Friday, January 29, 2016

MTBoS Blogging Initiative - Better Questions


Boy...when I look at the prompt for this blog post my mind goes in so many different directions. I wrote this post in which I discussed trying to use "quality questioning" in my classroom. I was not really talking about questions to put on an assignment, quiz, or test. I was thinking about questions used to do the following:

  • guide students to think deeper during discussions
  • guide a struggling student toward understanding a concept 
  • scaffold and access prior knowledge
  • defend and/or explain answers or reasoning
The prompt seemed to be more along the lines of writing questions for assignments or quizzes. I happened to attend a PD today on Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) in which we discussed asking more level 2 and 3 questions when we assess our students. Of the 4 levels of questioning we were told that the ACT and the ASPIRE assessments have very few questions that are level 1 (basic recall or computation) and the majority of questions are levels 2-3 (harder stuff...HAHA!). Anyway, the majority of textbooks are filled with level 1 questions but not many that are levels 2 and 3. 

For those of you who want to know here is a VERY brief description of Webb's DOK:

Level 1 - Recall and Reproduction - "Right there" questions where you can look it up in a book or follow steps from an example
Level 2 - Skills and Concepts - "think and search" questions where you have to put information together or categorize - these may be open to using different approaches and explanations are often required
Level 3 - Strategic Thinking and Reasoning - More than one way to approach and more than one possible answer - non-routine problems are often used here - often asked to state and support with evidence
Level 4 - Extended Thinking - Extended thinking that takes more time - possible products would be films, plays, research reports (with multiple sources), video games, documentaries, newspaper articles, etc...
(source: A Guide for Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge with Common Core Standards by Karin Hess, E.D - copyright 2013 Common Core Institute)

We were given some strategies on things to do in order to use our textbooks and resources that we have and take the questioning up a notch. One example of moving into the Level 2 questioning is to ask for "non-examples." We often ask our students to give an example of a _________ but they can demonstrate an even greater understanding of concepts if they can also give a non-example.

I had the pleasure of using two non-routine tasks with my algebra classes this week. Both of the tasks seemed impossible at first but when we continued to work toward the solutions we found that there were ways to arrive at a solution.

The first task was the Shuttling Around Problem of the Week #13 in my IMP Meaningful Math Algebra book. It is actually a puzzle where you really have to get out manipulatives to work through it. On the day we introduced the problem only one student found a solution. It took him a while but he finally videoed it so that he could email it to me as part of his POW write-up. The funny thing is that even though I stood there and watched in order to verify that he had a valid solution...I could not do it myself. So, today I allowed another class some time to work on the task and I was going to sit down and figure it out myself so they would see that it was possible...but I couldn't. I called down to the classroom where the guy who found the solution was and he came to my class and showed us the solution again. After watching him do it I had several students go back and work to figure it out themselves...he and I went around the room trying to help and I FINALLY got to where I could do it. The task asks them to investigate other problems too so we weren't taking away all of their fun. It was a great way to end the week! The coolest part of this is that the student who really excelled is not an A/B student. He is rarely ever one who aces a quiz or test. He has an incredible work ethic and tries to do every thing that I ask of him. It was so rewarding for him to have an opportunity to shine!!

The other task was A Mini-POW About Mini-Camel again from our text. One of the great things about our text is the "key questions" in the teacher resources which helps you have ways to guide the students. In this one all I had to say was, "Who says you have to go straight there?" and I had students to begin to find possible solutions. I even had multiple students to go to the board to try to prove to everyone else that their answer was correct. (Here is a link to my Instagram where I posted a video of them.)

I had one student ask me why we had to do these types of problems and I told him that it is important for him to realize that just because something seems impossible at first glance it does not mean that a solution can not be found. I even told them that I may be helping to save their future marriages (haha!) because they may think one day that the only solution is to give up but remember that one time in algebra class they kept on trying and working at a task that seemed impossible only to find that there was a solution!! I know that is goofy but I got some giggles and I do hope that these problem solving skills stick with them after they leave my class.

I love that I have these tasks included in our textbooks! I wrote my last MTBoS blog about how my textbooks are my favorite tool that I use in my classroom here.