Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Start the New School Year with Great Discussion Questions and Flipgrid

"You ask great must have great teachers." Eli Wiesel said in 2001.  The Holocaust survivor had come to speak at Hanover High School when I was just a third year teacher.  It was nothing short of amazing! I remember being so proud as our students stood up one by one to ask engaging, interesting questions of the author.  

In 2001 the internet and online learning was in its infancy. Asking strong questions to promote higher order thinking and class discussion was done primarily with students talking face to face.  In 2017 online and blended learning has taken many forms but the premise is still the same - create questions that allow students to explore the content to the greatest extent possible. An engaging tool to use for this is Flipgrid. The past several months I've caught #FlipgridFever! (If you're interested in ways to use this innovative tool see Fabulous Flipgrid Uses.) Use Flipgrid combined with the following strategies for crafting great online discussion questions and you will provide a rich blended learning experience for your students.

Share your thoughts at my @Flipgrid topic Ask Great Questions!

Focus on the content you want students to learn.
In high school it’s all about the content!  But as I’ve see with my own elementary aged children they are learning new content all the time.  Their teachers ask questions that allow for them to demonstrate their knowledge. For example my 9 year old’s teacher had her class growing pea pod plants in the classroom.  There were several content area questions students had to answer along the way.  (This was so effective that Sophie grew her own peas this summer on our porch.  Now that’s engaging!)   In an online discussion the goal is to get students learning from one another...growing their understanding of the content to more than just what’s on the page of a book or on a worksheet.  Push their comfort zone to learn beyond the four walls of the classroom, using the why, how, and what if question starters.
Ask yourself how the question will allow students to apply what they’ve learned to real world problems and solutions.
There’s so much great content out there!  As teachers we think we need to teach it all.  As a history teacher I’ve always felt that I cannot leave ONE piece of history out or else students will not have an enriching experience.  But this is not the case...In recent years I decided to focus on how students can use their knowledge to demonstrate solutions to real world problems.  For example, asking how the local, state, and federal governments can work together to manage the natural disaster crisis in Texas is a lot more effective (and engaging) than describe the roles each level of government.  Having students demonstrate knowledge while solving problems is the true definition of civic engagement.

Create a question that allows for more than just yes/no, agree/disagree answers.
Making your questions open-ended will allow for more debate and a better exchange of ideas.  In a face to face discussion teachers can try to draw out students with follow up questions, putting them on the spot to come up with answers.  This can be a great exercise but online it can be difficult due to the asynchronous nature of many online discussions.  Open ended questions can also be an effective way to get students who wouldn’t normally talk during face to face class time to participate in the discussion.

Place students at the center of the question.
A valuable way for teachers to tackle question creation is to put students in a role that the question is addressing.  For example, instead of asking how the local, state, and federal governments work together to manage the natural disaster crisis in Texas.  A teacher could ask Your family’s home is under several feet of water.  You are all safe on higher ground, however your home is severely damaged.  How should federal, state and local officials manage tax money and other funding to provide your family with the resources it needs to address your home’s needs.

These strategies can help to effectively draw students into meaningful discussions online while allowing them to demonstrate knowledge and problem solving skills.  

How do you craft engaging, effective questions??
Share your thoughts at my @Flipgrid topic Ask Great Questions!

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