I am trying to teach my ninth grade AVID students how to use questioning in tutorial sessions. Tutorial sessions are a cornerstone of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. Essentially, tutorials are two days a week. Students form a question the night before tutorial--preferably a higher level question. When students come into class on tutorial day, I group them by subject area. They meet in groups of 7 or less with a service learning student-tutor. Here's a quick sequence of the "ideal" session:
- The tutor gets everyone settled in a circle; tells students to take out their textbooks or notes that they brought to tutorial.
- The tutor goes around the circle and asks each students reads/shares their question.
- The tutor chooses one student to begin.
- The student (now student presenter) begins by asking the tutorial group his or her question.
- The group members then try to help the student answer their questions by guiding them to the answer with questions.
- Everyone gets to be the student presenter and every group member focuses on one presenter at a time, offering support through the questions they ask.
- To wrap up we reflect. The last 8 minutes or so of class are spent reflecting on the tutorial (plus, minus, interesting or another reflection strategy).
While writing the equation on a small whiteboard, the first student might say, "My question is how do you use the distributive property to solve/simplify linear equations like this one: 3 [7-5(x-y)]?"
A peer in the group could respond by asking, "What does "Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally" mean?
The presenter might answer, "parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, addition and subtraction."
The same peer or another from the group could then ask, "What happens when you subtract 5 from 7?"
The presenter would do that step on the whiteboard, getting 3[2(x-y)].
Another peer might ask, "can you distribute the 2 to the x and y, multiplying 2 times x and 2 times y to clear that parenthesis?"
The presenter would try that step on the whiteboard, getting 3(2x-2y).
The peer responds, "What happens if you distribute the 3 by multiply 3 times 2x and 3 times 2y?"
The presenter completes the step, getting 6x-6y.
A peer (or the tutor at this point) says, "is that as far as you can go or can you simplify the equation even more."
It's simplified, so the student presenter has been led to their answer. Here's just the first minute of how it went in class the other day...
Math is easy, or easier to conceptualize. Well, I see how to use the questioning process in math. Equations are neat, portable and clean. AP Human Geography is not--especially not when students are not reading their textbook and when they do not understand what they are supposed to be learning. The tutors and I lapse into telling when students questions break down or when the other students in the group disengage. The students can question me to no end when we are doing a lateral thinking puzzle, or when we are talking about a topic that engages them, but creating questions about their content classes that will lead them to learning is much more difficult.
Part of me thinks that the students don't know enough, much less the answer to the original question, to lead their peer in the right direction. Perhaps questioning--even just the idea of being curious to develop a deep understanding of a subject is abjectly foreign to freshmen. I'm not sure, but I sure need help teaching them how to speak only questions during tutorials. Any ideas?