Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Making Civics Real Workshop 3: Public Policy & the Federal Budget  
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Workshop 3

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Teacher Perspectives: Questioning strategies

Leslie Martin: I use a questioning strategy in a variety of ways. I believe that teaching vocabulary is basic to any area of study. If you don’t know the foreign language of biology or civics or French, you can’t speak the language. I also believe that you have to know what the word means rather than reiterate something straight out of the book. One of the most basic questioning strategies that I use is I will ask an easy question: “What is the Bill of Rights?” A student will say, “It’s the first 10 amendments.” I will say, “Now, tell me why it’s important and what’s meaningful about it? Tell me what image comes to your mind when you think of the Bill of Rights.” I am consistently saying, “Ok, great answer. Now put it in your own words.”

The second [type of] questioning I use is something I have developed. It builds on not just knowing the definition but asking questions [like] “If that’s true, why is that true? Where does that come from? What makes you think that?” What I am trying to do is to get at all that stuff that goes behind the meaning of a word. I ask questions to make sure they understand themselves. By asking an open-ended or high-level question, they have to look inside and articulate the concept they are talking about in their own words.

I like to throw out a word and say, “Okay, tell me what that means.” I also ask them to expand. I have a tendency to say, “Go on, go on.” I want to do that in the small groups. I have seen one student say to another, “I don’t understand. Tell me what you mean. Explain it to me.” It’s students teaching each other [and] discovering through questioning how much they actually know.

I get kids to participate in a variety of ways. One of the techniques that I use is [to] say, “Who has not participated yet?” I will even put my hand in front of a child and say, “Put your hand down. I’ve heard from you four times already.” I’m not saying that, but my hand is. Sometimes I directly call on students. Sometimes I even say the next question is going to be yours. Sometimes, if I’m in the audience and I’m listening to a presentation, I help the students decide whom to call on but I’ve even gone so far as to give a question to a quiet student for them to ask. Sometimes it’s just breaking that ice. I want everybody to participate and it doesn’t work all the time. If I know a child is particularly interested in a topic and it’s affiliated I’ll push it a little bit and say, “Okay, what do you think about that, William?”

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