14 August 2017

I Think Therefore I Am

Why do we go to school? Is it just to learn a set of basic facts, accumulate knowledge or pass a test? Benjamin Bloom wrote, "The purpose of education is to change the thoughts, feelings and actions of students."

As a Junior School we have several key roles in the education of a child. We first must develop the child's ability to read for meaning, communicate effectively in written and oral forms, consolidate their basic number facts and their conceptual understanding in key areas of Mathematics. We must teach them the patterns and anomalies of spelling and the intricacies of sentence structure and story development. We must also aim to teach a child to love to learn, to take risks and to not be afraid to fail.

All of these are very important to a child's enjoyment of school and impacts on their ability to access the wider curriculum and offerings as they progress through a school. However, the most important skill a teacher needs to impart to their students is the ability to think.

In the craft of teaching, the questions we ask greatly contribute to the answers and outcomes we help the children to achieve. Too simple a question will result in too simple an answer. ie. "What is your favourite colour?" A simple recall of a fact or some information may have a place in test taking but it is rarely retained. In a study at a prominent school in the USA, graduating seniors were asked to return to school three months after the final exams to retake the tests. A class average of a B+ became an F grade average after the retake. The information was retained for its purpose, to pass the test, but did not impact in the students long-term skills or knowledge.

We want our students to think. The questions we ask and how we ask the students to answer greatly contributes to the development of their thinking skills. Bloom's Taxonomy identifies the six levels of thinking: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Effective questions in the classroom can ask students to use multiple levels of thinking in a single question. Providing wait time allows the student to consider their answer in a safe environment, asking them to share with a partner ensures the student is accountable for his opinion. ie. "No hands please, think for yourself for 10 seconds and then be prepared to share an answer when asked. What is the difference between a fact and an opinion?"

Asking a closed question will usually result in a simple recall type answer. Research demonstrates that 60 to 70% of questions asked tended to be at the recall level. Asking questions that challenge opinions can result in knowledge and understanding, they can ask the students to apply or analyse what they know and to evaluate their conclusions. It develops true thinking skills.

Mr John Stewart

Head of Junior School