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Three Questions to Ask Students

August 12, 2017

 

Whether you’re a Superintendent, a Principal or a parent, three questions should resonate with you and the work that we expect of students every day. And each should be part of the fabric of each school and its focus on learning:

 

·     What am I learning today?

·     Why am I learning this?

·     How will I know I’ve learned this?

 

Try as I may want to take credit for the focus and depth of these in understanding and reflecting on learning, I must give homage to University of California – San Diego professor Dr. Doug Fisher, who shared these at the ACSA Leadership Summit this past weekend.

 

It’s one thing to walk into a classroom and ask students about their work, but the pointed question should be – “Why are you learning this?”

Can they tell you? Can they explain what it is that they are doing with depth and strong choice of words, possibly linking it to other assignments or projects they have been working on?

 

Likewise, “why are you learning this?” Can a student explain why the learning is taking place and give something other than “because my teacher said so” or “because its going to be on the test” for whatever test that might be (classroom or Smarter Balanced)? These two questions should provide a wealth of information for site leaders as they determine how articulated learning objectives are in classrooms. If students know what they are learning it and why it is important, they are well on the road to tying their learning with much grander purposes.

 

But the kicker is – “How do you know you’ve learned this?” Can a student tell you how they will know he or she has mastered the concept, perhaps beyond a generic “getting x score on an evaluation”?

 

When I’ve asked similar questions to students, say on a math concept of long division with no remainder, they will probably share that they can do the problem, show the work, get the correct answer, and then be able to explain it to someone else so the other person follows the steps and arrives at the same conclusion. Years ago, I would instruct students on the use of EduCreations which would be one more layer to their demonstration of learning in an audio and visual presentation on an iPad. Even 1st graders could explain single and double digit addition using a device and their own knowledge to arrive at that point of knowing the what, the why and the justification.

 

How different might your classrooms look if you used these three questions? And for those of you wearing your parent hat, give it a try.

 

Rather than asking the traditional, “What did you learn at school today” or “How was school today,” try the three questions, preferably in an open-ended, low stress, non rapid-fire approach and see for yourself how, when used regularly, the world of reflection and personal learning are expanded.

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