“You can’t write an essential question about Pokemon,” one English teacher told her 9th grade students. What fun we had learning otherwise. “Wow…how do you think like that,” one student asked after we settled on the provoking question: What social skills does playing Pokemon teach? She had that certain light a kid gets in his eyes when he realizes that he can ask deeper questions…critically consider…those things he’s truly interested in.
I had this discussion with my own teen daughter today. She is feeling less than thrilled about her own ACT scores at the moment. Being ranked 9th in a class of around 400 she’s simply convinced herself that her standardized scores should fall in a more impressive range. “I get so mad at a world that tests me and says that there is only one right answer,” she cried. “I think differently. I’m not a robot.”
Since her first foray into standardized tests in the 4th grade, my daughter has performed proficiently, though generally not as advanced as her sister or those peers with whom she shares high honors in the classroom. It is ironic, then, that she absolutely LOVED her AP Stats class last year…the very back bone of the data-driven world that demands standardized testing. She explained, “When Mrs. D asked us to identify research flaws…Mom, I could list 10 factors the researchers hadn’t taken into account. I love doing that…rethinking about each question DIFFERENTLY.”
As an educator, this would be the defining moment…the aha…when I knew my student could not only formulate an essential question, but that they had begun to think in this way as a matter of course.
Each year we are challenged with rethinking education. I have to wonder how we can possibly succeed in changing how we teach if we ONLY reconsider how students learn and never explore the many ways in which students express how they think, what they know, and when they imagine new ideas.
All I could do for my daughter was to help her identify the essential question…has she been a successful learner?…and then remind her to apply her thinking…this gift she has for seeing problems in a different way and imagining unique answers…to her assessment of herself.