Chances are, you’ve read, listened to or seen a version of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here, teacher and author Lisa Jane Ashes applies themes and characters from Douglas Adams’ sci fi classic to look at how teachers can best create great questions.
Why 42? Douglas Adams’ classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a great demonstration of how questioning can open up the imagination. Adams questioned everything we believe and a masterpiece of creativity was born. What if mice were more intelligent than men? What if the planet was created by technicians in a large factory? Underestimated dolphins, falling whales, improbability drives and the search for the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything; this story is creativity at its maddest and best.
‘Reading pictures can be as easy or difficult as reading printed text.’ Gomez-Reino, 1996
My research into how to teach young children explicit inference skills began in 2001 when I observed that there was a discrepancy in my school between many of our fluent reader's ability to read and their overall comprehension.
Evidence worryingly showed that an emphasis placed on phonics was producing readers who could decode the words but often had no understanding of their meaning. This was later reflected in the Rose Review’s ‘Simple View of Reading’ (2006) and more recently substantiated by York University’s ESRC reading study (2008) that raised the concern that ‘pupils' ease at reading words out loud may mask those who have difficulties with comprehension’. The cause of the problem was highlighted further by Anne Kispal’s ‘Effective Teaching of Inference’ NFER report in 2008 which concluded that poor inferencing skills cause poor comprehension and not vice versa’.
We realised that there was clearly a need to teach our children how to consciously infer and apply comprehension strategies as early as possible, if we wanted them to read for meaning and enjoyment from the very beginning.
People who have read my #marginalgains blog posts will know I am going over old ground here – intentionally so – as I am looking to dig deeper towards the key marginal gains that have the biggest impact on learning. For me, formative oral feedback and questioning are the two key ‘hinge point marginal gains’ that make for great teaching and learning. My previous #marginalgains blog identified new teaching strategies for these two key area of pedagogy, but here I wanted to use this blog to reflect on what I view as the most high impact formative oral feedback strategies that I have been using in my everyday practice. I want to use my list as a reminder, each time I plan lessons, of the key strategies to use – as it is too easy to forget and slip into autopilot planning, forgetting even our most effective of strategies.
In the latest OFSTED guidance, they have clearly stated that lesson planning should not be inflexible, that teachers should react to the progress, or the lack thereof, of their students. This is heartening recognition of what we have known all along – and that is that teaching and learning are contingent activities. Learning is often problematic, changeable, non-linear, beset by a host of unique factors that cannot be exactly replicated (but with experience we can determine common patterns). We must therefore be constantly tracking the evidence of learning with as much precision and skill as we can. That is why effective teaching hinges absolutely on oral formative feedback and questioning on a lesson by lesson basis. It appears to me that the greatest benefit of experience that I observe in excellent teachers is the recognition of how and when to elicit feedback, with the nuanced understanding of what questions to ask, how and when. I have drawn upon this wealth of experience for my top ten – indeed it is my inept stumbling near the shoulders of giants that is responsible for the whole lot!
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