Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

What did I learn this term?

What did my students teach me this term, to make me a better teacher?  They taught me to expect more, and still be prepared to be surprised.  Oh, I do love those surprises, when students take their own paths and make their own connections to their lives.  There are many “moments” that I’ll keep and think on; one of my favorites was when a student said, “oh, I’ve done this before at my job, now I know why.”

I tried some new things. We played some. I brought in some Legos so we could see database architecture in a different way.

Students read and summarized chapters, but I asked them to do a different kind of summary – to find a concept that intrigued them in the chapter, to give an example of how they had encountered the idea or experience in their personal or work lives, and to pose one question that emerged from the chapter for them – no answer, just a good question. They were due Sunday afternoon, and as I finished planning for the next week’s class, I was able to bring in the examples they had given, either by calling on them, or, for the shy person, by giving them credit for the idea and sharing it for them with the class. We were able to explore questions that they cared about, because they had had a chance to think about it in advance (and these were their questions anyway).  People were “there” – these were their stories and their questions – and discussion was lively and reflective at the same time.

I tried to re-think the “big project” that tends to be a part of every class, by breaking the project into pieces, and scheduling a time for them to submit a draft of each piece along the way. To make a low-stakes place for practicing and exploring, the grading worked like this: turn in the draft on time, get 20 points. Don’t turn in the draft on time, get 0 points.  The success of this was mixed. On one hand, I saw the most amazing trajectory of development, from very rough, confused, and off-topic – to remarkable, sophisticated and articulate.  That was my favorite thing about the class. I was afraid that I would be making a lot of work for myself, since essentially I would be grading twice. It didn’t work out that way. People who took advantage of the feedback turned in papers that were a dream to grade.  I want to understand more about the students who did not take advantage of the opportunity to get feedback along the way, and that’s something I’ll be thinking on.

The class also pushed me to learn new things. We talked about how hard it was to keep up with technology (it was an information management class), and I said, “ya just got to do it”. And to model that behavior, I promised I would learn three new technologies that term. And I did. This website is the result of my learning.

Thank you for being my teachers.


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This entry was posted on July 18, 2013 by in Teaching.
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