Tony Gurr

Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 04)

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 10/08/2012 at 2:40 pm

Just like my friend…- a good teachera teacher who really cares about his studentsa teacher who works really hard to make the biggest difference he can… – a lot of us “blame” the systems, the schools, the curricular, the tests we have to work with. We are “human”, too!

We all know that a “good STUDENT” is not necessarily a “good LEARNer” (what did my darling Padmé say earlier?) – we all know…that much school LEARNing (often and sadly) is not really LEARNing at all…it’s just STUDYing (moreso in some countries than others)…worse, it’s just STUDYing designed to help TEACHers cover the “pacing guide” and achieve “test success”!

Now, I’m not saying that covering the curriculum…and passing “the test”…are a waste of time (OK – maybe I am, especially when the curricular “suck” and the tests are, shall we say, “crap”)! What I am saying is that we, as TEACHers, have to reflect on how we might be “supporting” all these things by doing stuff we know is “wrong”, how we might have adapted ourselves (often reluctantly or unconsciously) to things that we know (in our heart-of-hearts) are “harmful“…to the LEARNing of our students!

In our rush to create as many “successful STUDENTS” as possible, are we perhaps using a “classroom currency” that is holding them back from becoming “successful LEARNers”?

Let’s stick with my friend’s story and our “chat” for a minute or three.


So, I bought him another drink…and asked if he had ever used the following questions at the start of an academic year:

He told me that that he never had…but I saw a “smile” come back to his face. He told me that he often started the year with a discussion around “the rules of the game” (in the classroom and the “acts of STUDYing”)…but, he really liked the idea of upfronting this with a “LEARNing conversation” on the nature of “success” – in school, at work ,in life (as it does really exists – after school – really, really)! 

The second question, he told me, looked liked one that could help “change” a few habits – even, “flag” that he wanted to “do” business differently (in line with the list of things that students “need”) and that he could “do” that “business” differently “with” the students and build it into his “rules of the game”!

I told him that I would “steal” that idea, too!


I also asked if he had tried to get them away from his “question horribalis by getting them to ask two slightly different questions:

He thought these two were “pretty neat” (his words) and could help students take a closer look at the curriculum – take a bit of “ownership”. However, he wanted to know why I would want to “encourage” them to use such similar questions to the one he hated.

Basically, I said, the second question is just about acknowledging that (for most students) the “mode of assessment” IS the “curriculum” – and, while we might not be able to change the “test” (or create more “meaningful curricular”) overnight, there are bigger issues than the short-term goals of the “test” – goals that emphasise LEARNing THAT LASTS and what students need to do with what they LEARN long after the test is over and done with…

…and, it’s the TEACHer’s job…yes, I said the “TEACHer’s job”to assist in the discovery of this “truth”!


We talked for a while about the whole “questioning culture thingy” and the “currency jobbie” – and then he said that a part of his big problem this year was that he had quite simply “forgotten” that a big chunk of the “currency that matters” is the questions we use with students or (more importantlythe questions they LEARN from us.

What he said then really “hit the spot”!

“You know what? These two questions could really have helped me put a stop to those other silly questions, couldn’t they?” – OK, maybe not what he said exactly (word-for-word) – but this was, “I guess I forgot to invest in the right questions this year – I guess I forgot that my job is not to just cover the curriculum…but LEARN them stuff that makes my doing that a bit easier”!


We were on a rollI suggested a few more:

These he liked – and were similiar to other “activities” he did use at the start of the year. He had always loved that last question – used it as a way to encourage more “critical thunking” in his students. The thing was, he noted, was that he’d never really used it in discussions on “approaches to LEARNing” or “LEARNing styles” – this is because (he said) the activities he used did not move beyond “awareness” to “action“.

I reminded him of a couple of things on the “list” (I can never remember them all – thank God for iPads) – and suggested a couple more questions that would fit in with his “contract-building” and “the rules of the game” activities:

These he liked – but told me they might need a translation! I did not recommend Google Translate!


He reminded me that I’d said something about “goals” and I told him about four other questions that I’d found really useful to pull all the other LEARNing conversations with students “together”:

OK – he told me I might be “pushing” it with those ones! But, he liked them, too…especially, the “insights” he could glean about his students from these (and similar) questions.

We also talked about how questions like these really “set the tone” for a more collaborative, a more “personal” relationship with studentswe all know how much students are just plain tired of all the “fake relationships” they experience in school, college and universities. This “tone”. we agreed, was the very basis of “engagement”.

What was really interesting (for me) was how he had “changed” in the 10 to 15 minutes since he’d had a bitch about the curriculum and tests (and, it wasn’t just the other drink I had bought him). The questions had helped us “connect” more, helped us “explore options“, helped us “map out” a couple of strategies – together.

All of them (even the ones about “heart” and “values”), he told – me made a lot of sense. Sense he had not used in many of his classes this year (bloody curricular, bloody tests)  – but sense that had energised him and reminded him about what really matters…


Far from “having a go at me” or “me” being a pitbull with “him” – what we had co-created was as authentic a collaborative TEACHer LEARNing conversation as you can get.

We LEARNed eathother so much…ohh, that more of our institutions created these types of “spaces”…facilitated these types of LEARNing conversations for TEACHers…

Hey, you never know…more “chats” like this might actually lead to a few more real changes to all those curricular and tests we love to hate!


He did ask me if I had come up with the idea for all these “student LEARNing questions” from my trip to Alverno (I mentioned this in the post – Can a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS?).

I think the Alverno questions had helped but I also told him I’d got a lot of the ideas from books I had stumbled upon:

1) Peter Block’s – THE ANSWER TO HOW IS YES 

2) Michael Marquardt’s – LEADING WITH QUESTIONS 




…I also told him that I’d modified a lot of the coaching / mentoring questions I’d been exposed to over the years – and also by “forgetting” loads of stuff myself.

I guess Will Rogers was right when he said:

…I think most of us need to do all three and remember we can sometimes LEARN best from “high-voltage experiences”!



I also had to “come clean” with him…and tell him that I had developed a lot of these “student LEARNing questions” from a bunch of guys working with the “Dark Side” – the “Sith” who practice the dark arts of TEACHing and TRAINing.

In my defence (theirs, too) – a “version” of the TEACHing/TRAINing Paradigm that does put LEARNing at the heart of its approach.


And, you thought the “end was in sight” for this “dizi”!

– More on this later!


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