Hang a Question Mark on it by @PaulStrange

During such a period of unrest in the field of education, it is my firm belief that we should now – more than ever – continue to engage in frequent and constructive self-reflection.

One of the things I was encouraged to do often as a student of the PGCE was to pause, take stock and ask myself questions. I am doubtless that this advice and encouragement set me on a trajectory of continual self-improvement.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Paul Strange and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here, and read more from Paul by clicking here.

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However, I am disheartened as I read, observe and discuss with others in the profession the threat made against our autonomy by the relentless pressures of the new curriculum. I have never been one to simply jump through rings unless I know that the rings I jump through contribute positively towards the interest, experience and progress of the children in my class. It is so important to ask the question, ‘Why?

I’m sure that we can all bring to mind the child in our class who incessantly asks, ‘Why?’ and tortures us frequently with this posit. Still, part of me can’t help but think that this child has got the right idea.

Why am I writing this down?’ Why are they writing this down?

Why is this taking so long?’ ‘Why are they taking so long?

What am I going to do with this?’ ‘What will they take away from this?

How can we fit all of this in?’ ‘What is most important?

What impact is this having?’ ‘Can I do this better?

Questioning our classroom practice may lead to an idea, which may lead to taking a risk, which could just lead to an ingenious solution.

The great thing about children is that they are fearless and uninhibited when they feel secure. As their teachers, we go out of our way to create a classroom ethos, which encourages our pupils to take risks with their learning. Isn’t it just as important to have this ethos reflected in the staff-room?

As contemporary practitioners, we should do our utmost to balance consistency in our schools with the freedom to look forward and develop our practice. If we do not, I fear that we may lose even more teachers to the fearsome foe: ‘The Brain Drain’.

I’m doing my best to see silver linings in education at the moment, and the way I see it is that we are currently able to build our own teaching approaches, assessment arrangements and also to balance this as best we can with the chupacabra of the education world: the work/life balance.

Bertrand Russell was once quoted as saying:

In all affairs it is a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

Personally, I think he had the right idea.

I’m going to leave you with an idea that a colleague of mine has recently trialed within her classroom and found to have had a very positive impact on the questioning skills of the pupils in her class.

As part of our approach to teaching topic, we conduct what we call a ‘knowledge harvest’ at the beginning of each new unit. In the knowledge harvest, the children have the ability to make a note of:

  • Things they know already.
  • Things they are unsure about.
  • Things they would like to find out about.

The final category is often strewn with all sorts of weird and wonderful questions. Over the course of the topic, the teacher and the class do their best to answer as many of these as they can, but inevitably, it is not always possible to find time to answer all of these. So, my colleague has taken to selecting one of these questions each evening and putting together a short answer which she then displays on the whiteboard for her class as they enter the classroom in the morning. The class are always so eager to come in and find out something new. They’re especially excited if the question being answered was the one posed by them! I thought that this was a marvelous idea (and definitely one which I will be adopting in my own classroom).

In my opinion, it is essential that we continue to be reflective practitioners within our schools and classrooms.

Stay sharp and keep asking, ‘Why?’

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