Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘questions’

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 03)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 28/11/2012 at 11:33 am

My bouts of bloggery have been few and far between this month…too much jet-settingtoo many tweets on the #eddies12 (but, OMG…have I found some great new blogs…or what)!

…I have also found some great quotes (on blogs I have also nominated for an #eddies12 award, too).

One of these is:

I loved this…so true!


So true, in fact…that I have decided to use it kick off one of the posts I promised ages ago – but never quite got round to doing. I put a great deal of time into the earlier episodes of this mini-dizi (not so you’d notice)…

…because the issue of TEACHer LEARNing (and REFLECTion) is something I take very seriously…more seriously than a heart attack or 3, less seriously than the #eddies12 (obviously)!


The point I was trying to get across in these two episodes is really what Gwynne was also getting at – dealing with the changes we have to “cope” with in education is all about our institutions and our emotions.

She goes on and elaborates a little:

Scott McLeod agrees – so much so he named his (wonderful) blog after Gwynne’s (equally wonderful) quote!


Our institutions very often think about observation and feedback in “dangerously irrelevant” terms – if they bother to thunk about them at all!

If they didn’t think this way, we wouldn’t see as many of the dumb-ass classroom observation protocols we find in so many of our schools, colleges and universitiesand we would see a lot more of the ASKing I was talking about in Pt 01 and Pt 02a LOT more!


In Pt 02, I proposed a few questions that we might want to think about using when ASKing TEACHers about their classrooms…about the things that happen in these classrooms…and how TEACHers “feel” (yes, I said “feel”…all you institutional effectiveness “experts” that want to boil classroom observations down into “neat little numbers” or “ticks” on checklists)…about the “business” they are in!

Yes, I STILL feel strongly about this…


I also promised (more fool me) to get you a transcript of how these questions might play out…the first time you use them with a real TEACHer!

What? You have one of these?

A full transcript…???


I’m wondering…

how many of you will “get” that little “blast-from-the-past”!


Now, this post is gonna be loooooonnnnnng…probably the longest I have ever got up on the whole blog…ever!


…but, if you are interested in this stuff – you might want to bookmark it and come back when you have a bit more time.


This is the transcript from the very first time that I went to see one of  “my-partners-in-crime”, Laurence, do his “thing”…TEACH, yani!

He currently works with groups of TEACHers-to-be here (in Ankara) at Başkent University – and this class was one of their “speaking courses” (designed to help develop their language skills as future ELL facilitators of LEARNing – OK…ELT TEACHers)!

Laurence is not an ELT Instructor (in the traditional sense) – but he is passionate about communication and the LEARNing of his LEARNers. He was keen to see (that’s an understatement…we actually put money on it) whether the types of questions I use in “feedback sessions” with other TEACHers could, in fact, help him become a better LEARNing TEACHer…

I’ll leave that for you (and him) to decide!


Are you sitting comfortably? Then…I’ll begin…


TG:  When was the last time you were observed by someone, Laurence?

LR:  People regularly come in to my classes.  I believe that being observed is an important aspect of any educator’s job, whether it be parents, guests, other teachers, learners, or whatever.  I believe that adaptation to any learning situation is a subconscious as well as a conscious process; if an educator observes the observer’s or the guest’s reaction to any given situation, they often adapt their techniques – especially if that reaction is overwhelmingly positive or negative.  I believe that educators are teaching life-skills in their classes, and one of those life-skills is to be able to react positively to public situations.  I was pleased with our learners’ reactions to your presence in the class; as you know, they might have just clammed up with a stranger in their midst. 

TG:  Cool – not many educators do this.  Look, the way I conduct this type of feedback session is this: I have a series of questions to structure our conversation.  They’re not intended to be judgmental, but designed for you to think through the process of adaptation in any learning situation.  Let’s look at the first of these:  what teaching outcomes did you have for the session?

LR:  I can’t really answer that, to be honest! I’m really interested in using materials to develop learner abilities; in other words, to encourage learners to think for themselves, as well as develop 21st century learning abilities such as resilience and openness.  Hence my decision to put them into groups of three or four, and ask them to do task-based activities, with the minimum of pre-teaching and/or explicatory lecturing from me. 

TG:  Well, there are certain models people use  for teaching and learning:  one of them is the PPP model, or the TTT model (Jang 2008).  Another model is the OHP or TBL model  You seem to use a TBL or a PBL model.  You give a task, allow time for negotiation, and then asked the learners to perform and reflect on what they had done.  Looking at the class in terms of these models might help determine its teaching outcomes:  what stages the learners undergo to complete the adaptive process – adaptation, in this sense, understood as learning something at the end of the lesson that they did not know or could not do at the beginning.  What do you think that learners learned from your session?

LR:  I think that today was an interesting situation, as learners acquired sufficient resilience to cope with strange situations: first, there were two sections who had been put together in one class for the first time in the entire semester; and second, that they had a guest – in other words, yourself – in their midst.  In terms of learning outcomes, they learned to adapt themselves – their body language, responses, communication – to this unaccustomed situation.  Call it “thinking on your feet,” if you like, as well as an ability for learners to shed themselves of that self-consciousness that inhibits communication, and adapt to a new situation. 

TG:  It didn’t seem to faze them that the two groups came together.  How did you know that this learning was taking place? 

LR:  They made great efforts to support one another.  When one group was performing, all the rest of the learners were concentrating on the performance, rather than doing their own preparation.  Even if that performance was not the best in the world, the learners took the trouble to watch it.  More significantly the learners enjoyed what they were doing, and signaled their enjoyment through laughter.

TGSo, wasn’t that your teaching outcome? 

LR:  But … I believe that sometimes a learning outcome cannot be predicted.  If we empower learners to think for themselves, then they might be able to achieve things that educators do not expect.  I think that was certainly the case with the Shakespearean undergraduates two years ago.  Maybe we oughtn’t to make any distinction between teaching and learning outcomes; they’re all part of a continuum.  

TG:  So let’s go back to the question: how do you know that learners learned something from the class? You’ve already talked about their reactions: was there anything else that convinced you that learning had taken place? 

LR:  I asked the learners to do a role-play, so as to emphasize the importance of nonverbal as well as verbal communication in any person-to-person encounter.  The fact that they undertook the task with such gusto suggests that they understood what the outcome of the lesson might have been.  But there was also the unexpected bit: some learners got involved in the activities far more than I would have expected them to.  I try to know my learners, but sometimes they can offer pleasant surprises. 

TGCan you explain that a little more?  How did the learners’ performance meet your expectations, and what were the unpredictable elements? 

LR:  I believe that the performance helped to develop learner fluency and confidence with the language.  By empowering them to draw upon paralinguistic as well as linguistic elements, they understand how communication takes place on several levels.  Even the quiet ones in the group seemed to get involved.  The unexpected element was that those learners whom I expected to be peripheral  in a group-learning situation actually assumed a more active role; in other words, they adapted themselves. 

TGHow do you think the learning evolved during the session?  I mean – learning by “listening,” “doing” or “reflecting”?  If you had to allocate a percentage – or create a pie chart – on those three elements of learning during the class, how you would you respond? 

LR:  Learning by doing would be the most important aspect.  However that can only be sustained through a certain degree of learning by listening: not listening in terms of listening to a lecture from the educator, but listening to each other.  My role in that listening situation is to move about the class, listen to what learners are discussing, and offering comments whenever they might be useful.  Call it collaborative listening.  Let’s say 45% learning by doing, 40% listening, and only 5-10% reflecting.  This is interesting, as I believe that learners only reflect on what they have done after the lesson has concluded, or they have acquired that understanding before the lesson takes place.  In other words, reflection is what is done before and after individual lessons; this is what lies at the heart of adaptive learning. 

TG:  I noticed that … your learners responded well to small stimuli or your classroom management techniques  – clapping hands, for example.  I saw that they were very engaged in the task:  the noise level was quite high.  A lot of that negotiation was done in Turkish to begin with, but as the task neared completion, their language changed to English, especially when they prepared for the performance.  Was that something you expected? 

LR:  Yes.  Referring back to the last chapter, I believe that any language should be used, so long as learners are comfortable with it.  You have to make them want to do the task; if you place too many constraints on them, they won’t do it. 

TG:  There’s one other question here.  As the learners were working, what did you do to improve their levels of fluency or accuracy?  Which of these was your primary focus? 

LRDoes it matter?  Second language speakers need to adapt themselves to the language, and they need the confidence to do so.  Do we want them to be accurate, or just to have the willingness to communicate?  It’s like riding a bicycle, or learning to swim: the way you improve is by doing it, and wanting to do it.  I think we’ve also got to reflect on what fluency means:  do we mean linguistic or communicative fluency?  What is not said often assumes more significance than what is actively said.  Hence my determination not to intervene too much: to empower learners to acquire their own adaptive skills.

TG:  Maybe that was one of your teaching outcomes; to give the learners an opportunity to empower themselves?

LR:  This is true.  In the learners’ educational contexts, they spend a lot of their time in teacher-centered situations, interspersed with presentations.  This involves reading out material copied from books, accompanied with PowerPoint slideshows.  In contrast what I want to do is to create a more fluid situation, so that learners can initiate adaptive processes for themselves. 

TG:  When the learners got to their performance, some of them were reading from notes, others were adlibbing.  Is this what you expected? 

LR:  Yes.  Learners can choose how they want to perform; this has to do with confidence in language communication.  Some are bolder than others.  The only way they can develop is to feel free to adopt whatever strategies they wish. 

TG:  So … and this is the big question.  If you could do the session again, what three things would you keep, and what three things would you drop or change?

LR:  Instead of doing a performance, I might do a creative writing activity.  I might also devise a prereading activity based on a text given before the lesson.  This might be more suitable for younger learners … I don’t know.  I’d also like to have some time allotted for reflection on the learning outcomes of the lesson; in other words, ask the same question of learners that you’ve asked of me. 

TG:  Interesting.  When you answered that question, you critiqued yourself first – and didn’t really talk about the things you wanted to keep.  Why was that, do you think? 

LR:  This is the point of adaptive thinking.  Ideas are seldom fixed, and you can use the past to reflect on present and future.  I’d keep the format of the lesson, as it was group-focused, negotiation-based and learner-centered, and had that unpredictable element.  This represents an alternative to their mainstream learning in the institution. 

TG:  This is co-creation, isn’t it? Let’s stop there and continue our chat later.


I did warn you all…

…cos we ain’t finished, yet – boys and girls!


I asked Laurence to jot down his reflections (between that chat and a follow-up chat we arranged for laters).

This is what he did:

The interesting aspect of this discussion was the ways in which Tony’s feedback questions prompted me to reflect on my teaching practice and the ways in which I reacted from moment to moment during the session.  Such reactions emphasize the capacity of any individual to adapt to any given situation.  This process was identical to that experienced by the learners, as they worked in groups to implement the activity given to them at the beginning.  This is what lies at the heart of collaborative learning… 

However, it is also important to stress that feedback and reflection are not finite, they are ongoing processes (what Tony describes as “reflective savvy”), it should be part of every educational interaction, so as to help educators and learners use adaptation to reshape their approaches to learning, shaped by the cultures they inhabit. 

The next section of our discussion bears this out; it was conducted five days after the first “feedback” session.

TGDid you feel that you needed space to think through some of the things we talked about?

LR:  There are two things there: when you reflect immediately after a class, the reactions are spontaneous, often visceral, perhaps more emotional rather than reflective.  However the five day break is a good way of thinking about how one might use the experience of that lesson as a means to adapt one’s existing pedagogical approaches.  You ask questions such as: did the lesson actually implement what I believe is most significant about the adaptive approach to pedagogy?  Did it help to sustain the kind of continuity something intrinsic to 21st century learning) built up over the previous twelve or thirteen weeks of the semester?

TG:  OK, let’s ask you that question: how does that type of reflection impact on your personal philosophy of teaching and learning? 

LR:  I think the answer to that goes back to my belief that adaptation studies, understood in this context as a process of mental as well as textual transformation, is a continuous process of reflecting on the past to determine one’s future belief.  When I started teaching nearly thirty years ago, I was very much wedded to the “sage on the stage” belief, because I copied what my teachers did in the university context.  I think it’s very difficult to undergo a complete overhaul of one’s teaching technique, as I believe I have done, and I think that the only way to achieve that transformation is through continual reflection.  If you want to feel confident in your transformative process, you’ve got to have the guts to put your knowledge and skills on the line and scrutinize them. 

TG:  And that’s precisely the kind of adaptive approach that Darwin advocated, all those years ago, when he discussed how all species become accustomed to new environments. 

LR:  Exactly.  And this reflection session is a good way of stimulating this process.  I have to look at classes in terms of what learners get out of it, rather than judging myself purely in terms of educator performance. 

TG:  When we talked in the feedback session a few days ago, I asked a series of structured questions.  Were there any that you found disturbing, and which do you think allowed you to think about adaptive learning in a deeper way? 

LR:  I don’t think any questions actually disturbed me.  

TGNot even the one about teaching outcomes? 

LR:  No.  Because I think the questions help me to structure my reflections, and hence learn how to adapt themselves.  The outcomes question needs to be addressed, even if you don’t necessarily like it. 

TGBut you did resist the question when we talked about it? 

LR:  This is part of that two-fold process I described earlier.  I think learning in an adaptation studies classroom encompasses immediate feedback plus a more considered reflection a few days later.  The considered reflection helps makes sense of those unpredictable elements that take place in any learning situation – for example, when a lesson plan doesn’t work out, or when learners react in ways that the educator doesn’t anticipate.  If you asked me now about what the teaching outcomes were of the lesson I did five days ago, I’d answer thus:  to develop learner capacities to transform texts in their own ways, and thereby cultivate resilience and problem-solving abilities.I think the time spent on reflection helps find a way of reconciling educator and learner interests;  to help educators understand learner needs, and to adapt their techniques as a result.  This is where I think adaptation studies is so important.  It represents an attempt to create new models of learning.  I think what we’re doing is trying to take the discipline out of its film-theater-literature context and apply it in a broader sense to issues of teaching and learning.

TG:  We might call it a more principled context.  In other words, not just pursuing something new for the sake of it – because it’s technologically hip or cool, but trying to devise a set of principles for adaptive learning.  Can we go back a bit and think a little about your answer to my first question a few days ago.  When I asked how long it was since you’ve been observed, you replied in a very nontraditional way.  It surprised me when you said that my classroom’s open: usually when people respond they say that they’ve never been observed – or not been observed  – “professionally” for a very long time.  That suggested you had a fair bit of learning consciousness.  Does that make sense?  Where did this come from, do you think?

LR:  I think this has a lot to do with my belief in feedback and reflection as the basis of adaptation studies, something which has become more pronounced since I did the Shakespeare course two years ago.  I think this can best be done by investigating one’s autobiography.  When I did my teacher training in the mid-1980s, I had a mentor teacher whom I never got on with.  This was a purely personal thing.  I remember one day she asked me a peremptory question after I’d done a sample lesson:  “what do you think the learners learned from that lesson?”  It was designed purely as a content-based feedback question – another example might be: what poems did learners study in the anthology today? 

TG:  In other words, were you ticking all the boxes correctly – or was she? 

LR:  True.  Ever since that time I’ve always believed that an observer is there not to judge, but to learn themselves, or to engage in dialogue. 

TGSo an observer can participate in adaptive learning as well?

LR:  Yes:  the observer might want to develop their own skills.  They might not only comment on your own technique, but participate in a dialogue. 

TG:  I also believe in getting feedback on my questioning technique.  Did you think I was leading or judging you through my feedback? 

LR:  Not at all …an educator should prompt reflection through feedback based on questioning.  This is what I found fascinating about our sessions: encouraging that two-fold response we talked about earlier.  The art of adaptive learning is to realize that the questioner is not out to judge, but to prompt self-adaptation.  

TG:  I purposely didn’t ask you one question in the previous reflection session , focusing on your own adaptive thinking: what will you do in the class, and how can you evaluate the success of the initiatives you want to introduce?  Do you think I was right to do so? 

LR:  Maybe it would have caused a defensive response: everyone will reply that their lessons are going to contribute to an overall course of action, because I want to be a better educator.  But if you leave it for a few days, I think you’re going to prompt the educator to review what they have done, and determine for themselves whether they need to change or not.  Maybe the passage of time is important there. 

TG:  Now you’ve talked about learning outcomes, I think maybe we can look at your lesson in this way.  Maybe you created the opportunities for learners to develop themselves (though planning the outcomes of a lesson); but maybe you can’t predict how they will respond to these opportunities.  Let’s go back to you for the moment.  Sometimes I do feedback sessions three, or even four times, so as to help educators in their reflective processes.  Do you feel that these two sessions have made a difference for you? 

LR:  Yes, because I think that these experiments stimulate individual educator reflection – a process that never ends.  Sometimes you need someone to bounce ideas off in order to develop your own ideas and techniques.  We’re not just talking about an isolated process here; this is the basis of collaborative learning – non-judgmental, non-threatening – where people feel they can be honest in what they are saying. 

TG:  Once educators recognize the rationale of this type of process, they can then use the same experience with their learners, asking the same kind of questions we looked at together.

…or NOT?


This “LEARNing conversation” is adapted from chapter 5 (entitled “Reflecting and Adapting”) of – a wee book Laurence and I have been putting together…every Sunday for the past year.

The book – ADAPTATION STUDIES AND LEARNING: NEW FRONTIERS (Scarecrow, 2012) – will be published by a tiny, boutique publisher in the US…and you will probably never find it…in any self-respecting book store!

…and don’t be asking me for a signed, free copy…our marketing budget is so small, we have had to borrow money from our mothers-in-law just to purchase our own copies!

BUTboth Laurence and I would love to hear what you thunk

“Comment zamanı, anyone”?

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 02)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 10/11/2012 at 8:34 am

That image is probably the #1 graphic (in download terms) on the blog – probably because so many people see so many different things in it.

However, what nearly everyone agrees on is that the quote is…oh-so-true!


That having been said, do you remember what I said in Pt 01 of this little diziabout “truth”?

…but I would warn against thunking that “our” truth is the “only” truth…especially when we are talking about classroom observation and helping another educator LEARN, GROW…and GET OFF the planet quicker!

What I was getting at was basically this – when we are helping another TEACHer to reflect on a lesson, the best way to do it is by ASKingby LISTENingby BEing there for the TEACHer (as well as BEing with the TEACHer).


Jumping in with both feet (and a “club”) ain’t gonna get you very far – and the over-zealous (and over-used) strategy of picking up on every, single, bloody, tiny, “screw-up” is probably the reason so many TEACHers (still) “dread” – yes, I said “dread”, classroom observation…and (even more so) the “feedback session”!

Yes! I have “feelings” on this…strong feelings!

BUT…this is not the time for a RANT (I heard you, Laurence)!


I promised to share something with you…some of the questions I ASK when I run “reflection sessions” with TEACHers.

I won’t pretend that these little questions are the “Holy Grail” of feedback sessions (there are no magic bullets in education – you know this). All I can say is that they “work” for mein 9 out of 10 instances…especially, in sessions when TEACHers “volunteer” or ASK me to help them out.


That’s the first one I start with (after finding a comfortable place to chat…and buying us both a coffee or çay).

Why is this question so important?


Well, I totally agree with what my men, Andy and Mike, say…

…but, in a feedback session – it is “feelings” that dictate how effectively a TEACHer will “be” him or herself, “thunk”…and “open up” to you. Even if you both feel that you already have a pretty “cool” relationship…

It ain’t rocket science – boys and girls!


The next question I usually ASK is this one:

…now, this one looks quite “easy”, doesn’t it?


However, I’ve found that even the most experienced TEACHers can benefit from exploring this question a wee bit…especially, when one of our purposes (for having a feedback session) is to get to my third question:


It is this questionor rather the second part of this question…that can “bake a noodle” or three!

Indeed, it is this question that can lead us back to the second question…and allow us both to look at how “aligned” the lesson actually was (with what was “planned”).


Afterall, we all know…

…don’t we?


Building on that question, I often move onto my next one:

…and it is one of the “toughest” in the whole session – especially we we use it to analyse different phases of a lesson or the various activities used.

Yes, it can take a long time!


What this lovely little question also does is show the “power” of recording classroom observation sessions – video recording and serious “viewing” by the TEACHer herself.

If I am not actually recording the session (and I try to do this as much as I can), I sometimes keep a “log” of how many times a TEACHer (or the LEARNers) “do” certain things. For example, in one recent session I began counting the number of times that LEARNers actually:

1. produced an “original” utterance

2. produced an utterance “copied” from what the teacher had said

3. produced an utterance “copied” from the textbook

…when I shared my “count” with the TEACHer in question, we got into all sorts of great discussions (after the initial “shock” produced by the “data”) – and agreed that video was the way to go (with or without me being there)!


The next question is really all of the “magic 3” I mentioned in the earlier post:

– the “trick” here is to try and get TEACHers to look at the “strengths” of a session firstyou’d be surprised just how many want to ignore these and focus on “fixing” the not-so-great-stuff!


Now, this next one is a bit tricky – as the previous question needs to have prepared the groundwork by having thrown up a range of options. Indeed, it is that phase that allows the OBSERVer and the TEACHer to “trade” ideastrade practices…and “create” improvement opportunities:

…this question then allows you to set up an action plan…a timeline.

And, we all know why that is! Yes?


But, it is the second part of the question that helps TEACHers (especially those that have not done a great deal of “formal” reflection or been observed very much)…start to take a newer perspectivea LEARNing perspective that uses the type of “counts” I mentioned before! This perspective is not grounded on what the TEACHer “does” all on her own – but rather in the LEARNing that is “produced” by what both the TEACHer and the LEARNers “do” together…


In any reflection session, it’s also important that the TEACHer gets the opportunity to give some feedback to the OBSERVer – so, I often ask this one:

…and encourage the TEACHer to TELL me what “worked” for him…what I should keep on doing or what I can do less of – to improve the experience.

I have got a lot better over time at doing this…by LISTENing to feedback from TEACHers on how I “perform” as an OBSERVera lot better!


As I said (right at the start of this post) – there is no magic recipe.

I do not always use every question. I do not always keep the same order outlined here…and, it is the questions that the TEACHer and I co-create in a specific conversation that are the most fruitful in many cases!


SO…what I’ll do in the next post (I might need to split it up) is show you an actual “transcript”. The LEARNing coversation I had with Laurencethe very first time I saw him “in action”


That should be FUN!

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 01)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 09/11/2012 at 9:37 am

This post is dedicated to the memory of “Sally”a wonderful LEARNer, TEACHer and QUESTIONer – who has been taken from us far too early.

Bugün, çok karanlık bir günde,  harika bir insan ve arkadaşımızı aydınlığa uğurlayacağız…seni seviyouruz, canım!


With the exception of my “saucy Conference Calendar“, nearly all my posts (and guest-posts) of late have been about “questions”.

Have you noticed that?

Now, I’m not sure about you…but I have always hated being “told” what to doeven when I was knee-high to a grasshopper! Parents, teachers…even my “mates” would drive me up the wall…when they “jumped” in and said things like:

  • No, that’s silly…what you need to do is…
  • You’re doing it all wrong, Tony! This is how you do it…
  • You didn’t use the blackboard much in that lesson. Why not?
  • Your lesson lacked “flavour” again…why didn’t you do what we discussed last time?

OK – those last two are from CELTA trainers…and even though a question or two are “thrown” in – they weren’t really questions at all. More like a club to the head!

We’ve talked about these kinds of things before – many times on the blog (as have others in my PLN)!


Don’t get me wrong!

I’m not suggesting that we should never tell others the “truth”…but I would warn against thunking that “our” truth is the “only” truth…especially when we are talking about classroom observation and helping another educator LEARN, GROW…and GET OFF the planet quicker!


TELLing people does NOT workas well as we thunk!

Think about it – as a TEACHer – how many times have you told your LEARNers stufftold them againrevised itre-taught itchecked their understandingassigned “homework”…and some of them STILL don’t get it?

Why would it be any different if you did the same with a TEACHer…when giving them feedback on one of their lessons? Especially, and I mean especially, when you get their backs up…by suggesting:

  • I know best!
  • You did it wrong!
  • Now, fix it!


There is a better way…

It’s not rocket science! If we can shelve our experience, our positionour egoand LISTEN first!

LISTENing is best initiated by ASKing…and, in allthingsclassroomobservation, there are essentially THREE questions we should be encouraging TEACHers to thunk about

Finding out where the TEACHer is coming fromwhat the TEACHer “feels”…is the best (initial) “deposit” you can drop into the “joint emotional bank account” you have opened with the TEACHer. You are going to need some “credit” in that account before you can make a “withdrawal”…

and, you can take that advice to the bank!


The thing is…

Isn’t that always the case?

Tomorrow, I’ll share with you some of the questions that I ASK…

Do we really need more “Why Guys” (n’ Gals) in EDUcation?

In Classroom Teaching, News & Updates (from the CBO), Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 12/05/2012 at 11:02 am

When I first decided to take the leap into the blogosphere (16 months back), I read every single “top blog” on the web – 6 to 8 times…and then, again!

I was looking for the “secret”you know, that “magic ingredient”

I read pages and pages of the advice offered by the so-called social media gurus. Although a lot of this advice annoyed the hell out of me (“education” and “business” are not always the best of bed-fellows), all the best bloggers kept advising me to come back to the same point…what is the PURPOSE of your blog?

I actually liked that…it made sense to who I like to think I am as a man, as a teacher, as a thinker!

Obviously, my blog was always going to be about EDUcation (or COOKing, perhaps)! Funny thing is, I probably would have a got a lot more “hits”, if I had gone with the latter…ne se (and Google Translate still “sucks”)!

The problem was that I am soooooo interested in soooooo many things…classroom practice, technology, leadership, performance improvement, language development, cognitive growth, assessment, curriculum, innovation, teacher education…

In the end, I did go back to PURPOSE…I went back to LEARNing. That was the “line” that seemed to connect all my “dots”.

I drew up my little manifesto…and have always tried to stay true to that.



The thing is – this PURPOSE keeps bringing me back to the notion of:


This is why I loved the idea of the Why Guy (click on this – great video) when I first stumbled onto it – OK; it was not really “that” Why Guy (though it is a fun video clip). The term was (from what I was able to dug up) the brain-child of Mike Castellucci – and it has been picked up by a huge range of organisations and web-based thinkers.


Seth Godin (one of the Blogging Jedi Masters I researched many moons ago) has recently done a post on the importance of having these “guys” (and “gals”) in every institution around the globe…

Seth tells us we need to be asking more questions like:

  • Why does it work this way?
  • Why is that our goal?
  • Why did you say no?
  • Why are we treating people differently?
  • Why is this our policy?
  • Why don’t we enter this market?
  • Why did you change your mind?
  • Why are we having this meeting?
  • Why not?

He’s right – totally right – and those of you that know this blog well will know the types of questions I love to ask…and love others to ask themselves.


Being a “Why Gal” is extremely important for anyone in a LEADership role – we know that everyone is a “boss-watcher” and if you want a “thinking team” you gotta “walk-your-whys”.

TEACHers are leaders – and students are “TEACHer watchers”. If you want to help co-create thinking studentsyou gotta be a “Why Gal” (or “Guy”) in the classroom

You just knew one of these was a-comin’…


I need to tell you a little story about something that happened this week.

You know I have been coaching a few teachers in observation and feedback skills of late. Normally, when I do this type of work – we look at best practices across a whole range of disciplines and practice a few reflection and feedback skills in a more “controlled” environment – then we “step it up”.

This week I stepped it up with two of my favourite “reflectors” – I asked them to observe each other’s class and then take the role of “observer” and give feedback to the “observee” (with me there to “feed back” on the “feedback”). They were both ready – they have established a great LEARNing partnership, they care about each other deeply and they have become really skilled at asking the “right” questions.

The feedback and reflection session went “south” so quickly…it would have made your head spin!

…because of the bloody question “Why”!


Sure, “Why?” is a great question – but it also the type of question that can send us all into a “Freudian panic” faster than Mitt Romney can change his position on just about any issue that matters…to US voters.


A lot of this goes back to how we have been trained to “hear” what the word “why” actually means:

  • Mummy: Why did you do that? I told you what would happen…
  • Daddy: Why didn’t you ace that test? Just a “C”…just a “C”…
  • Grandma: You didn’t do it…Why not? What’s wrong with you…?

Philip Larkin wrote a great poem about how families “condition” us to certain ways of thinking…sadly many institutions continue with this tradition.


Coming back to TEACHersgiving each other “feedback” – look at these:

WHYI giggled a bit as I typed that…do you think a TEACHer might not want to “hear” the red questions, acaba (good save – Google Translate)?


The “Why Guy” is important (in the right context, with the right relationship) – but, we also need the “How Gal”…a gal who knows how to get the “best” out of others. 

…but, most importantly, we need the “How-Do-We-Know-Guy”!

A Questioning Culture – for the CLASSROOM this time!

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 24/04/2012 at 1:21 pm

A couple of months ago I did a post on the need for institutions to create a “questioning culture” (actually, there was a second post, too).

Basically, my stream of bloggereah went something like this:

  • Questions are at the heart almost everything we think, feel and do as a species…
  • Despite the fact that we know good questions are at the heart of effective student, teacher and institutional LEARNing, many of the questions we ask in our schools, colleges and universities are pretty lame…
  • Ergo – many institutions remain ineffective, fail to move with the times and…are hell to work for!


Is it the same in our classrooms…acaba?


This weekend Edna Sackson (aka @whatedsaid) treated me (and a fair few others) to another great post on her blog – What Ed Said. She outlined the really creative and collaborative way she had got her head around what a “lifelong learner profile” could (or should) be – and what it should not be!

As a bonus, she also introduced me to Ron Ritchart’s “8 Cultural Forces” (from his book – Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why it Matters, and How to Get It):

For Ron these “forces” define what a “thinking classroom culture” is all about – and Ed drew on these (and some ideas from her PLN – #pypchat) to describe a whole range of classroom practices that help “create” the type of learner profile we all want…need…to see in our classrooms! Do try and take a look at her post HERE.

What Ed and Ron got me thunking about was the tools we use to breathe life into these forces – yani, what we teachers do with what we know about with these things. What struck me was the one common tool that we all use – our questions!


The TEACHer in me thought it might be a good idea to get down some solid “advice” for us all on the ole blog – but then, I remembered something from last week.

At a teacher training seminar I was doing (on “Speaking Skills” for ELLs) I posed a few questions to participants:


What hit me (like a truck) as I encouraged people to “answer” these questions for themselves was that many teachers simply did not have answers to these questions – they did not “know” (though they all promised to find out the next week)…


Bearing this in mind, I wondered if the same situation would arise if we modified these questions about teacher-talking-time to questions about questions. For example:


I got these out to a few “guinea pigs” as bit of an e-straw poll!

Same response… “Tony, we don’t know for sure”! Actually, a few people said things that were a bit more colourful than that…and one even threatened to “de-friend” me on facebook!

But, again…most said they’d love to find out.


For many of us, the questions we ask in the classroom are a great way of communicating knowledge and checking the quality of learning – however, the questions we ask of students are perhaps one of the best tools we have to role-model attitude, expectations, abilities – and thunking!

I know lots of teachers who have boned up on web-based resources on questioning techniques (there are some great resources out “there”) – but it seems to me that a wee bit more of a focus on “action research” would be a far better way to start:

  • Using recordings of ourselves in class with our students – and listening
  • Asking a “critical friend” to pop into a class or two for us – and listening
  • HEY, even getting students involved as a “question monitors” – and listening


Once we get a bit of data on “the numbers” (our own numbers), we could then perhaps do a bit of “data mining” – through other questions:


Teachers can benefit from looking at other things, too – for example:


They can also push the envelope a little further and consider:


Then, do some serious “heavy-lifting”:


Looking back at these “reflection” questions, I’m glad I choose to ask “TEACHer Tony” to take a back seat today. It’s not just advice from “others” that will help us create a questioning culture in our classrooms – it’s asking questions of our own practice that really matters…