Encouraging Students to Question Their Thinking

This year I have been working with my TRC research team to improve student conversations and understanding through questioning. It is my goal that students will not only ask questions of me but also of their team members. But how do you foster the level of trust it takes to ask questions? Students often feel that they are the only ones who don’t understand a concept and that feeling of isolation can lead them to sit back and observe rather than question their work or content knowledge.

One activity that we have all probably used at least once is an exit ticket. I’ve done them to check for understanding, to close a lesson or simply to see if I need to reteach a standard. I decided to use the exit ticket as my strategy, but added a twist. Instead of just having the students solve a problem, I had them follow it with a question about their understanding or misunderstandings.

For this particular lesson we were working on solving absolute value equations. I made sure that the equation they were asked to solve also included the dreaded fraction. I knew that some students would struggle with the problem, but what I really wanted to see was how much progress they could make and where they felt they “got stuck.” Once they had completed the problem as much as possible, they had to write a question about what they still did not understand. Some sample questions I saw were, ” I know I have to get rid of the fraction, but how do I do that?” and “I got one answer, but when you put the answer on the board there were 2. How do I get the other answer?”

As they were exiting I had them put their card into one of three self-assessment envelopes (see picture). I thought that kids would gravitate toward the green and yellow folders, but actually they placed them in the yellow or red folder. It made me realize that they were less concerned about their peers thinking they didn’t understand and more concerned that they lacked confidence in thinking they were correct.

I have repeated a similar activity several times and each time I feel as though the questions are getting more specific and the students are gaining confidence. They really like being able to ask me questions without having to do so in class. And allowing them to classify their own understanding helps them see their growth over time. Allowing my students to process their questions in a written format has given them another way to voice their understanding and promote learning.

Leave a Reply