Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Importance of Effective Questioning

by Kathy Drew  

An essential part of any lesson is questioning. According to Kenneth E. Volger, an assistant professor in the Department of Instruction and Teacher Education in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina,  questioning “is second only to lecturing as the most common instructional practice." Teachers asks questions to check homework, verify comprehension, keep students on task, and review and summarize lessons. These questions are usually a recall of information or knowledge. Often, teachers do not realize that the format, intent, or purpose of the question can actually enhance student learning and add more interest and participation in their lessons.

Every teacher is aware of Bloom’s Taxonomy and his levels of intellectual behavior. The six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy range from basic information recall to creating a variety of solutions to a problem and determining which one was best to use to solve the problem. Most questions are found on the lower order of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Teachers ask students to define words, to list the steps to solving an algorithm, to share the methods used to solve a problem. These questions do not require a lot of mental activity from students. Therefore, the student does not exercise the brain to its fullest capacity. A lot of things are memorized and regurgitated upon command.

What we need to strive for as teachers is having students realize that they are capable of so much more than they know and have untapped potential inside of them. This can be accomplished through effective questioning. By using the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, students become more motivated in learning, extend their learning skills to new ideas, develop their creative nature, and expand their thinking “outside of the box”.

Students do not think the same way. Therefore they need to be encouraged to think of a variety of ways to solve problems. This does not mean that teaching algorithms is not necessary. It does mean that after the students have been introduced to a method or process for solving a problem, they need to be allowed to develop their own technique for solving that same problem. This can be done through questioning. 

Whenever a student solves a problem in a way that is different from the algorithm taught, instead of trying to show a student why their method is not the method taught, teachers need to use that moment to determine why a students is thinking in a particular way. This can be done through a series of questions. (How is this related to the method used in class? What sparked the thought that led you to this method?) In non-mathematical lessons, teachers can ask students to compare and contrast similar ideas, defend their responses with evidence from texts or prior knowledge, connect what they read to something they already know, or give similar examples from other resources. What teachers need to avoid is the low level question unless it is being used to build up to higher level questions.

If students are not taught to think about why (why an algorithm works, why certain events lead to certain outcomes, why certain rules were established, etc.), we are not effectively preparing them to be productive citizens of our society. Questions that require students to provide more than yes or no, true or false, or the equally common “I don’t know” as a response, will prepare students to provide vital information when preparing resumes, select pertinent information when determining the worth of a product, and solve complex multistep problems based on what they know about similar simpler problems. 

Inconsistent and ambiguous questions confuse students and limit their engagement and participation in discussions. Low level questions often limit the challenge children experience in their learning environment. High use of these types of questions often lead students to believe that this level of learning is more important than it really is while not doing a lot to motivate students to engage in higher-level learning. The low-level questions usually require only one correct answer with the correct answers already pre-determined by the teacher.

Teachers should prepare higher level questions in advance and determine their best fit into the discussion ahead of time. The type of question naturally depends on the desired outcome. Some higher level questions may be a series of questions that lead to higher levels of thinking (What is a noun? What are the two types of nouns? What are some nouns found in the classroom? How many common nouns are there in the Pledge of Allegiance?) Other higher level questions may be questions that may range from narrow to broad, low-level specific questions to higher-level general questions, or  broad to narrow, low-level general questions to higher-level specific questions.

It is because of the non-conformists that we have some of the greatest inventions and leaders of our society. These are people who were probably asked the higher order questions or even asked these types of questions themselves. Students need to be encouraged to explore and investigate their ideas. They need to be able to manipulate and analyze information. We need to teach our students the “why” of things so that they can use their skills and knowledge in a variety of ways rather than in a set, compartmentalized, cookie-cutter situation. Effectively questioning students to not only assess their learning but to extend it will create a generation of citizens who will be able to go beyond what they see to innovators who can create, understand, and explain what they imagine.

Kathy Drew is a fourth grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School in Goldsboro, North Carolina, which is located in Wayne County. She is a founding member of the board of NCAEE. She took a year off from the association to assist in her son's recovery from wounds sustained in Iraq. She has served as the Director for Region 2 since its creation. This year, she is serving as the President Elect. She may be contacted at 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Oh! What an "Energizing" Evening!

by April Gamble, Region 5 Advisory Council Member

From the well-organized registration and helpful student volunteers to the beautifully decorated tables, the energy in the conference ballroom was palpable!  What fun to “Socialize” with other educators at the end of a work day at the Region 5 North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators spring conference held on the pristine campus of High Point University!  

As a member of the District 5 Regional Advisory Council, I can attest to the fact that we worked diligently behind the scenes for months planning for this conference and I can say without a doubt that it was all worth it to see the faces of 140 educators sharing the same space for a few hours and enjoying every minute!  Each conference goer was gifted with several teacher supplies and one lucky educator at each table got to take home the centerpiece!

The evening began with a welcome from Dr. Debbie Linville, Director of Region 5.  She took a moment to recognize me and the other Regional Advisory Council members for our help and support in helping to make tonight a reality.  

And then…it was time to be “Energized” by nationally known, well respected, keynote, Kathy Bumgardner.    She began her presentation with a quote from Mark Twain:   “Teaching is like trying to hold 35 corks under water at once.”   The audience erupted with laughter and the giggles did not stop until she concluded her session on best literacy practices in the era of the Common Core.  I thought one of the most encouraging things she shared was the fact that the climate of education is changing and that as educators we have to be able to handle the change by “planning” for it.  She stated, “If you change nothing, nothing will change.”  I agree.  I must be the change I want to see!

After a delicious dinner, participants made their way to the School of Education to attend two breakout sessions from among a total of 18 choices!  Surely it was a hard decision for conference goers because there were so many amazing choices.   I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I attended and was delighted to see that all of the time spent planning for this evening was such a huge success.

One of the many highlights of the evening was the 15-minute Door Prize drawing blitz where over two dozen fabulous prizes were given away - including one FREE 2014 NCAEE state conference registration (a $175.00 value), Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificates, baskets of teaching supplies, manicures/ pedicures, restaurant gift cards, and so much more!  

The Regional Advisory Council set up a Presenter’s Lounge which provided a space where presenters could socialize, prepare for their sessions, grab a beverage and snack, and of course, pick up their thank you gifts.  It was rewarding to see that the idea to honor them in a special way was so well received. 

If anyone came to the conference feeling as if they were holding on by a “thread”, not knowing how they would make it through the last quarter of the school year, I feel confident that they left “Revitalized!"

If you missed the Region 5 North Carolina Association of Educators spring conference this year…there’s always next year…and I can guarantee you it will be great!  How do I know?  My Regional Advisory Council members and I have already started planning!

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Coding Breakthrough: My Experience with Coding

by Renee Peoples

“Coding? That is crazy. I teach elementary school!  They can't write code to program computers at this age.” As a third grade teacher, I had NO interest in doing coding with my students when I first heard about it. Just the idea of writing a program for a computer seemed way too difficult for me, let alone eight and nine year olds. Just before Christmas I heard about it again. My mind was more open then because I was looking for something to do that was not a waste of time the last few days before we had break. Watching movies and coloring pictures seemed boring, and we had done all the crafts that I could stand to do.   So this time, it piqued my interest. With no honest idea of what I was getting into, I signed my class up on a free site for children of all ages to learn how to code (, and off we went.

Day 1- The next day I presented it to my students, who caught my skepticism and were not too interested. I had some Chromebooks and iPads that I had secured for my students, thanks to Donors Choose. I also brought my own personal iPad from home so that every student could have a device to use. They used the class code that was provided when I signed the class up, and logged in and gave it a try. It took about five minutes to hook every single child. It starts off with teaching students how to command an Angry Bird where to move. As you would expect, that had a lot of appeal to my students. Immediately, they learned to write the code to move the Angry Bird where they wanted it to go. There are teacher lessons on the website and those created even more interest for the students. When they had to write directions for another group to follow, they started to understand why precise directions matter for a computer program. It took them about 30 minutes online to be better at it than I could keep up with, and I could not even offer them any assistance when they couldn’t get it to work. They were very willing to help each other, though. Within a few hours, I had done a mini lesson on the degrees of angles and watched students write the code to adjust their angles. They discussed it with each other and said things like, “Really, the 120 degree angle was too big, you may need to try 110 instead.” By lunch, they complained that they had to eat when they could be writing code. Students were comparing levels and trophies given for achieving certain levels before the end of the first day.  

Day  2- The class rushed in the door, grabbed a computer or an iPad before the announcements and pledge were even done, and got to work. Students helped each other when they got stuck, showed the items they had written code to draw and came to an agreement that I needed to spend more time learning how to write code so I could keep up with them. They literally spent every minute of the day engaged and happily learning how to write code. By the end of the day, they were feeling sad for students who were, “wasting the day on movies and parties when they could be writing code like us!"  They were really able to do a LOT more than I gave them credit for when I first heard about the opportunity to write code. Maybe I found something productive, without even understanding what I was doing.

Day 3- I may as well have stayed home because my students walked in and got on a computer or iPad, taught themselves until it was time to go home and asked me if it was alright for them to write code over the two week break. Of course, I said yes! They also reminded me that I better get to work if I was ever going to catch up with them.

Three Months Later- My students were invited to come (along with local companies, Google, Duke, area colleges) to a Manufacturing Awareness Day to share their coding experience with middle school and high school students in our county and show some of their code. I took six students there to spend the day showing what they could do. The highlight of my day was the high school student who was not impressed and said, “I know how to write REAL code so I don’t need to see play code.” I convinced him to just watch one child, and within minutes he was totally impressed by the coding skills of my third grader. After watching, he told me, "They can do anything I can do!”

Even if you teach third grade and have no time for anything extra, you can sneak a bit of coding between portfolios and parent conference, Read To Achieve letters and BOG tests. Who knows? Maybe the logical thinking they learn in code may help them have more success in math and reading! Give it a try! It was the best thing I ever got into without a real plan and, next year, it will definitely be in my plan.

Renee Peoples is a National Board Certified third grade teacher at Swain West Elementary. She has taught every grade from preK to 5th grade and been in administration in her 30+ years in education. She serves on the NCAEE board. Although she has taught conferences and training for adults (including college level courses) for many years, she always returns to her her first love- teaching children. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

One Teacher's Tips for the Most Successful Classroom

by James Davis 

 Recently, I sat down to interview a teacher at the elementary level, who by every indicator, proves to be an exceptional teacher.  Students love having the teacher, parents request the teacher, test scores are at their highest, and the room is always described as productive, engaging, progressive, harmonious, and student centered. 

I asked the teacher to take some time and think about her multiple indicators for success.  I asked her to reflect, but also speak with kids, consult with parents, and then identify her top five suggestions for creating a classroom as successful as hers.

Her suggestions are included below:

*Focus on a truly invitational classroom.  "If students want to be in the room, it will naturally create a better day for all of us.  I work in a purposeful manner to make sure that our room feels and looks good.  I have alternative lighting, green plants, a candy dish, music, student work, a reading center, and a small water fountain in our room.  If it feels and looks good inside the classroom, students act better and work harder."    

*Master all of your processes and procedures.  "We hear it all the time, but effective teachers have to master their processes and procedures early on.  I have a process for everything from sharpening pencils and collecting papers, to working in a small group and presenting for the class.  Nothing happens unless we have discussed the expectations associated with each process and procedure involved.  If something can go wrong, it likely will.  Processes and procedures help us avoid these unproductive situations."  

*Collaboration is key.  "Students have to have the chance to collaborate with one another on a daily basis.  True collaboration is vitally important for school and it is equally important for life in general too.  I share expectations, I model what I want to see, and I monitor from start to finish.  Afterwards, I make sure that true collaboration takes places each day, with every student, in every class."  
*Treat others as you wish to be treated.  "Although simple, I teach in this manner and I also refer to this statement regularly as I am working with students and handling classroom management issues and disciplinary issues within the school day.  I can't yell, and then punish a kid for yelling.  I can't come to teach in an unprepared fashion, and then be upset when my students come to class unprepared.  I treat others how I want to be treated, and in most cases, they reciprocate."  

*Never underestimate the power of an engaging, well-planned lesson.  "My best defense against everything, is a well-planned lesson.  Although timely, I have to be wiling to put in the time, effort, and energy to create a meaningful lesson plan. My lesson plan has to appeal to auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners.  I also work to make sure that every lesson has a specific focus on critical thinking activities, effective communication, and chances for students to showcase their creativity."    
Although simple, several of the ideas above are often forgotten as teachers get busy with the many tasks they face.  Focusing on ideas that are grounded and kid-centered can yield successful results for everyone involved.  

This master teacher closed by stating, "With each action and each word that I am in control of, I try to always remember two things.  I remember that I am here for students and my challenge is to teach them well every day. In addition, the power of LOVE is a strong one.  My number one priority is for each student to feel loved, knowing that once they know I care, they work harder, care more, and go further both today, and in the future."       

Per the teacher's request, her name has been omitted.  A special thanks to this stellar teacher for sharing her ideas with others.

Dr. James Davis serves on the NCAEE Board. He received his doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Urban Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Davis has taught and worked as a school administrator for 15 years in North Carolina. He currently lives in North Carolina and begins work as an associate professor at High Point University this summer.