Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Motivating Questions

After reading Richard Curwin’s Edutopia blog entitled, “Questions Before Answers: What Drives a Great Lesson?,” I reflected on my own practice and what motivated my students.

While I was a social studies teacher, I found that my students were not terribly motivated to learn history - regardless of the questions I asked.  Wanting to make the study of WW I more relevant to the class of 13 year-olds sitting in front of me, I decided to ask them what they knew about WW I first.  From the beginning, I could determine there were students who knew a great deal about WW I, some who knew almost nothing, and a majority of them were confusing WW I with WW II.  I put all their knowledge about WW II in a “parking lot” for later.  In pairs, I had them take the information they had just brainstormed and organize it in a way that made sense to them.  The chatter soon started as they engaged in asking each other questions.  As their “Ticket to Leave,” I had them generate those questions on paper. 

Most of the questions I would be answering in my lessons, however, there were a few questions that I had not considered before. After school, I generated a list of all the questions my students wanted answered about WW I, which I posted on the back bulletin board.  At the beginning of the next period, students claimed ownership of their particular questions as they gravitated to the back of the room.  This started an animated discussion about WWI.  Each day my students would inform me which questions they could now answer based on previous day’s lessons or reading assignments.  Those questions then became the quiz for the following day.  Each day, students became more and more motivated to answer those questions I was not addressing.  They would present their findings at the beginning of class; this almost always generated more questions.  Students who normally didn’t participate, started researching such topics as uniforms, medals, weapons, battles, generals, etc.  I taught the material outlined in the curriculum and my students added all the information that made the topic interesting to them. 

The unit test told me that this particular group learned more about WW I then in any previous year.  Their final exam indicated that they were able to retain the information.  As an additional bonus, my students reported that working on the WWI unit was the most fun they had ever had in learning about a war in social studies class.  We were onto something spectacular and the students were eager to tell me what they wanted to know about the next unit of study, The Roaring 20s.  Finding questions that mattered to students, increased motivation.  Having them generate those questions was far more engaging