Over the years, it became very clear that this question was ineffective. Wait time is very important and many teachers provide just enough time to avoid many wrong answers. Instead of listening and guiding the students to the answer collaboratively the class must go on based on the curriculum timeline of mostly “one and done” lessons. Many students do not know what to ask or are usually terrified to appear “dumb” by asking “stupid” questions in front of their peers. When the issue is pushed and students are asked what they don’t understand the general response is “everything”. I learned after a few years that I needed to think of another way to get more feedback and spark a little conversation about the topic.
Many students come to me from teachers that simply asked for questions (or asked them questions then singled them out for not knowing) so I decided to try a thumb system. Students would give me a thumb up for their perception of full understanding, a side thumbs for a so-so perception of understanding and a thumb down for no perceived understanding (clarification was given as students that were not focused at all could not just give a thumb down). This system worked a great deal more than simply asking for any questions as I would at least get more students that were lot to give the side thumb and I would be able to better target my remediation process. I always explained that if all students just decided to give a thumbs up then clearly we are ready to assess and move on. I discussed the importance of the students giving honest responses and not having my students go into bobble head mode give lots of agreeing heads shakes with no meaning. (Per my personality, I insert humor and analogies with students daily) I have used this system successfully for about the last five years.
In the middle of this school year (and in the middle of a class) I saw and felt the death of the thumb strategy. It seemed to be losing its effectiveness for student feedback and discussion. So, in that moment I just thought about what the students could use to better voice their perception of the material but not feel singled out as it was relative to their population. Just like that I changed the system and the classroom response and effectiveness greatly improved again. Instead of thumbs we used the classic rock-paper-scissors challenge rules. I say “rock-paper-scissors” shoot! The students would play rock for perceived solid knowledge, paper for shaky perceived knowledge or scissors for perceived choppy knowledge. My 6th graders were excited to use the new system and I started to get valuable feedback so that I could hone in on my remediation even better. This quick relative thought on my toes saved my lesson that day and the students couldn’t wait to be asked for a response the days moving forward.
In every questioning system that I have used to spark discussion and thought, I model and remind the students that it is very unlikely to not understand anything that was discussed. For example, they know what numbers are and how to multiply, add, subtract and divide them but in an order of operations problem they could have simply missed one single step that led them to the incorrect answer. We spend time discussing the problem, their thought process and steps taken so they are able to pin point what happened that got them off track instead of immediately erasing the entire problem. Sometimes they need to start from scratch while other times they need to mend a small mistake or finish the process of the problem to reach the final answer.