Monday, August 10, 2015

Start the Year with Good Questions!

The summer is over, and the first day of school has come in many parts of the country.  It's time to for all us teachers and our students to head back to the classroom for a new year and for a deeper teaching and learning experience.

So how are you going to start and set that deeper teaching and learning experience that experience that first week?

Let's be realistic.  That first week of school is about getting-to-know-you.  You are getting to know your students academically by giving them pre-tests and placement tests. You are getting to know them personally by having them share who they are or what they did this summer using some form of oral, written creative, or technical expression. Your students are also getting to know you by understanding what your expectations are and the procedures and rules in your classroom for behavior and turning in work.

However, along with on getting to know each other and going over routines, what if you asked these good questions?
  • What is the relationship between reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language?
  • What is math?
  • How does science explain our world and ourselves?
  • What is history and whose is it?
  • Why is it important to learn both the language and culture of a foreign country or society?
  • What qualifies as art?
  • What is music?
  • What is fitness and health?
What if you spent that first day in class having them engage in a dialogue about what they think is the meaning or intent of these academic areas and subjects they are going to learn this year?  How could this serve as a pre-assessment for background knowledge and previous learning?  How could their responses provide you some insight into their their opinions, perspectives, and thoughts about these academic areas?

Instead of assigning an essay that asks who they are or what they did this summer or even completing a personal information sheet, what if you have them compose or create an academic autobiography in which they explain and express the following in a single or multi-paragraph essay:
  • What kind of student are you?
  • How strong do you think or how successful have you been in this particular academic area?
  • What has been your greatest accomplishment or your fondest memory in learning this subject?
  • What would encourage you to continue enjoying learning this subject or to enjoy learning this subject more than you have in the past?
  • How could learning this subject continue to be or become a better experience for you?
Think about how much information and insight you would obtain about your students!  You will not only know and understand from where they are coming but also what kind of students they are (or perceive themselves to be) and how you could address their needs academically and even socioemotionally.  Have them write their Language Artsography, their Mathography, their Scienceography, their Historyography, or whatever subject they are currently learning and you are currently teaching them.  

If you're going to give a final exam as part of your class, what if you told your students what the questions will be on the final or even have them take the exam during the first week of school?  I learned this technique from Ken Blanchard, author of the One-Minute Manager book series who would give his exam on the first day of class.  It not only informed my students of what would be expected of them but also set the instructional focus for the entire semester.

As you return to your classrooms this year, shift your instructional delivery and focus.  Instead of spending that first week telling students what they need to know, understand, do, and what is expected of them, ask good questions to stimulate their thinking about what they are about to learn.  Then introduce the subjects and topics to which they will be address and responding.  Watch the learning environment shift from one that focuses on teaching and telling to learning through inquiry and interest. 

Let me know how your students react and respond, and have a great first day!

- E.M.F


  1. You offer some really great questions to spark discussion and stimulate thinking but I don't think substituting them for routines and procedures is a good idea. In elementary school, teaching routines and procedures is essential to the start of a new school year. I can envision incorporating a combination of the two.

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