Power Over Time, Part 2 OR

How Delicious is Your Questioning?

So, I had in mind to write a Part 2 to my post Power Over Time. In part two I wanted to reflect on what I know about types of questions teachers ask, and how that relates to how I feel about the use of time in the lesson, and imagine how they make the students feel about it. I was going to refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy and everything.

And then I thought about how many slicers would clock on that link. I wouldn’t either!. I am boring even myself.

So here’s another approach:

Science Questions compared to Dessert- which would you rather use your time/calories on?

Vanilla wafer Question (no, not vanilla wafers in a yummy banana pudding cake. Just as is.)

• Vanilla wafer questions are where you set up a sentence with a blank and hope your class can fill in the vocabulary word.

• Example of a vanilla wafer question: What is it that magnets have two of, that make them act in different ways? Answer- poles.

I am left with a yucky, dis-satisfied feeling. Kids, too. Here’s another way-

Thin Mint question

• Example of a Thin Mint question: “How are magnets used in our lives?” Student answers, “Well, there are some trains that use magnets…”. Teachers takes over, “Very good! Maglev trains are in some countries, and they are very fast, use little energy, and need little repair. The only problem is, they are expensive to build. Remember when you used one magnet to levitate another? That’s how they work!”

• Thin Mint questions are good questions. The problem is what you do next. Do you give the student time to talk through their thinking? Or do you stop them after you hear a good word or phrase, then continue teacher-talking, inserting their answer in your next sentence and going on?

(I confess, I am prone to the Thin Mint pitfall illustrated here. I do love to talk- I mean teach. Actually, I mean talk. I love to convey information. What’s so wrong with that?

Chocolate Marengo Question (or insert your favorite, best, most satisfying and memorable dessert here)

• Like a thin mint question, Chocolate Marengo questions are open-ended, and they give students a chance to consolidate learning and make connections.
• Let’s try the same question: “How are magnets used in our lives?” Same student answer, “Well, there are some trains that use magnets…”. Teacher sits and listens. (Imagine it, when the clock is ticking and there are five other hands waving in the air.) Student says, I can’t remember what they’re called, but they can go really fast I think.” Teacher might say, “Has anyone else heard of these trains? Does anyone remember the name, or can you tell us how they might work?” And go from there. Hopefully, the discussion will bring in as many students as were waiting to talk, maybe more. Hopefully, someone will remember the word ‘levitate.’ Maybe you will invite a student to draw a picture on the board and label the poles of the magnets on the track and train, showing that we all remember that like poles repel. Probably, someone will connect it to the levitating magnets trick we all tried earlier.*

Teachers make decisions all the time. Sometimes we feel rushed to convey information. Sometimes we fall into bad habits and cheat ourselves and our students. I am reminding myself that I have the power to use my questioning time in the richest, most decadent and satisfying way possible!

*To levitate magnets, use two donut magnets on a pencil. Arrange the poles (sides) so that they are like poles and repel. One will float over the other in a most satisfying way.

7 thoughts on “Power Over Time, Part 2 OR

  1. I’ve been reflecting lately on my own questioning skills, thinking about researching the topic. Then I read this. I love the dessert levels!! Thanks for helping me think through how best to question students. And for being honest about your teach/talk. I feel this post will stick with me as I discuss things in my classroom in the weeks to come.


  2. The dessert idea works well – I definitely prefer chocolate desserts to vanilla wafers:)) Taking questions from the thin mint level to the chocolate marengo level is hard. It takes lots of practice and patience to get there – both for the kids who are dying to ask their own question and the teacher who has to decide how much to step in.
    Do you think you would use this dessert terminology with kids?
    (Carley Cano wrote a post about questioning today.)


  3. I love this idea. My favorite are the “thin mint” questions. This is such a unique way to engage the students. My favorite line is “I confess, I am prone to the Thin Mint pitfall illustrated here. I do love to talk- I mean teach. Actually, I mean talk. I love to convey information. What’s so wrong with that?” – I realized that you and I are very much alike when it comes to teaching/talking/teaching.


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