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The author responds: Teachers asks first, then students emulate

Posted By: Stanley Pogrow on October 18, 2004
Stan Pogrow replies:

We would agree that having students asks question of the teacher and each other is an important key goal. The question is means.

When students do not understand understanding, they have no clue what this process is about asking questions because they encounter very little verbal interaction in their lives, and that which they do, is generally of a directive nature. They are not able initially to engage in any kind of sophisticated verbalization-let alone to ask questions. It is completely culturally non-intuitive.

So what is the means to achieve the desired end of students asking questions?

The process has to be one akin to how children learn to talk. they emulate ongoing modelling by parents in a social bonding process. The same is true of getting students to ask questions. By having the teachers constantly ask questions, constantly probe student answers, around tasks that are interesting to students, and providing a safe and supportive haven for them to take risks and respond, and get praised for good thinking, students begin to internalize the process. For some it takes 3-4 months. for others it takes a whole year. But they start to switch they mode of personal interactions. they not only get to be more reflective and strategic, they also become more questioning.

There is one feature in HOTS called 'invite a friend' day, wherein HOTS students can invite a friend to the HOTS lab. Generally, they invite kids who they think are the smartest in the class (though we did have a case where one student invited the mayor--who declined to come). HOTS students then show their guest what they have been doing. HOTS students are amazed at first to discover that their smart friend is unable to do what they have been successful at. They then start to "instruct" their friend. Teachers constantly report that they are amazed as to how their HOTS students go about this process. They completey emulate the methods used by their teacher, down to hand gestures. ...and yes, they "teach" their guest by asking questions. They have internalized the process and their conversations with each other are now laced with questions because their whole sense of what it means to communicate has been altered-and they naturally ask questions of each other.

At this point HOTS does incorporate specific techniques to have students develop questions around content learning as a tool for developing overall comprehension skills, such as developing crossword puzzles around content from their regular curriculum.

In this case you can train teachers all you want to get students to ask questions, but the disadvantaged students will simply "stare" in response--no matter how good the staff development--simply because the process requires far more intensive socialization and time than the regular classroom/content teacher can possibly devote to it.

It is critical to understand that the primary lesson of HOTS is that you cannot simply try to help disadvantaged students by immediately immersing them in traditional progressive ideals. These ideals can be achieved, but only after an intensive preparation effort to develop a sense of understanding, which is what HOTS does quite efficiently. This is not only true for the example of discovery approaches to math and science, but it is also true for the goal espoused by Narjorie, and for so many other ends that the readers of this journal rightly aspire for the disadvantaged to achieve. The means need to be different for a period than the ends--in order to achieve the ends.

The primary message of my article is that we can achieve the progressive ends, but these are ends, and the means must be different for a period for disadvantaged students. If Narjorie can hold off for a period on the ideal espoused, and let the sense of understanding evolve first, then you will not be able to stop the students from asking questions. I am confident that Narjorie would be thrilled as to how HOTS students interact once they have developed a sense of understanding.

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 Thinking and questions by Marjorie Larner on October 11, 2004
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