We teachers love to explain things! Given a choice we can stand and deliver hour long lectures on any topic that we are qualified to teach, explaining every aspect of what we are trying to teach from as many angles as possible. We do this mainly because we think explaining something in detail helps students gain so much clarity about what we are teaching. However education researchers disagree with us.
Recently the classroom consultants at Innerkern noticed something that many of our teachers do as they teach. Many of us take 10 to 15 minutes to explain something we want our students to understand and wrap up the explanation asking, "Is it clear children?" For example, let us say you're explaining the life cycle of a butterfly to a group of children. Most teachers would take about 10 minutes to explain everything about the life cycle of a butterfly, starting with the egg stage and ending with a reproductive stage. Once they explain everything about each of the four stages they wind up the explanation asking something like, "Okay children, now that we have finished the life cycle of a butterfly, is everyone clear on what happens at each stage?
The applied education researchers at Innerkern found that about 89 percent of students who responded saying, "Yes ma'am!" to this question are not really clear about the life cycle of a butterfly. This means only less than four out of 30 students in your class might have some level of clarity about the topic that you're teaching. Researchers also found that these four students are clear about the topic because they already know something about the topic being taught.
Now, here is the big question! How do you make sure that all your students are clear about whatever you try to explain during a lesson? Targeted questioning! The applied education researchers at Innerkern looked at years of research on making understanding possible in the classroom. They found that expert teachers use targeted questioning to help students become clear about what they explained during a lesson.
How do you do it? It seems that expert teachers follow three time-tested steps to ask effective targeted questions. The first step is to break your explanation into short information capsules when you plan your lesson. Let us take an example of the life cycle of a butterfly. Now this topic has four stages, namely the egg stage, the feeding stage, the transition stage and the reproductive stage. The expert teachers would break the explanation into four short information capsules. In other words you decide where exactly you would pause to check for student understanding as you explain something to your students. In the case of this topic ,there are four pauses.
The second step is to decide three or four factual questions you're going to ask when you pause. For example, let us say you decide to pause after you explain the egg stage. Design three important questions that you can ask your students about the egg stage.
At this point, you decide who you're going to ask these questions to. Usually when you ask questions during a lesson students who know the answer will raise their hand and want to give the answers. Asking students who raise their hands to answer questions will not help you get a sense of the level of clarity all your students have about what you explained. You must cold call students to answer targeted questions. You must strategically sample who you're going to ask these questions to. Expert teachers pick one student who struggles, one student who is in the middle of the class's understanding, one student who gets things quickly every time they use targeted questions.
Please remember the effectiveness of targeted questioning depends on the speed with which you can do it. A targeted question pause should not last more than a minute or two. So how would you ask the targeted questions in the case of the egg stage in the life of a butterfly?
After you finish explaining the egg stage, quickly ask, "Where do butterflies lay their eggs Abhishek?" Wait a few seconds for Abhishek to answer. Once Abhishek has answered, ask, "Where do butterflies lay their eggs on plants Aishwarya?" Wait a few seconds for Aishwarya to answer. After Aishwarya answers, ask, "When do butterflies lay their eggs Amitabh?" Wait for a few seconds for Amitabh to answer. Once Amitabh answers, ask, "Why do butterflies lay too many eggs Jaya?" Remember to ask these questions in quick succession during the lesson pause, not taking more than a minute or two for the whole set of questions. Repeat this process during every targeted question pause.
Design three questions and decide who you're going to ask these questions to during the lesson as you plan. The classroom consultants at Innerkern found that student's clarity magically improves when you ask targeted questions during the pauses as you explain something to your students.
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