So many times children will come home and are asked, “How was school today?” For those of you who are parents, you’ve probably heard responses like “fine,” “boring,” or “we didn’t do anything.” This led me to ponder whether we were asking our students the right questions. I tried my theory out the other day in the 6th grade hallway at Hille Middle School. Could I, the adult, gather pertinent information from a middle school student by asking a different set of questions? Further, would this middle schooler engage?
My modified “How was school today? Conversation” went as follows:
- Who’s your favorite teacher?
- Really, I like her too, why do you like that teacher so much?
- Interesting, she makes class fun…how does she do that?
- I agree, when I was a student, I liked teachers who loved what they taught, but didn’t stand in front of the room and just talked at us too.
- When you were in class, and after you received your instructions, what fun activity did you do today?
With this more directed/personal form of communication I found the student was much more open with her responses and we chatted for several minutes. I learned much more about her teacher, the class, the activities, and what she learned by asking more specific questions and responding in kind to how I could relate.
Needless to say, I was also her pass to get into class a bit late, as we talked well after the bell had rung for the next class to begin. That’s how engaged this student was.
James Bryant Conant, former President of Harvard University and American Chemist, is quoted to have said, “Education is what is left after all that has been learnt is forgotten.” Most of us cannot simply remember the lectures we had in classes when we were in school. But we most certainly can remember the activities we do and the way that a teacher made us feel as a human being.
To tap into what students are thinking, the better our questions and responses are, the more thoughtful and engaging our students’ responses will be. I honestly believe that our students, our children, are longing to engage with us, if they think we want to hear what they have to say. Part of the success of the conversation in the middle school hallway was that I intentionally gave every indication that the conversation was important to me, and that I was going to take the time to hear everything that my student wanted to say. Sometimes we get so busy that we give the impression that we just want to hear that school was great, and then move on.
I think if we give our students the space, the time, and the voice to express themselves… and then ask them the right questions, we will engage them far differently and far deeper than we had ever expected. Lesson learned.