As a student, I loved when we ‘side-tracked’ my teachers: asking them questions and derailing the lesson with something more interesting (to us). I loved that the questions could be so good that the teacher would lose track of time and engage with us directly on our own levels.
As a teacher, I absolutely love being on the other side. At the beginning of the year, I created a shared google doc where students could dump all their wonderings – I wanted a forum where they could validate their wonderings and brainstorm their answers. The doc fell through … I’d forget to tell them to use it, to be honest.
It turns out too, that I didn’t need it.
There are classes I’ve planned deliberately to just have time to talk. I knew one of my 6th grade classes would bubble over with questions the minute I announced that we were going to study different forms of government, including the difference between democracy and republics. Oh boy did they ever. 40 minutes later, I had to shut them down, with much resistance.
My 7th graders once deliberately peppered me with questions for most of a class period. Hard questions about culture and religion. They told me this week, as we reflected on highlights of the year, that they’d been intentionally distracting me and had a lot of fun doing it. I told them, “I know. I was aware at the time, and let it happen because it was fun for me too.” They know me well enough to not be too surprised.
Why? Because damn it, questions are important. We’re lucky in the middle school to have a lot of curricular freedom and kids who are interested in the material. I want them to ask me and each other 1 million questions. I want my classroom to feel like a place where a kid can be comfortable just wondering something out loud and having anyone even just guess at the answer until they find one that works. These are questions that google can’t answer easily, and it makes my heart happy to see the kind of thinking they can do when they’re interested and feel safe.
Given how class went this year, I think I managed that. It’s something I’m very proud of in my first year of teaching and something I hope to get better at doing as time goes on.
N.B. The one question of mine I wish they answered more?
“Okay, any questions about the assignment now? Anyone? Okay, you’re all totally clear on what to do? Okay, then. Go ahead.”
…… 5 minutes later: “Wait, Ms G… What are we supposed to do?”