I’m a bit of a jokester. There are different kinds of jokesters. I’m not the type to play pranks or make up silly stories. My style is to never give a straight answer. My coworkers will tell you that they usually adopt the opposite of whatever I tell them when it comes to deciphering the truth on a matter. Everything I say is met with sighs… That kind of jokester.
In the classroom, I am even worse! Right before I’m able to provide some hokey response, my students complain when one of their peers dare ask me a simple question. They know I will use that inquiry as a tool to teach an entire, off the cuff, mini lesson that will share a ton of valuable, real-world-information, and they will eventually love, but might take time away from whatever task is at hand.
I teach third grade, which finds student-development at pre-abstract-thinking. This doesn’t stop me from throwing curveball answers at every swinging student. Life isn’t straight. Why pretend its answers will be? Look at this pandemic. Look at politics. Look at pedagogy. Everything is swaying and swerving and swinging.
The moment an answer closes a question, the journey of thinking is over. This is why I encourage my students to ask open-ended questions. Even when these are “answered,” there is a whole adventure of learning just beyond the horizon of the information provided. Rather than the answer closing a door, it shows you an orchard where, not only can you eat the fruit of that information, but you have a treasure trove of other interesting facts at your disposal.
This morning I noticed a classy comment in the Google classroom. A combination of my having just downed some super strong coffee and my being a jokester caused me to provide a pretty productive answer.
The question had to do with the recent requirement of reading at least 20 minutes per day. My school is operating, like many during the pandemic, in hybrid mode. This means that I don’t get to see my Polite Pirates (students) nearly as much as I would like! Now, they are going to have to deal with my jokester answers in text form! Ha!!
This student wanted to know if I was requiring any kind of proof of her reading. What will she need to “do” while she reads? What tangible things will she produce as a result of having read some text?
My answer: If you do it correctly, you will grow as a reader… As a person… As a citizen… As a Polite Pirate… As a student of life…
Lest you think I left my poor pupil hanging with nothing but a ranting reply, I’ll settle your soul with the fact that in the end, I finally gave the class a clear explanation of expectations.
2 thoughts on “Straight Answers Close Doors”
Hey Matt! Thank you for this post. I wanted to comment for a couple reasons. First of all, you have no idea how wonderful it is to see you in action…especially at a time when inactive classrooms are the norm where I live. Your class looks so fun and alive!!! THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!!
In reply to this particular post, I have to say that I’m not sure if I can agree with you on this one. It might be interesting to question your students to see how much of your longer responses they actually absorb. As a person of few words…especially verbal…I often wonder how much of what is said to children is actually heard or listened to. For me, the straight answer is best when pertaining to direct questions. I would worry that my students, or my own children, would stop asking me if they fear that the answer will take more time than they are willing to invest. Looks as if your students know what they are getting into, and enjoy the exchange. That is awesome! I will need to mull this one a bit more.
Thank you, as always, for your thought provoking words.
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Thank you very much for commenting, Donna! Your compliments are wonderful.
I relish your contrary opinion about the idea of not being straight with youngsters. At the end of your comment, you hit the nail on the head: It is all about differentiation. Some kids need a simple answer. Others could use some stretching. And, still others adore my enigmatic riddle of an answer. Of course, I don’t always have time to say/type these kinds of answers, either. They are like Thanksgiving meals of replies.
It definitely requires some Emotional Intelligence to know when the curveball of an answer will be received, and when it is inappropriate. Thanks again for the comment. You helped stretch my thinking, and I love that.