Saturday, October 6, 2012

All Questions Are Not Equal

In the crevices of time while supervising a 10th grade field trip for 4 days this past week, I’ve been reading journals on Cry, the Beloved Country. The column for the chapter summary demonstrates, as usual, variable thoroughness and grasp of what is important, and the the column for a question/quotation/response/connection regarding each chapter demonstrates, as usual, variable insight and depth of probing. Here are 2 sample responses involving questions:
  • “How does sorrow enrich?” => Once sorrow comes, we can’t redo things, but we can amend again; but fear is eternal suffering. “For fear impoverishes always, while sorrow may enrich” (140).
  • “Why did he talk with him?” 
In the never-ending search to define what makes a great answer great, and how the thinking that produced that answer can be broken down and taught, I think I’m onto something about the questions. Asking questions is a reading strategy, but kids catch on pretty quickly to the form of what we reward with smiles or good grades--the problem is how to teach them the actual thinking behind the form. 

Good, probing, insightful questions and assignment completers--what makes my gut categorize a response as one category or the other? I've been mulling that over as I've been reading these journals, and here's what I've come up with so far: 
  • Articulation of the terms of the question. (Who is “he” and “him” in the second question above?)
  • An attempt at an answer. (A prediction, a guess, an inference, or at least a gathering of the relevant information--"Who is Sibeko?" should be followed by “Kumalo’s friend asks Kumalo to look for his daughter because Sibeko is afraid to since he is not of their church. Is Sibeko white or black? Is he related to Kumalo? Is he of a different church or of no church? Is he going to be important later?”) 
  • The location of the material questioned (quote and/or page number--otherwise I can’t answer the question, and I doubt discussion partners could, or at least, it doesn’t sound like the asker was that interested in an answer).
  • A record of the answer gotten in small group or whole group discussion. (If there is no answer recorded, all I can assume is that the student didn’t follow up. What I know is the answer, if received, will be of no help in any interaction with the text later--paper or presentation.The answer after the question at the beginning of this article is either a brilliant hypothesis or else an paraphrase of my in-class answer to this question rephrased in a way that demonstrates understanding. My answer was much longer.)
Looks like I’m well on my way to a better rubric for next year’s journal than I had for this year’s. And maybe helping students think and read better--if they know exactly what it looks like.

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