Friday, September 2, 2011

What do you want to know?

Grand Valley started this week. And, as usual, I began my Introduction to Learning and Assessment course with a workshop called "A Piece of Me" (handout). This involves an activity that was introduced to me over 14 years ago during an Integrated Thematic Instruction class. I wish I could remember the presenters so I could give them credit but that information has long since vanished from my memory and my files. If anyone knows the origin of this activity, please let me know so that I can give credit where it is due. Anyway, here is how I implement the activity.

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Goal: The learner will ask questions in order to get to know the instructor/course.

Schema Activation: Whole Class Discussion
When you meet someone, What do you want to know about him or her?

Focus: Expectations - Small Group

  • Develop one personal and one professional question to ask the instructor.
  • During the activity, keep a record of each question that is asked.
Activity: Asking and Recording Questions
I begin this portion by saying something like, "I reserve the right to decline answering any question. I have been doing this for many years, in K12 and college classrooms, and I have never had to refuse answering a question. Now this is not a challenge for you to be the first group to come up with the unanswerable question. It is intended to demonstrate that this can be used at any level - even with middle schoolers who are known for their inappropriate questions."

We then move on to the groups asking their questions. I respond providing answers and other related information that I think they'd like or need to know. After all the groups have asked their questions, if time permits, I ask if there's anything else anyone would like to know about me or the course.

Reflection: Looking Back - Small Group Analysis
  • From your list of questions, pick one that you think was an effective question. What made it effective?
  • If you finish early, pick another effective question and describe what the two question have in common or consider an ineffective question and rewrite it or ... (What comes next for you?).
  • How engaged were you during this activity?
I end the workshop by getting some feedback from the participants. The consensus seems to be that this activity is much more engaging than what they imagine it would be like for me to talk at them for forty minutes about what I think they need to know. They appreciate that they control the activity with their questions. They acknowledge that they are much more interested in my points because I am responding to their questions.

Because they are teachers in training, I let them in on a few secrets behind the activity: 1) I am still in control of what I share and usually get to say what I think is important regardless of what they ask; 2) I use the questions they ask as a formative assessment that provides data on what they find interesting; and 3) The activity is much more engaging for me as well because I do not know what I will be asked. (One time it was what my favorite sandwich was.)

I follow this workshop up with a home workshop where they apply the same strategy of asking questions to reading the course syllabus (handout). This is another activity that I have decided I won't waste time doing in class. They post their questions on our course Blackboard site and I address them directly on the discussion board or during subsequent class meetings.


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Now it is your turn. Any questions?

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