Take a minute to think of your coaching toolbox. What are some of your go-to questions? Go ahead and list a few.
Now reflect on those questions.
- What are the types of questions you use?
- Why do you use those questions?
- How do you know when to use one question versus another?
- How do you know when a question is effective?
- How do you adapt your questions based on the teacher’s responses?
- How do you use questions to sustain a back-and-exchange with teachers?
This blog series is going to address these reflections and support your effective use of questions to prompt teacher reflection and growth in myTeachstone. We’ll start by unpacking the different types of questions you might use and why.
Though we know that open-ended questions are the best way to prompt teacher reflection, it helps to remember that we want to do this with intentionality. And to ask questions intentionally, we need to think about what response we are hoping to get from a teacher and which question would be best at getting that answer.
Let’s look at this example using a myTeachstone video: Lights Out Freeze Game.
Now, imagine you have just completed an informal observation on this teacher, focused on how she is using Behavior Management strategies during the clean-up transition from free play to small group time. You noticed several effective moments including clear and consistent expectations, monitoring of the classroom, and redirection when appropriate. You also noted moments to build on--including inconsistently anticipating problems and attending to children’s positive behavior.
Your goals for the feedback conference are to help the teacher:
- Identify which moments are effective and which are less effective
- Compare what is happening in these interactions
- Analyze the impact these moments have on the children’s behavior and the learning time in the classroom
- Brainstorm next steps to enhance her application of effective Behavior Management
Here we have identified four types of questions you might ask based on your goals for the conversation, the teacher’s learning goals, and the specific observation at hand: identification, analysis, comparison, and brainstorming.
Given those types of questions, let’s look at some specific questions you could use.
Type of Question
At what point did you notice …?
Describe what happened when …
Tell me more about …
How did you attend the the children’s positive behaviors?
Tell me what you said and did.
What do you think went well?
What do you think did not go well?
What was the difference in these moments?
Tell me about a moment when you did not attend to the positive. What was different?
Why is it harder to attend to the positive at that moment?
How did you know [a behavior] was effective?
Why did you decide to …?
What is the value of …?
Why is it important to attend to children’s positive behaviors?
How do you see your children respond when you note their positive behavior?
How will you plan to …?
What are some ways you can …?
How will you include …?
What are some common positive behaviors the children show during transitions?
What statements can you use to attend to those behaviors?
Here you can see several effective questions with various goals for teacher learning. Used together, these questions can help the teacher think about specific interactions in her classroom, analyze those moments, and brainstorm ways to implement her effective behaviors more consistently.
And this is just the beginning! In addition to the ones above, you might ask questions that:
- Elicit the teacher's perspective
- How did it feel to …?
- How comfortable are you …?
- Encourage evaluation
- What did you want the children to learn in …?
- What conclusions can you draw about…?
- Make connections or integrations to the real world
- Tell me about a time you …
- How is this behavior like …?
- Encourage planning
- What skills might the children gain through …?
- How can you include [this behavior] to support that learning?
- Facilitate prediction
- What might happen if …?
- How do you think the children would respond if ...?
- Prompt thought processes
- Tell me about your decision making in that moment.
- How do you know …?
Let’s go back to the beginning and look at your list of go-to questions. In what category do they fit? How do these categories change how you think about your list of questions?
Please share your ideas, as well as other categories or questions that you have found especially effective in conferences!
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How deep is your commitment to reflective practice?
Do you maintain a reflective journal? Do you blog? Do you capture and archive your reflections in a different space?
Do you consistently reserve a bit of time for your own reflective work? Do you help the learners you serve do the same?
I began creating dedicated time and space for reflection toward the end of my classroom teaching career, and the practice has followed me through my work at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. I’ve found that it can take very little time and yet, the return on our investment has always been significant.
Observations about reflection
- Reflection makes all of us self-aware. It challenges us to think deeply about how we learn and why and why not.
- Reflection deepens ownership. When we reflect, we become sensitive to the personal connection that exists between ourselves, our learning, and our work. The more we consider these connections, the deeper they seem to become. Reflection makes things matter more.
- Reflection helps us get comfortable with uncomfortable. It also helps us fail forward. It’s through reflection that we’ve discovered our greatest power as a writing community: our collective expertise and our willingness to encourage and celebrate risk-taking.
- Reflection helps us know ourselves better. It helps us sharpen our vision, so we can align our actions to it. Reflection also helps us notice when we’re getting off track.
- Perhaps most importantly, reflection helps us advocate for ourselves and support others. Taking the time to reflect enables us to identify what we want, what we need, and what we must do to help ourselves. It also helps us realize how our gifts and strengths might be used in service to others.
I find that often, we struggle to find time to support reflective practice. Deadlines drive instruction far too much than they should, forcing learners and teachers to value perfection, products, and grades more than the development of softer and perhaps, more significant skills. Devoting a few moments at the end of class can make a real difference though, particularly when you pitch a few powerful prompts at learners. These are the ten questions that elicit the most powerful responses from the students I work with.
Ten Reflective Questions to Ask at the End of Class
1. Reflect on your thinking, learning, and work today. What were you most proud of?
2. Where did you encounter struggle today, and what did you do to deal with it?
3. What about your thinking, learning, or work today brought you the most satisfaction? Why?
4. What is frustrating you? How do you plan to deal with that frustration?
5. What lessons were learned from failure today?
6. Where did you meet success, and who might benefit most from what you’ve learned along the way? How can you share this with them?
7. What are your next steps? Which of those steps will come easiest? Where will the terrain become rocky? What can you do now to navigate the road ahead with the most success?
8. What made you curious today?
9. How did I help you today? How did I hinder you? What can I do tomorrow to help you more?
10. How did you help the class today? How did you hinder the class today? What can you do tomorrow to help other learners more?
The learners I serve typically capture these reflections in a special section of their notebooks. These entries grow in number over the course of time, and eventually, they revisit them to prepare for conferences.
The influence that asking reflective questions has on the quality of our conferences is incredible. In fact, I hesitate to confer with kids unless they’ve had a chance to pursue purposeful reflection first.
Try it yourself. See how it makes a difference for your students. You can find a set of printable reflective prompts here.
About The Author
A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.