Do you know what your child is learning in school? – 3 Questions for the Car

Do you know what your child is learning in school? - 3 Questions for the Car

How can we take what happens naturally at home and connect it explicitly to what is happening in classrooms where formative assessment is well integrated? Or as Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn discuss in Coherence, how can we build the capacity of parents to support what teachers are asking students to do as it relates to activating themselves as learners? While there are several strategies and connections to consider, let’s start with a simple one. What if we helped parents change the way they ask questions and the questions they routinely ask? Eliciting evidence of learning is something teachers work diligently at in the classroom. As parents we are always asking our kids questions . . . questions about school, friends, activities, things undone, and many other topics. What might it look like if we taught and supported parents in asking better questions and to ask them in better ways?

This eliciting evidence of learning is one of the foundational formative assessment practices teachers work on integrating into their instruction. It provides information about student learning during instruction and allows teacher to adjust their instruction, and the students to adjust what they are doing to learn in the moment, while learning is happening. Even if the teachers of your children are not working on formative assessment practices, as a parent you can certainly look at what you are doing related to the questions you ask your children and make some modifications.

While many families strive to eat dinner together during the week, work and activities sometimes get in the way of that particular goal. Hence, my title of 3 questions for the car. Many of us drive our children a variety of places or ride public transportation with them, and often we are looking for a way to better communicate with them. My idea here is to think about the questions we ask, potentially getting some information about what they might be learning (in school or their social life), and learn to ask them better. By taking advantage of the time we have and focusing on “perfecting” three questions, you might be surprised how much more you can learn about what is happening in your child’s life.

Potential Questions

In working with teachers we ask them to consider “bumping up” their questions. For example, if they ask “Does everyone remember Murphy’s law?”, they might consider switching things around (bumping it up) and asking “What does Murphy’s law tell us?” Something as simple and familiar as “How was your day?” might become “What made you think today?” How can teachers engage parents in eliciting evidence of learning from their students? Here are a couple of ideas to consider.

If you ask this . . .Try bumping it up to this . . .
How was school today?Tell me about your favorite thing that happened today.
What did you do in school today?What’s one thing you learned in school today? It might be something to share with a friend who was absent. Or, Who helped you learn today? How did they help?
How was your ________ test?How do you feel you did on your _____ test today? What makes you think/say that?

Considerations for Asking

How we ask questions matters just as much as the questions themselves. One of the important parts of the process is allowing “wait time” or think time for students. Teachers work on posing the question, then pausing for 3-7 seconds so that students have time to think, process, and formulate a response. That is what we sometimes refer to as “wait time 1.” Then there is “wait time 2,” which is the pause after a student responds. This second pause allows the responder to think and reflect on what they said and allows their peers to do the same. Some students decide to add to their initial thinking; other students may add comments or questions. If as parents, we consider pausing after we ask a question and after our child responds, we may be pleasantly surprised by the amount if information offered by our child. This “think time” really serves as a cushion for students to think more, go deeper with their ideas, and being to share more.

In the Car

Taking advantage of the time we spend with our kids, connecting with them about what they do during the time they are in school, and learning more about what they are learning is important to us as parents. Take advantage of travel time and your natural curiosity about their lives to frame questions, ask them in a way that encourages kids to respond, and pause to listen to what they are willing to share. Create three questions that might work for you and your children. Go ahead and write them down as a prompt to yourself. Ask, pause, listen, pause, expand. You might surprise yourself . . . and your child.

Let us know what your 3 questions for the car are and what you learn about your child’s learning.

Photo credit to Michael Gil.

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