I’ve been waiting to write this post for quite awhile now. I’m often asked by homeschoolers and parents of gifted children, “How do you teach?” That question is an intricate web encompassing a zillion different variables, but to put it succinctly, I ask well-designed questions.
Here’s the tricky part:
Questions are wonderful, or overbearing.
Deeply insightful, or useless.
A springboard to further learning, or a dead end.
Questions can ignite a fire, or extinguish a flame.
Deepen a discussion, or incite a riot.
Bond people together, or tear them apart.
Let’s assume you’re not asking questions to get attention of the child, but only to find the level of learning of the child and inspire him to reach new heights (or depths) of learning.
If you’ve read my earlier post Flipping Bloom’s, you’ll understand that I see most real learning taking place only in the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Yes, I agree that I don’t need to understand how water is delivered to my faucet to turn on the tap and wash my hands, but in a true learning situation (not to follow a rule to get what you want), you’ll probably want to go deeper. How deeply, is up to you, your child, and his readiness. How do you identify his readiness? Well, with gifted kids, you push traditional boundaries and come back down slowly as needed.
CHILD: Why are those leaves so green?
(Your obvious answer is probably, “chlorophyll”, but instead, ask him a probing question.)
PARENT/TEACHER: Why do you think those leaves are green?
(If your child has discussed chlorophyll in the past, he may remember the term or he may remember the process of photosynthesis and need more reminding. If not, you’re asking for his impressions and demonstrating that he has the ability to come up with ideas on his own.)
CHILD: I think it’s because all leaves are green, but I don’t know why.
(The end of that answer is actually an implied question. It’s a moment of wonder and your job is to extend or deepen that understanding.)
SEARCHING FOR UNDERSTANDING STAGE
P/T: Huh….that is weird, but not all leaves are green. Remember the bush in the front of the house? Chemicals give things their colors. Have you ever heard of the special chemical in plants?
(You’re directing him to compare/contrast his understanding to other ideas and pushing to apply his understandings.)
CHILD: I think so, but I’m not sure.
(Again, that response is demonstrating curiosity. Ask another probing question unless you see your child is quickly growing bored.)
P/T: Have you ever heard of ‘chlorophyll’?
CHILD: Yes (or no).
(This abrupt answer signals the end of the road. Though it seems like a lost opportunity, you’ve opened the door to the concept of chlorophyll. Find a way to bring in up later when the conversation turns to plants, or even people. Though people don’t have chlorophyll (just wanted to let you know I already knew that), if a child comments on skin color, he may be making the connection on his own.
CHILD: Yes, I have. I learned about it in school before.
(Again, offering details usually means a persistence of curiosity. Three is a lucky number of probing questions. It is usually the make-it or break-it opportunity. This is where you examine the child’s intent to see if he is still interested or whether he’s finished. If you’re unsure, keep going.)
P/T: It’s a really cool way that plants can make their own food. Wouldn’t it be cool to make your own food without having to cook it?
(Here you’ve given him some information so that he’s not the only one providing answers, but you’ve also related that tree or plant to the child himself, thereby increasing his curiosity. This is a good time to grab a book about how plants make the food, have him look it up on his favorite science website, or continue to give insights and ask more probing questions.)
You’ve reached the APPLYING/ANALYZING STAGE.
If your child is here, now he can begin to truly understand the process of photosynthesis with a deepened understanding. He can relate the coloring or pigmentation to other things in his world. Don’t be surprised if later he asks if other objects have chlorophyll too. It’s also a great opportunity to go eat a salad, make some peas for dinner, or go use some crayons to draw an outdoor scene. Those subtle cues can trigger even more wonder.
Often, parents and teachers think a child is asking a question in order to get the short, formal answer. Most of the time, children are not. Children are curious beings with gifted children being even more so. What starts out as an innocent question, is a wonderful opportunity for delving into more meaning, connect the dots to others or themselves, and create opportunities for further learning. Parents and teachers are given more opportunities to support children’s learning than they realize. Don’t pass those up. Keep asking questions.