Tag: questioning

#Inquiry: Transforming Learning Objectives and Intentions.

#Inquiry: Transforming Learning Objectives and Intentions.

I had an Aha-Moment this week and I am bursting to share it! You see I grew up and was trained in the American school system so most of my pedagogical schema is steeped in a Standards-Based Approach to teaching and learning. Lessons must have learning objectives, which usually are framed around the State’s curriculum or nowadays there is the Common Core. When I write or state the objective on the board, there is a magnetic pull that drives the learning towards meeting that goal. I get tunnel vision and achieving this standard becomes a primary focus, if not for the day, then for the week. But can we still attain the skills and knowledge in the curriculum without letting the learning intention be the end-all/be-all in our lessons?

Let me just set the stage for my lightbulb moment:

One of my colleagues had said earlier this year that she feels like when you do inquiry it seems like you have to always make the students guess what they are learning about. It’s as if learning intention is a mystery. And so herein lies the challenge with inquiry-based learning when it meets the standards-based curriculum training. Is there a happy medium? And I think I found the answer and the answer is YES!

Compliments of the wonderful teachers at VIS, Mr. David, and Mr. John!

Did you catch that? In the example above, they just open up the lesson  with a question and it naturally covered standards that would be typically on the board or stated as you tell your students what they would be learning about in that 4th-grade lesson:

  • Use the four operations with whole numbers to solve problems. (Common Core)
  • checking reasonableness of answers. ( Singapore Mathematics Syllabi)
  • Know multiplication and division facts for the 2× to 10× tables (Cambridge)

If you’re a PYP teacher then we are always packing our unit planners with “teacher questions”.  I already was well aware that questions are vital for inquiry teaching and learning. But it never occurred to me that I could or should turn the learning intention/objective into a question. It totally changes the dynamic of the lesson, in which a clear path of learning is set yet there is still enough space for curiosity and divergent thinking.

So I’m going to start transforming my WALT (W.hat we A.re L.earning T.oday) into questions so that students have a goal and purpose for learning. And then I’d like to end with a student reflection: Did we answer the question? Why or why not?

I think when we shift from Telling To Asking, we start moving away from didactic approaches and move into curiosity and student agency. I’m going to test out this tweak and I invite others to do the same so that more student interest and inquiry can be sparked.

Teaching with Intention: 4 Ways for Improving Formative Assessment

Teaching with Intention: 4 Ways for Improving Formative Assessment

I’ve been binge watching webinars by Dr. Dylan Williams, and if you don’t know who that is, well am I glad you came to my blog because I am going to share of some of his techniques for embedded formative assessment. His ideas have really made me take pause when it comes to assessment for learning in my classroom. There’s no way I could distil all his wisdom into this blog post but I will offer you 4 techniques that he has shared in one of his recent books on assessment.

  1. Plan your questions!  Questions should be clearly focused and link to the key concepts of the lesson. The questions should be worth asking and answering. Those questions should “hinge” on the direction that the learning needs to go next.
  2. No hands up, except to ask a question. This can be a powerful technique in improving student engagement. With this strategy, you ask the question first, then pick a student at random. Picking students at random can be as simple as using Popsicle sticks with student names on it (put the names BACK into the container though so they don’t think that their turn is over and they disengage), or using a tool like Class Dojo which can randomly select students (although awarding points for their answer is not necessarily encouraged).
  3.  Wait! And Wait AGAIN! After posing a question, give it a 3-5 second pause. Dr. Williams suggests that you let the students know that you are providing them more time to think so that students don’t rush and give more thoughtful answers. And then after a student answers, give wait time again so that students can reflect on the idea given. As teachers we shouldn’t be in a hurry to validate or correct answers. We should allow students the opportunity to respond to the idea shared.
  4. Avoid questions altogether. It has been suggested that asking questions shuts down discussion because there is a “right” and “wrong” answer. So, if you have reluctant learners, sometimes its best to provide a statement and have students evaluate the idea and give justifications for their response. For example: “Donald Trump claims that the election is rigged.”  Right now, especially if you are an American, you began to think whether you agree or disagree with that statement. You can imagine how discussion could ensue from this statement, right?!

So hopefully these ideas will elicit some inspired action in your classroom this week. And if you can’t do them all, then what can you do? What is one small step, one idea, that you can take to improve how your generate and use formative assessment in your classroom?


Ancient World, Modern Times

Ancient World, Modern Times

Have you ever taught a unit that you wanted to do over again-either because you bombed at it or because it was so engaging? Well I’m closing the year on a high because this unit went so much better than expected.

Our central idea was: Ancient civilizations have influenced many things in our modern world.

The art teacher and I decided to use the Greek civilization as our model for an influential civilization. The history of us provided the fodder for our discussions and then we began to talk about the Greek philosophers as we began tuning into and engaging into our unit. The students were intrigued by Socrates, mostly because he drank poison. These lively stories cultivated a keen interest in crafting questions that “hurt our brains” to think about, as we explored metacognition.  img_9429-1

As we delved into aspect of the Greek civilization, I decided that I would focus on reading content of our unit on myths and legends, Greek and Latin roots in our English words, while developing their listing and speaking skills. I provided a variety of media sources other than books, and decided to introduce them to podcasts to add a twist to the listening skills. Listen Current  was a great resource and provided listening guides for their podcasts which was very ELL friendly and helped us to tackle challenging vocabulary terms.

I asked them what ancient cultures they were curious about and explained that we would do podcasts, in which they interview each other about their civilizations.They were so excited, which genuinely surprised me. It was hilarious to see them craft questions for these interviews that were meant to “hurt each other’s brains”, going deeper than their typical questions.  We used the app Spreaker Studio to create very simple podcasts.

The podcasts took longer than I expected, as they needed more guidance with writing scripts and all those tricky questions made it a bit of a challenge to find research materials that were at their reading levels. However, it created a need to find multiple sources of information and it was a true RE-SEARCH unit, in which they had to keep reading, watching videos and keep looking for information on the internet.  They would stop and discuss their civilizations naturally and made a lot of great connections. The students researched the Aztecs, Chinese, Egyptians, Incas, Mesopotamians, Mayans, Norse, Romans and Nubians.


My co-teaching partner and I had talked about having the kids put together a “museum of ancient history” as summative task, but the podcast ended up taking up more time than we expected and instead we had them decide to take something that we take for granted in our modern world and trace it back to its ancient roots. Students chose topics that resulted from some things that they learned about from these podcasts–from armor to lipstick, from books to medicine. It was a rich variety of topics. The kids made “fortune tellers” that described the why and how of this invention, and then they shared them, taking turns with each other.





Although I would do things a bit differently if taught again, it is a good feeling to know that our students can appreciate the drive, creativity and curiosity of ancient people. I was generally concerned if this was too heavy of a history unit, but the curiosity and motivation sustained itself.





Have you ever taught a unit that you thought would be awful and turned out great OR vice-ver
sa, you thought it was going to be wonderful and turned flat? I wonder what makes students’ so committed to their research on topics.



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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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