It’s time to start questioning everything you know

Studying for your Masters is intense you guys!

You know how you used to do the Weetbix challenge on school camp? That weird thing that some teacher dreamed up in an attempt to keep kids quiet for a few moments where you had to eat a dry Weetbix and then try and whistle? Yeah well, studying at Masters level is kinda like that while you’re also trying to ride a unicycle and read something that may as well be in another language, oh, and you’re on fire! I’m just saying – I can see why study leave is a thing.

One thing that all of this study really has consolidated for me though is the idea that it’s really important to question EVERYTHING.

  • Why do we use maths books with squares rather than lines?
  • Why do you send kids out to lunch as soon as the bell rings?
  • Why do some teachers decide which coloured pens kids can use in particular books?
  • Why is it OK to have nothing but cake for lunch, only when someone is celebrating a birthday?

There are so many norms that we’re all conforming to blindly as we go about our day – I’m suggesting that we take time to hit the pause button every now and then and really think about why we’re doing the things that we’re doing. Sometimes you’ll love your answer, other times you’ll get a big fat slap in the face that tells you that there’s some brainstorming to be done. 

 

My most recent slap in the face happened while I was thinking about the good ol’ Two Stars and a Wish feedback that kids do during writing. 

 

On the surface it seems pretty sensible. Kids share their story with a buddy and then the buddy gives them a wee slip of paper with their feedback about what they liked about the story and a suggestion for how they could improve it. It’s simple, and it gives good evidence that the story has been shared. 

But, what happens if we start really questioning what is going on here?

  • What is the writer getting out of this?
  • What is the buddy getting out of this?
  • What have we asked kids to look for?
  • What message is Two Stars and a Wish giving kids about what’s important in the writing process?

Now you may be able to answer all of those questions with well thought out and excellent points about how the Two Stars and a Wish process promotes authentic feedback and student agency and blah blah blah [insert any other piece of teacher jargon here]. If you’ve reflected on it and you like your answers to those questions then that’s great- I’m not about telling anyone that what they’re doing is wrong because if we all did things the same way the kids of New Zealand would all be very very bored. But, if like me, you’re not in love with your answers to those questions then let’s unpack this thing and see what’s going on here. 

 

Let me paint you a picture:

What the teacher says: “Ok kids comment on two things you like about the story- you’ve got a little box here to write notes in.” 

What students hear: “Find a word that is spelt correctly and then see if you can find a full stop in there somewhere”. (I’m assuming that this is what they hear because it seems that surface features are quite a priority for most kids when they’re doing this activity).

What the teacher says: “Now write down one thing that you think that the author could do to improve their story.”

What students hear: “Look for a bit that you don’t like and point out that it’s wrong”. 

 

Come on now. Is this what we want to encourage kids to do and then pass it off as peer to peer feedback?

 

For me, questioning the Two Stars and a Wish framework has really opened up an opportunity to explore peer-to-peer coaching in the classroom. Imagine if rather than looking for things that they did and didn’t like, we equipped kids with some questioning techniques that they could use to guide peer feedback. I know right!

How cool would it be to hear kids saying things like:

  • Can you tell me more about …
  • Why did your character choose to …
  • What happened after …

Don’t those questions absolutely beat the pants off “I like the way you started each sentence with a capital letter”. And questioning like this as feedback is totally achievable for kids of all ages. 

 

You know how the teaching standards talk about being reflective practitioners? This is it in action. We each have an opportunity to do things the way that we believe they can be done best for our learners – let’s use our privileged positions to say ‘see-ya later’ to the parts of the status quo that aren’t serving us well. Rather than being frustrated by the system, let’s get reflective with our thinking and drive change from the inside. 

No this isn’t my pitch for the upcoming election although I can see that it sounds a bit like that hehe.  

 

That’s where my questioning has taken me lately. I’d love to know where your questioning takes you. 

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