"That's a good question."

by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

 

"What do you think Columbus would be doing for an occupation if he were alive today?"

The question above requires thinking. It allows for students to generate different right answers. It asks for application, taking something you learned in one setting and applying it to a new situation. It sure beats, "In what year did Columbus discover America." Or "What were the names of Columbus' three ships?" Both of those questions ask for simple recall and require no thinking.

"What do you think Columbus would be doing for an occupation if he were alive today?" is a question that encourages critical thinking. The educator asking this question was obviously well schooled in the art of question asking. Too bad she was not as skilled at verbally responding to the students' responses that followed her question. In the nest two minutes, without verbal skills to respond effectively, she managed to destroy any the possible thinking that this question could generate.

"What do you think Columbus would be doing for an occupation if he were alive today?" the teacher asked. "He would be driving a truck," one student offered. The teacher simply responded with "Okay" and looked for another person to call on. "He'd be working in the space exploration industry," the second student replied. That's when this teacher made the fatal Teacher Talk error that ruined her best intentions.

"Good answer," she said, not realizing that her lesson in critical thinking had just been fatally sabotaged by her unskilled verbal response. As the question and answer session continued, most of the remaining student responses clustered around NASA and the space industry. Any why wouldn't they? This teacher had verbally signaled that the space industry was the correct answer.

When the teacher replied, "Good answer," most of the thinking ceased. After all, one of the students already came up with a good answer. Who would want to risk going next? Those students who continued to think at this point offered responses that were related to the space industry. Divergent thinking had ceased to exist, leaving only clustered thinking as a possibility.

So what's a concerned educator to do? What is a meaningful verbal response to students' answers that promotes divergent thinking and increases quality and quality of those answers. In the Teacher Talk Advantage we recommend educators refrain from evaluating answers and use the Diversity Duo instead.

When you say, "Good answer," you have sent a powerful message to the student who offered the answer, the ones who gave previous answers that generated no response and the other students who had not yet offered an answer. You told them all, "I already have a good answer. You can all stop thinking now." If you really value divergent thinking, stop evaluating answers and employ the Diversity Duo verbal skill.

The Diversity Duo consists of two verbal skills linked together. They are Acknowledge and Paraphrase.

"What do you think Columbus would be doing for an occupation if he were alive today?"

"I think he would be working in the space industry."

"So, something to do with NASA then."

"So something to do with NASA then," is a reply that acknowledges "I heard you," and proves it by restating the student’s answer in your own words (paraphrasing).

"What do you think Columbus would be doing for an occupation if he were alive today?"

"I think he would be working in the space industry."

"So, something to do with NASA then."

"Who has a different answer?"

"I think he’d be driving a truck."

"Your thought is that he would be in the transportation industry in some form."

"Let me hear some more ideas."

"He might be a history teacher."

"A guy really caught up with the importance of history."

"Are there more possibilities?"

In each case above the teacher heard an answer, refrained from judging, acknowledged and paraphrased. She then asked for more answers. By doing so she increased the depth and number of student responses. Divergent thinking flourished and was seen as something  valued  in this classroom. Thinking increased as evaluation decreased.

 

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com

 

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