Yesterday, Mel asked the students to turn and talk during the reading workshop mini-lesson. One of the relatively precocious girls in the room looked at her partner, gave the question some thought and said, “I have no idea.” Her partner laughed and asked this child where she thought she became confused. Then, the parter launched into her theoretical answer to Mel’s question. As I watched this interaction, both girls contributed meaningfully to the conversation and the initial sense of confusion dissipated.
In our class, we try to honor students when they integrate an unfamiliar skill, push themselves beyond their comfort zones, or experiment with new learning. I think that this child was a little surprised that she was the object of my honor after the students finished their conversations. In The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, he writes that “the habit of asking questions was most frequently mentioned as an essential component of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” Extending this concept, students need to be able to assess what they understand and where their understanding breaks down. Then, they have to be willing to admit that they don’t know something and formulate a question so that they do.
This sequence breaks down at all levels so some important skills we teach students to ask themselves are:
- Do I understand the concepts, objectives, or overall lesson?
- If I don’t, when did I stop understanding? In reading, when did my “picture become fuzzy?” In writing, when did I stop knowing what I was going to say or how it relates to the main idea of my composition/story? In math, what skill is holding be back from being able to solve the problem?
- How can I formulate a question that will clarify the information for me? We really discourage students from saying, “I don’t get it.” We want them to ask the question that targets where they don’t get it.
- Who can I ask or where can I go to find the answer? Students have access to resources far beyond the classroom teachers. We teach them to be critical consumers of information and also to use each other for collaboration and assistance.