Monday, September 12, 2011

I Stopped Answering Questions

Not really . . . but I did stop using 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class to discuss and answer questions on the previous day's assignment.

Initially, it was an experiment. I felt like students weren't really invested in this time, and that most of them were falling into one of four categories:

1.  The procrastinators:  These students were using this time to finish the assignment.
2.  The ones who lacked perseverance:  These students would encounter a challenging problem and then stop working on it (or not even attempt it in the first place) because they could just "ask about it in class".
3.  The ones who were really engaged:  Most days, it felt like maybe 2 kids.
4.  The ones who were bored:  These students had the assignment finished and were ready to move on to  a new lesson.

So I stopped spending time on questions. (My students have answers, so they can check for correctness as they practice). And this is what happened:

1.  Most of the procrastinators found a time to finish the assignment before class.
2.  Many more students persevered through challenging problems because they didn't have the crutch of asking about it later.
3.  Many with legitimate questions would drop by before school to ask. Most of our students arrive 30 minutes before first bell, so this works well at our school.
4.  Most everyone started finishing the assignment outside of class.

These outcomes alone were enough for me to turn my experiment into a permanent routine, but there was another benefit that I wasn't expecting . . . I suddenly had an extra 10 - 15 minutes in every class period. What can you do with an extra 10 - 15 minutes?! Here's how I use the extra time:

I use a few bell work problems every day (I am testing out a new bell work strategy, more on that later) to review and check for understanding. If there are any major misconceptions, I can usually identify and address them during this time.

While teaching a new lesson, I have a lot more time for practice and checking for understanding. I still do a lot of talking, but I also do a lot of pausing while students try this or that and check with me (or a partner). I have time to work in several mini-formative checks, and address common misconceptions. The result is fewer issues on the practice/assignment, which in turn further reduces the need for the question/discussion time at the beginning of class the next day.

Sometimes I still wonder if I should bring back the question time, structured differently to eliminate the problems I was having. I haven't done this because I don't miss it. And neither do my students. I realized today that in 2 or 3 years, I haven't had a single student complain about why I don't answer questions at the beginning of class.


  1. I only take questions every couple days, definitely before a quiz, but not every day. This through kids off that had a different teacher last year. (I should say this is only in Geometry that I do this). It has cut question time down, and I will only discuss 1 of each type of problem, so they must choose wisely. I will always talk about problems outside of class time, but this has cut down the time in class. And I only set the problem up for them, I do not solve it. Kids were using that as a crutch last year when they were "too tired to try the problem last night" (their own words). I try to fit it into days where I am finishing a lesson (Lessons that are 1.5 days).

  2. Anyone have ideas or thoughts about this? I kind of feel like with my seventh graders this question time is an excuse for them to say they did not understand and to finish their work. When really they understand just choose not to finish.