The Questions I Still Ask…and Shouldn’t!

Several weeks ago in my statistics class at different points in the lesson I asked the questions, “Does everybody understand?” and “Does this make sense?” After each question, multiple students responded with clear explanations articulating the important ideas from the lesson. And then I awoke from my dream because this NEVER happens after I ask those questions! Almost always I gain very little information about students’ reasoning from asking these questions. I recognize this is a problem and I am working to find solutions. I have told my students that if I ask the class either of those questions you are more than welcome to ask me, “What is it that you want me to understand?” or “What is it that you want me to make sense of?” The greater challenge for me is that I need to think about better, more specific questions, that help me get a sense of what I want my students to truly understand. The charge I have given myself is to think about the three to five most important understandings I want students to gain from the lesson and create questions that will help me gain information about their understanding of those ideas.

This charge has forced me to think more deeply about what I want students to understand and how I need to structure learning to make this happen. For example, in statistics, this past week we spent time examining the meaning of correlation, a measurement of the strength and direction of a linear relationship between two variables. At the end of the explanation instead of  asking, “Does everybody understand?” I asked “What would be the correlation between two variables whose scatterplot revealed a relationship represented by a horizontal line?” Instead of simply a head nod response to “Do you understand?” , the question forced students to reflect deeply on the meaning of the measurement of correlation and the meaning of strength, direction, and linear relationship in this context. The ensuing discussion required students to present an explanation that provided clear evidence of their understanding. I would consider this a success because I learned so much more about their understanding of correlation and I believe the ensuing discussion deepened their understanding of the idea. Also, it forced me to think more deeply about what I wanted them to understand about correlation.

– Patrick

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