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Teacher-to-Teacher: Creating a Questioning Classroom Environment By Janice Ewing

In several posts on this site, bloggers have shared ideas for fostering positive teacher inquiry and for sparking student inquiry. As we welcome the new year, I invite you to explore a related question: what strategies can help us to nurture our questioning or inquiry stance as teachers, and how can we extend this stance to our students? Here are some ideas to consider, as we return to our classroom:



  • Take a fresh look at your classroom when your students are not in it. Think about why you have it organized the way you do. Is it the way you’ve always done it, the way the other teachers in your grade level have their rooms organized, is it purposeful for the instructional groupings and practices that take place within it? Try to do a similar observation while the students are present and engaged in learning. Is your classroom arrangement ‘working?’ Are there realistic changes that would have a positive impact? Can you include your students in this reflective process? How would they explain the room arrangement to a visitor?


  • Think about your use of time. In many cases, much of the daily schedule is dictated by lunch and specials schedules, pull-outs for interventions, and other non-negotiables. In addition, pacing guides or curricular requirements often take over, as I talked about in a previous Teacher-to-Teacher post, “Time Change.” Taking all this into consideration, take a new look at your daily or block schedule. Does your use of time match your teaching goals and values? For example, if you value independent reading, how much time are you actually allotting for it? Again, you might find a way to include your students in this reflection, perhaps asking them to assign relative value to the various slots of the day or block, or asking them to list what they think your priorities are for them as learners, based upon how their time with you is spent. How might they reprioritize the schedule, if they had the agency to do so?


  • Observe the interaction patterns within your classroom. Who is doing most of the talking? Are students talking to each other, or just to you? Are students listening to each other, or waiting to get their point across? Are they taking risks in their thinking and writing, or going for ‘right answers?’ What are you doing to model the types of interaction you value? What might you do differently? How can you investigate your students’ comfort level with interaction and risk-taking in your class?


  • Reflect on how well you know your students as learners. Do you know what interests them, motivates them, discourages, or scares them? What opportunities do your students have for choice (of reading material, writing topic or format, projects, etc.) and what choices do they make? What additional resources or guidance might help, and are practical and realistic? You might want to survey your students as to which aspects of their learning they perceive as offering them an element of choice.



What new practices, strategies, ideas, use of time and space are entering your mind as you engage in these reflective processes? Note them in an inquiry journal, or an inquiry section of a writer’s notebook or reflective teaching journal that you might already be keeping. Choose an idea to follow up on, through informal action research in your classroom. Maybe you have a colleague with a similar interest, who will pursue this or a related topic at the same time. Or, perhaps you’ll consider including your students in the inquiry process, sharing your idea, your tryouts, your findings along the way, and your ongoing questions. What new learning could come from this type of co-investigation?



Lifelong learning and ongoing questioning go hand-in-hand. At this transitional point in the school year, what questions are arising in your classroom practice? How might you invite your students to explore these questions with you?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. janiceewing #

    Thanks for your comments, Mary. I love the question ‘What happens when there isn’t a finish line?’


    January 7, 2018
  2. mbuckelew #

    A perfectly timed piece. Rather than run willy nilly to the finish line and or view the spring as the home stretch in our classrooms, your words remind us to pause. Even if it’s just for a moment, we can re-focus on the learning journey and invite our students into the experience. Where are we headed? What are our students’ personal learning/literacy goals? Building District mandated goals? Does the journey need to be a race to the finish to the outcomes to the test? What happens when there isn’t a finish line?


    January 6, 2018

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