Stealing their thinking at recess: Are you telling or asking?

Last year I wrote a post asking teachers to reflect on whether or not they are stealing their students’ thinking. At the time when I wrote that, my understanding was that an inquiry-based approach to teaching was something that happened within the classroom – an approach to academic teaching. Now as my own understanding of inquiry grows and evolves I am starting to see how inquiry as a philosophy should inform our interactions with students throughout the entire school day and extend to include those teachable moments about behaviour, personal choices and social interactions. The biggest part of the school day, where I have noticed that an inquiry-based approach is missing… is at recess.

Recently, I have tried to be an inquirer at recess and observe how teachers deal with problems and situations. More often than not I am seeing and hearing teacher telling students what they did wrong, why it was wrong and what they need to do next time.

Where’s the thinking in that?

I have to admit that before reading a blog post from @h_sopeirce about her Magic Question, I too was approaching recess interactions this way. But when I started to use the magic question “What will I see differently next time” in my conversations with students I started to see the power of asking instead of telling. I realized that for as long as we are telling students what they did wrong, why it was wrong and what to do next time, we are stealing their thinking. We are doing the thinking and reflecting for them and all they have to do is look at us and listen.

How can we expect change in their actions or behaviours without helping them reflect on and change their thinking?

How can we expect them to change their thinking, if we are doing their thinking for them?

So over the past few weeks I have been testing out ‘an inquiry-based approach’ to recess duty! Here is how it usually goes after I notice something of concern and invite the student(s) involved over for a chat:

What do you think I would like to speak to you about? 

I have found this is a key question. If our goal is to have our students be truly reflective, then they need to be the ones who notice and name their undesirable behaviour and I have yet to have a student who is unable to do so when asked this question.

Why do you think that is a problem in our school community?

I have noticed that many times I have asked this question and students truly have no idea why their choice or action is problematic. How can we expect students to behave a certain way if they do not understand the reasons behind those expectations.  I have also noticed that this question allows students to develop the understanding that sometimes expectations for school look and feel different from home and it is important to understand why in the context of school a certain behaviour or action is not welcome.

What will I see differently from your next time?

This is the magic question from the Globally Minded Counsellor. Check our her post to see why it is so magical!

And if I don’t see that next time what should I do?

This questions is an interesting one for a few different reasons. First of all because it throws the students for a loop. Most of them are thrown when they realize I am asking for their advice about what to do as a teacher. Second, the suggestions are usually grossly disproportionate to the behaviour. “Send me to the principal office” or “Call my parents” or “Expel me” are typical pieces of advice for choices  like running in the halls or throwing garbage on the floor. Thirdly, their suggestions are usually quite punitive and come in the form of punishments. This requires some guidance and reframing that my job is to help them learn about their choices and grow as people, not punish them and I am looking for a suggestions that will help them think about their choice and hopefully learn from their mistakes.

teacher telling

If we think of the golden 80/20 ratio we strive for within the classroom (where students are doing 80% of the talking and teachers are only doing 20% of the talking), perhaps we should be striving for the same ratio during recess conversations.

Afterall… whoever is doing the talking is doing the thinking. So if we are doing all the talking in a conversation with students at recess, we can be pretty sure that we are stealing their thinking.

Thoughts?

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Stealing their thinking at recess: Are you telling or asking?

  1. WanderLaur November 4, 2015 / 8:19 pm

    I love this!!! I never felt comfortable telling students these things and seeing coworkers do it, but this post clarifies why and how to fix it! You make me want to be in the classroom (and the school yard) again!
    I did notice that, during recess, when I asked students inquiry-type questions (Tell me what happened. Why do you think x student is upset about this? What could you do next time to prevent x student feeling this way? etc.), I would often get textbook answers, as though they think I’m expecting a certain answer (and I probably was, on some level). Are these answers just one step in the right direction, and eventually their mindsets will change (as teachers’ mindsets change), and we’ll get to that ideal place where we’re having real conversations?

    Like

    • tbondclegg November 5, 2015 / 2:40 am

      We miss you! Thanks for commenting. I’ve also noticed sometimes I get surface-level answers and I have to dig and probe a little further for deeper thinking. I guess in a way… Just like teaching within the classroom! Hope your adventure is going well!

      Liked by 1 person

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