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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Five Elements of Effective Thinking (Raise Questions)

We're looking at Burger and Starbird's The Five Elements of Effective Thinking, chapter 3: Be Your Own Socrates.

Summary: Questions are one of the most powerful tools we have in critical thinking. Questions open us up to possibilities; they expand our horizons; they lead us down new paths. We need to learn how to form quality questions, and to tell more fruitful questions from less fruitful ones. Questions are how we explore ideas. We need to learn to formulate our own questions.

Critical Quotes:

"Constantly formulating and raising questions is a mind-opening habit that forces you to have a deeper engagement with the world and a different inner experience." (p. 74)

"Alternative perspectives lead to new sights and new insights." (p. 78)

"If you can't create the questions, you're not ready for the test." (p. 79)

"It's what goes on inside your head that makes all the difference in how well you will convert what you hear into something you learn." (p. 84)

"The real goal is for students to develop skills and attitudes that will allow them to independently think through the complications of life and find ways to learn for themselves." (p. 93)

"Ideally, the goal of education should be to develop critical thinking and communication skills and other such mind-strenthening abilities." (p. 93)

"The right questions can be incredibly powerful tools for understanding and learning. Great questions can lead to insights that will make a difference.... Questions give us a breath of inspiration and insight;" (p. 93)

Ben's Thoughts

A few years ago I went to a professional development day that was all about using the Socratic (questioning) method in the classroom. I didn't completely convert my classroom to this method, but it occurred to me that an authentic learning environment should be more about good questions than a stream of information. Before that day, a lot of my classes had revolved around me disseminating information, and then me generating questions, and my students trying to remember the information and apply it to my questions. This is a pretty standard methodology that is widely applied throughout the American educational system. But, as I reflected upon it, it seemed backwards. Really, the questions should come from a developing dialogue in the classroom; students should have as much input into the questions as I do, and we should be partners in seeking answers to questions, rather than me just spewing information at them.

Of course, part of any classroom needs to be instruction. There is always a time and place to demonstrate a technique or to convey a piece of critical information. But, from that point forward, I tried to become much more aware of my questions in the classroom, and to think about the kind of questions I was asking, and to try to use questions in my classroom as a tool to help lead students and to help them build their own understanding of a topic. When I taught Latin, my example was that I would teach students the critical translation questions to ask (Part of speech? Case? Number? Gender? Tense? Voice? Mood? etc.) so that they could learn to ask themselves those questions. Eventually, we got to a point where many students could parse the Latin on their own and craft a respectable translation.

Even now, as a math teacher, many students want me to solve their problem for them, and there's certainly a time to give students examples of how to work certain kinds of problems, but just as often, I step back and say, "What do you think? How would you solve this problem? What are your options?" This is much more difficult than just showing the student a solution, but it builds their ability to work at problems, which is more important than solving any particular problem.

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