students organize them into "3 Levels of Questions."
I have found that encouraging students to create questions related to these 3 levels leads to interesting questions to ensure comprehension, critical thinking, and making deeper connections. This generally fosters lively discussions.
I always tell my students, that once they get good at asking questions and having rich discussions, we can stop doing worksheets in class and instead, their questions can guide the lesson. And being able to ditch the worksheets is something I think I love even more than my students. 🤣
And just how we get students to improve and sharpen up their questions will be the focus of the next email in this “Powerful Inquiry” series for January.
If you want to learn much more on this, please check out, Make History Engaging, Exciting, and Empowering because building up students' curiosity, confidence, and love of history is the foundation of the course!
Keep rocking 2024,