Monthly Archives: February 2014

Compliance versus Engagement (Part I: Questioning)

How would you explain the difference? What is your vision for your classroom when considering that difference? What does that vision mean in terms of classroom discussion and questioning?

One of the tools we’ve been using in classroom observations is Jim Knight’s Question Chart. It breaks questions into Open and Closed questions, as well as the level of thinking required (knowledge, skills, big ideas). Questioning is just one means at deepening engagement, but a useful one.

Both Closed and Open questions have their place and open questions are not always superior to closed questions. And, closed ended questions seem to come quite naturally to us.

What did you get for #1?
How old are you?
What is the setting of the story?
Which word in the sentence is an adverb?
What is the Pythagorean theorem?
What would be the five albums you’d take to a desert island?

Which is great because closed questions are a great tool to confirm and check student understanding. It also offers verbal practice.

The limitation comes if we rely on them for goals they’re not designed to meet.

Open questions (with an unlimited number of answers, often opinion questions) are personal, catalysts for conversation, remove the fear of giving a “wrong” answer. They invite student engagement.

What would you do if you were the president when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
How does Neruda use images to move his reader?
What is an example of a system at work in nature?
How would you solve this problem?
How do people act when they treat each other with respect?

These open ended questions give more space for formative assessment, and low-risk student input.

Knight writes “In a classroom where low-level questions are being asked, there can be a palpable lack of engagement, thinking and learning…when classroom conversation is dull and lacks energy, it is often because the teacher is trying to move conversation forward with closed questions when open questions would be more likely to provoke real thinking.”

Why does this matter with Equity in Mind?

Eric Jensen speaks on how this relates to underserved students. When teachers “often assume that they need to ‘’dumb down’ the learning and accordingly end up teaching only surface understandings of labels instead of going for deeper learning. They are operating under the false assumption that [underserved] students are either unable or unwilling to engage in deeper, more complex learning. Yet highly effective teachers demonstrate repeatedly that [underserved] students not only can engage in complex learning but also prefer it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Educator to Educator Relationships Matter


The second feedback survey for the Equity Coaching position ended last Friday (many thanks to all of you who took it!) It has been a helpful tool as the district gathers data about this model as well as for us as coaches to personally pursue our areas for growth.

It’s a bit scary actually. We’ve gotten student feedback for years, but here was a survey our colleagues were invited to fill out about us (available for the eyes of various district leaders). Which lends to the question, if everyone had to do this – if all of us had our colleagues give us feedback- what would we learn?

Why it Matters:
Eric Jensen, veteran educator and brain expert, talks about the importance of colleague relationships. He says,

“Your students can see whether staff members get along and support one another. A divided staff influences students’ perceptions about the value of relationships, and when staff members aren’t on the same page, odds of success drop dramatically. Therefore, staff collaboration and collegiality are key to making your school work.”

Jensen goes on to share how this particularly impacts our underserved population. He talks about the importance of modeling healthy relationships for students who grow up in chaotic or stressed environments. He writes that children who see modeled “positive relationships learn healthy, appropriate emotional responses to everyday situations.”

Equally as important as modeling healthy relationships, we must remember we are not in this alone. Positive collegial relationships foster a healthy sense of mutual obligation. It’s not “my kids” and “those kids” but our kids. Developing trust and knowing others share this approach makes it easier to act. It’s easier to contact other teachers regarding your struggling students knowing that they have a shared investment. It easier to stop and say hi to that student you see hanging out in the hallway every third hour because even though she’s not in your class, she’s our student.

Educating youth is no small task. Building strong staff relationships is vital to student success and a healthy school culture. Whether we want admit it or not, we all have areas of growth. And if it makes you feel better, from our survey we learned we have plenty. 😉

So we invite you to reflect. What would your survey say? And how will you respond?

Want more of Eric Jensen? Check out his two books in our PD section Teaching With Poverty in Mind and Engaging Students With Poverty in Mind (extra copies arriving next week).

Leave a comment

Filed under School Culture, Uncategorized