Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Compare and contrast...

The road to student failure is littered with teachers' assumptions.

I thought I had prepared a decent lesson. We looked at a "compare and contrast" open-ended question. I carefully reviewed what each term meant. The students seemed to get it.
Compare and contrast two categories of pure substances,
and give two examples of each.
One of my bouncy but bright students (think Tigger in Winnie the Pooh) screwed his face into an improbable knot of flesh.


Um, do you know what "compare and contrast" mean?
He gave a reasonable answer.

So what's the problem?

"There's no question here."

It's right here Tigger. See?
I read the question to him

"But there's no question!"

And then I realized what he meant--there was no question mark. And he was right--there was no question posed.

This is my third year--most of my students are not the bouncy fellas Tigger is, and most would have sat there in silence.

This is a humbling business.


Doug Noon said...


During a math lesson earlier this year, on a morning when the kids seemed exceptionally inert, I asked, "What is math?" The Tigger character in my class blurted out, "Following directions!"

Sadly, he wasn't being sarcastic.

How do we undo this now?

Louise Maine said...

I am doing inquiry now with all my students. They do not do well asking questions let alone thinking through answers. I guided them the first time. I think I am going to have to guide a lot more. If we can get kids to question and think, make comparisons, etc. when they are much younger do you think we may find that they are a different kind of student later?

doyle said...

Young kids ask question all the time, and they're frequently making comparisons.

I do have a (wild?) speculation. When young kids ask questions in school about how things work, we no longer allow the option of magic or gods or fate or superstition. We feed them back magic, though, when we throw scientific terms back at them as though the words themselves explain anything. Then we tell them they're silly for believing in magic.

Oh, not overtly, of course--we have that smile, the gentle concerned look. We silently wonder how this creative child will ever survive in our "rational" world.

There is no difference between abracadabra and, say, the word gravity if a teacher expects the word gravity to mean anything beyond magic to a child (or to an adult).

If a child is really paying attention (and a lot, maybe most, do early on), they learn quickly that they will be told they are wrong, and that they will not be any closer to understanding anything even if they learn the right words (which they then have to memorize and spell correctly or else they're still wrong).

How do we undo this?
Start recognizing how much magic we pass off as science in school.

Will we make a different kind of student later if we can get the kids to question and think?
No doubt, but better yet, don't discourage them with nonsense when they're still asking lower level questions.

My two cents.