“Why do you think we decided to beat Russia to the moon?” was a question asked recently in a middle school science class. One student who had his hand in the air was called on and gave an answer. “Nope, that’s not it,” the teacher responded. Other hands waved to invite recognition. Some students simply waited patiently for the teacher to tell them the correct answer.
The scenario above is not untypical. The teacher’s reaction to the first student’s response was a common one, so common that students simply accepted it. No one thought much about it and the lesson continued. What the teacher and students did not realize is that the main lesson here had nothing to do with the reason our country desired to be first to land on the moon. Instead, the primary lesson was: thinking is not important and will not be valued in this classroom.
We wish the first student had responded to the teacher with, “Hold on. I thought you asked me what I thought was the reason we decided to beat Russia to the moon. I told you what I thought. How can that not be the right answer? It was right for me. Any other reason is not what I thought and therefore, incorrect. Did you want me to tell you what I was thinking or to guess what you think is the right answer?”
“What do you think,” questions do not always encourage real thinking in classrooms. Not if what they really communicate is, “What do you remember the right answer to be?”
An appropriate Teacher Talk Advantage response to the student’s answer has to affirm and encourage thinking. It would honor that one person’s thinking answer could well be different than another person’s thinking answer. We recommend that you verbally acknowledge and paraphrase following a student’s answer.
Student 1: “I think we are a competitive culture and we want to be first at everything.”
Teacher: “So you see our country as competitive and needing to win.” (Acknowledges and paraphrases.)
“Who has another possibility?” (Communicates that there are different possible right answers here.)
Student 2: “It could be because we wanted to plant our flag and claim the moon as ours.”
Teacher: “Kind of like believing that if we were there first we get to keep it.” (Acknowledges and paraphrases.) “Who has a different thought?” (Communicates that there are different possible right answers here.)
Thinkers do not always come to the same conclusion. Their thinking may concur with others or it may not. If you teach students what to think you are not teaching them how to think. You are teaching them how to agree with you and that real thinking will not be appreciated here.
What do you think?
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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