One of my favourite questions

Many of my posts lately have focussed on the importance of metacognition, self-reflection and self-efficacy in education. Whilst I come from the position of being a mathematics teacher, I believe that many of the principles can be applied across KLAs to enhance students’ learning experiences.

To promote self-reflection in the classroom I ask students a reflective question at the end of every lesson. Mid-way through my second year of teaching I realised that the last few minutes of the lesson were dead time: students were getting restless because they knew the lesson was finishing and there was very little quality learning taking place (quality clock watching perhaps though). I considered how I could use this time more constructively, and ultimately decided to devote this time to reflective questioning.

I developed a set of reflective questions, which I continue to add to. I pose these questions to students at the conclusion of every lesson. I allow students ‘thinking time’ to consider their responses. By allocating thinking time students have heightened perception of the importance you place on their responses: you want them to deeply consider their thoughts and you’re really interested in their feedback. Typically I call on four to five students at random. I try and mix it up, so different students are asked each lesson. If students wish to volunteer a response I welcome this too.

I ask students to be as specific as possible in their responses. Instead of answering “not trying hard enough” or “this isn’t interesting” prompt them to go deeper, and develop the quality of their response “I don’t complete my homework because I’m spending to much time on Facebook” or “I don’t understand the purpose of this work.”

If a student says they can’t think of an answer I let them know that I’ll ask a few other students for a response and come back to them. This gives them some more thinking time and allows them to hear some examples of other students’ responses. If I a student is asked for a response they give it. All students know this is the expectation and they support it.

One of my perennial favourite questions is ‘what is stopping you from meeting your potential in maths at the moment?’ I like this question for a number of reasons:

  1. The emphasis is placed on the individual student, supporting the notion of student-centred learning. Each student’s contribution is heard and accepted as meaningful. Consider the last time you regularly sought students’ opinions and thoughts in the classroom, rather than answers to questions you pose.  Daily reflective questions means I hear their thoughts and opinions daily.
  2. Students are forced to acknowledge what specific behaviours they are doing (or not doing) that is limiting their potential. I tell my kids that I’m not interested in “he distracts me” or “she keeps talking to me” I want to hear what they specifically are doing. This is effective in dealing with the ‘victim’ mentality possessed by some students, who can be inclined to blame others for their failure. In accepting that their behaviour is within their control they are more likely to change it.
  3. In recognising they are not reaching their potential students accept that they are capable of more. It is easy to accept the status quo: this is how it is, and how it always will be. It is imperative that we step back and acknowledge that we are limiting our potential in some way and develop strategies for overcoming these limitations.
  4. Hearing students’ feedback enables me to make changes to my teaching so that it is better tailored to the needs of my kids. If not understanding the purpose of the work is a concern, I can make sure I make this more explicit in future lessons. If a particular area of the material is concerning, I can work with students to develop their understanding.
  5. Identifying what’s limiting their success makes explicit factors that are limiting success so that these can be overcome. It’s difficult to improve when you don’t know (or acknowledge) what you’re doing wrong.
  6. Finally, there is great capacity for goal setting. Once students acknowledge and make explicit what’s limiting their success they can make specific goals (and strategies) to overcome these limitations. With small, achievable, self-devised goals, there is a more clear path to improvement.  

I like to run, although I didn’t start running consistently until December last year. Over the weekend I competed in a half marathon, finishing in 1:45:32. I apply these same questions to my training and it forces me to improve. I consider what type of runs I’m doing, what type of effort I’m putting in, how I feel, what my nutrition is like, if I’ve had enough water, am I doing the right strength work and so on. I also examine what aspects of my personal life are impacting my performance. I contemplate how each of these areas could be improved, and how I am limiting my capacity to reach my potential.

Asking these questions means acknowledging my weaknesses, but also celebrating my strengths. It means accepting that I’m not perfect, but developing avenues for improvement.

What’s stopping you from meeting your potential is one of the most powerful questions an individual can ask themselves and others. It’s applicability is not limited to maths, or even academics, but can be applied to a range of scenarios: from sport to relationships.

Think about it: what’s stopping you from achieving your potential?

What are you going to do about it?

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About madelinebevs

Mathematics teacher and researcher. Runner. I'm excited by mathematics education. Having taught high-school mathematics for several years I am currently studying a Master of Education (Honours) in mathematics education, with the aim to ‘upgrade’ to a PhD later this year. My research is addressing how the constructivist epistemology (more specifically explicit instruction in metacognitive and self-reflective strategies) influences students’ affective domain. Mathematics education and research excites me greatly. I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to write and work in this area. This blog will be (mostly) a collection of opinion pieces published several times a week on contemporary issues in mathematics education, with an Australian focus. More often than not topics will be generated from recent news headlines.
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6 Responses to One of my favourite questions

  1. Mark says:

    Great post Madeline. It’s interesting to see the impact of thinking routines. They can be a helpful formative assessment tool. http://www.old-pz.gse.harvard.edu/vt/VisibleThinking_html_files/03_ThinkingRoutines/03a_ThinkingRoutines.html

  2. Fiona Boughey says:

    I have just discovered your blog and I really liked this post, in fact, I completely agree about that end of lesson restlessness. I am going to try the reflective question idea next term. Within your questioning routine, do you ask the students to reflect on whether they have achieved the lesson outcomes?

    • madelinebevs says:

      I vary my questions each day, but asking them to reflect on whether they have achieved outcomes is a great one. If they have/haven’t ask them why: what’s stopping them/what did they do today that helped them learn etc. I like to have behavioural, as well as academically focused questions.

      Sometimes I ask them to pick what they think the key message for the lesson is, other times I ask them what they’ve done to fail to meet their potential in class that day. Sometimes I ask them things like ‘what is the main thing you need to work on to improve your understanding of the work from today.’

      I might do a more full post on this in the next few days, explaining in more detail what types of questions I ask.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: Why I blog | matthitude

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