Modifying Lessons

By Gage Biltoft

One of the things that I learned from the lesson analysis assignment was that inserting simplified and shortened questions can add complexity to your questioning.  This sounds really odd. How can making something simple make it more complex? I mean this in terms of simplifying a question to make it more open ended to encourage a more in depth, complex response from students as oppose to lengthy closed ended questioning.

For example, the lesson I analyzed dealt with physical and chemical changes and distinguishing between the two.  I was trying to insert a question towards the end of the experiment to have students determine whether it was a physical or chemical change.  Great. But, how do I know that child really understands what just took place. Making a question like, “Explain how you know whether this is a physical change or chemical change” encourages the students to draw reasoning from their collected evidence during the experiment. With a question like this I can determine how much this student knows about chemical and physical changes by analyzing their cited observations.  This also prevents them from creating single word responses.

Along the lines of questioning, Zangori states that narrowing down questions to a clear question is very important, as well as choosing one or two features of inquiry to enhance and strengthen learning.  From what I can remember from my elementary days and really, all schooling after then, I have been bombarded with questions that require little critical thinking in the sense that they do not allow for an explanation.  Not fun. Zangori is telling us that a clear concise question that addresses a few features of inquiry can promote a higher learning through the promotion of explanation and discussion.

From my experience in classrooms, as a student and practicum student, I have found that most students are looking for a reason to explain themselves. When teachers ask a question more geared towards a one word response many of the students check out.  You give them an opportunity to explain how or why they know a particular answer, you get hands galore.  How many times when you catch somebody doing something wrong, their first instinct is to explain or defend themselves? We have a natural tendency to defend our opinions and ideas. Providing children with that opportunity in class engages them in the learning process.  Much of their learning in science is generated through discussion. This is not made possible through the vast number of multiple choice worksheets we are so accustomed to, but through interaction and exploration with peers.

Another aspect of teaching that this lesson analysis encouraged me to build upon was making things more student friendly.  That involves putting myself in a student’s shoes when I’m making a lesson.  The instructions in my activity called for salt and vinegar. The instructions called for their scientific names, sodium chloride and acetic acid. Given that our audience is elementary students I would encourage the use of just salt and vinegar to avoid any confusion.  Salt and vinegar are terms that the students are familiar with. Something else we can add to lessons to make them more presentable is adding something as simple as a few pictures of the steps of the experiment. Personally when I am doing something it is always beneficial to have visual cues so I can compare what I am doing and where I am at with the diagrams included on the instructions.  I have noticed this in my practicums as well.  Students are much more fond of simplified instructions accompanied by pictures than a laundry list of words explaining each step.


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