1. What will you ask? Plan your questions in advance. Know your objective and plan questions that will support students’ deep understanding around that objective.
2. When will you ask? If you plan to ask two questions during a read aloud, sticky note them in the text. Maybe you are interested in students discussing their opinion about a topic you will dig deeply into during class. You may want to ask once in the beginning of class, and again toward the end of class.
3. Encourage thinking. One sure fire way to avoid critical thinking is to ask a question, and immediately begin accepting rapid fire answers from a sea of waving fingertips you’re pretty sure are attached to students in your class. How will you ensure students think before they speak? Will you give them 30 seconds of silent think time? Will you ask them to stop and jot on a sticky?
4. Honor their ideas. So, you’ve created a situation where all 25 of your students have stopped and really thought about how a pink square of chewing gum would change after 10 minutes of saliva rich, horse-like chomping. They thought!! There was smoke coming out of their ears, their sticky-notes are full and their sitting at the edge of their seats! Now what? Which two students will share in the 3 minutes you have? How will your choice impact student motivation the next time you ask a question? Consider a participation structure from the New Teacher Center’s Oral Language Development Website like a Turn and Talk or a Write-Pair-Share, with the idea that those who are doing the talking are doing the learning. (No pressure!!)
5. Encourage Listening. One of the reasons discussion is such an important skill, is because as life-long learners, we seize the opportunity to learn from someone each time we engage in a discussion. If we truly want our students to learn to do the same, we must teach them to listen. (I laugh every the teacher in the the Turn & Talk video describes what turn & talk looked like in September~ she is SO right!!) One way, is to encourage students to share out after they discuss in partnerships or small groups. Here’s the secret, “Boys & Girls, I’d like you to think about what interesting, new ideas your partner shared with you during the conversation you just had. Who heard something they hadn’t yet considered and would like to share with the class?”
I can’t wait to hear how your Monday goes! Remember, we’re thinking about one domain each week. All of this deep thinking around questioning & discussion will take about 5- minutes of actual instructional time… Play with it all week- make it your own- adapt it for your students… I wonder how different if will look by Friday!
One of the most recurring topics of conversation within the groups of beginning teachers I support is teacher assistants. Some of the most common concerns I hear include:
- “I don’t know what to give Mrs. T. to do. She is always ready for the next job and I can’t keep up.”
- “She doesn’t think I should do it this way… Do you think she’s right?”
- “He knows the kids and the program better than me. How can I possibly give him directions? I’ll just follow his lead.”
- “I don’t know how to tell her that I don’t like the way she interacts with certain students.”
- “The teacher assistants aren’t getting along with each other and I’m stuck in the middle.”
It’s no surprise that this can be one of the greatest stresses for beginning teachers. A beginning teacher is often the newest member of a classroom community. In many special education settings, students remain in the same classroom for more than one school year. This often means that even the students are a part of the community that the beginning teacher is joining. There may be routines and procedures previously established that everyone knows except for the teacher. Consider an awkward pause at a party, when you are the only one that didn’t understand the reference to an inside joke. For many beginning teachers, being faced with “that’s not what we did last year” and, “Mr. G. did it a different way” can be deflating at best.
Beginning teachers generally recognize the value of having another adult support in their classroom. They have subbed in classrooms where a teacher assistant was their savior. They have heard horror stories of classrooms that should have had a teacher assistant but did not… Mostly, beginning teachers are thrilled to have the luxury of a teacher assistant and want the relationship to work. The best way to make that happen, many think, is to be nice. And luckily, the beginning teacher is pretty sure that s/he is already nice… so this should really be a non issue.
Making it Work
It’s too bad that within their studies of Educational Psychology, Differentiated Instruction, Methods of Teaching Science, Assessment Strategies and Mathematical Literacy, pre-service teachers don’t have a required field placement that focuses on management, collaboration and leadership. A semester analyzing the work of an inspiring manager whose employees always give their best effort and report feeling respected at work, would be quite a learning experience. I have yet to hear a beginning teacher tell me that s/he has such an experience… but I’m still asking and hoping! In the meantime, while I wait for the colleges to add this class for me, I do have some suggestions for teachers.
The National Association of Special Education Teachers has also provided some guidance on this subject in the articles: Communication Observation And Feedback, Intro to Working With Paraprofessionals In School, Team Building With Paraprofessionals, Paraprofessional and Supervision, Solving Performance and Interpersonal Problems & Related Services Paraprofessionals.