My whole family disappointed my mom on Thanksgiving. If you asked her about it, she would tell you it’s no big deal, but our hunger caused us to fly right past one of our most important family traditions.
Every Thanksgiving we go around the table and say what we are thankful for. No matter how many people are around the table, everyone speaks. Even though we know there will be crying, we do it anyways. It’s always informative, touching, memorable. We sit around the table as one, and speak as one.
Finding a way to get all 37 of my students to speak during one 55 minute period can really stretch my lesson planning chops. All 37 of my students can write at once. They can all listen at once. They can all read at once. But if they all speak at once, well… it gets a little chaotic, a little noisy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try. I’m really big on the idea of engaging all 100% of my students. It’s hard to tell if they are actually reading or listening, but I can easily tell if they are talking.
So one of my favorite reading strategies is to ask my students to write down a favorite line from a poem or chapter that we just read in class and then one by one everyone reads their chosen line. Without prompting, without calling names- from row to row, front to back, the words pour forth. It’s the closest thing to church I’ve ever seen in a classroom. It sounds holy. It sounds sacred.
There are many things that are sacred in my class. Perhaps none more so than students having a say in the direction of their learning. One of my favorite ways to help students take control over their learning is by using the Question Formulation Technique. You can learn more about how we use the QFT in HBUHSD by reading this blog post or watching this video below.
Sometimes I do the QFT exactly how you are supposed to do it, but sometimes, I like to do it Theriault family style. Here’s what I do.
Create a question focus. Our latest question focus was: Stories That Matter.
Give students time to write down as many questions as they can on the question focus.
Students read their questions to a partner. When they are done reading the partner just says “thank you for sharing.”
Here is where we diverge. I ask them to have their partner put a mark next to any of the questions that they thought were interesting, unique, or essential. I do this because students are going to share ONE of their questions in just a little bit and I want them to understand that they have a question worth sharing.
The student who wrote the questions should find a question that they are willing to share with the class. It can be one of the questions that their partner picked, but IT DOESN’T HAVE to be one of those. It can be ANY question they want to share.
We go around the room and share the questions, just like we did with sharing our favorite lines from a book or poem. Here’s how it sounds.
Then I used a Google Form to collect all of their questions and then I posted them in our Canvas LMS and we used them as a question depository for how we would engage with the book we were reading. This is important, because if you don’t collect the questions later, then you, and some of the students, will feel compelled to write down these great questions as they are spoken, and then you’ll be writing and not listening. Be in the moment. Sean Ziebarth even had his class create a ThingLink with resources about “Stories That Matter.” I used it with my students along with the article “How Stories Change The Brain” from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good website.
As a final, students answered their own question while using snippets of text from The House On Mango Street and readings about the subject “Stories That Matter.” It turned out pretty cool. I had a student write about this question: Do the stories that we don’t know about…matter? That’s the beauty of the QFT, the discussion goes in places you never dreamed of, students are literary creating new instructional content FOR YOU. THEY are creating, not just bubbling a scantron or filling in blanks on a worksheet. Instead of going to the church of YOU, they enter a mystic (oneness) relationship with their own learning.
I’ve been to other people’s home when they have a special dinner. I’ve heard a grownup say a prayer or a toast, I’ve heard a kid say a prayer, but my favorite activity is one where I hear the words of my community- all of them with a voice: everybody speaks.