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Opinion | “Response-ability”

Students listen, think and respond. The world we live in today sure could benefit from that.

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Last year, I was asked by ASCD to read Jackie Walsh’s new book, Questioning for Formative Feedback, prior to its publication. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. The following is what I wrote about the book.

Dr. Walsh has done it again. Questioning for Formative Feedback will be our go-to resource for using quality questions for formative feedback. I believe that grading is fading into feedback, and our teachers need the tools and resources to make this happen in our classrooms with our students. To put it simply, Dr. Walsh offers practical tools and ideas that work. At Oxford High School, we saw growth in our ACT data during a pandemic. This was no accident. Our work with Dr. Walsh and our commitment to quality questioning is the reason we were able to achieve this success. I highly recommend this book to all educators who are committed to partnering with their students to enhance classroom dialogue, formative feedback, and student learning. — Heath M. Harmon, principal, Oxford High School, Oxford, Alabama

I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Walsh as we have implemented quality questioning techniques at Oxford High School. This implementation began as an instructional practice intended to increase student engagement. It has done that and much more.

The establishment of quality questioning mindsets has had an undeniable impact on our school. One such area is that it has helped our students to develop “response-ability.” The development of response-ability is an important quality questioning mindset that calls for response patterns that involve ALL students.

Educators, and anyone who has ever spent time in a classroom as a student, are well aware of what happens in classrooms that lack intentional response structures. These classrooms typically consist of the monotonous volley of teacher questions followed by answers that come from a handful, if that many, hand-raisers that are either ready to provide the correct answer or can easily be GPSed by the teacher to get to an answer quickly while the rest of the class in effect opts out.

With quality questioning, we are not so much looking for the correct answer as we are looking for responses. The more responses the better because these responses are built on by other students through the use of think time to then enable all students to arrive at concepts that are much bigger and more in-depth than just single correct answers.

It is fairly easy to see the instructional benefit of this. However, this is not where the benefit ends. When developing student response-ability, students learn to listen to other students, think about those responses, and then either ask qualifying questions or add to them with their own thoughts.

What to think about during pauses. Jackie Walsh, 2020

Speaking of think time, think about what I just said for a minute. Students listenthink and respond. The world we live in today sure could benefit from that.

The simple truth is most adults are not all that great at any of those three, especially when it comes to civil political discourse. Today’s society is not that interested in the responses of everyone leading to a better understanding for all. People today are much more comfortable with single correct answers that they deem beyond the realm of discussion. What is the need to discuss and debate? They learned all they needed to about the issue in a 15-second TikTok video.

Alabama Political Reporter editor-in-chief Bill Britt writes: “I guess smart people in Descartes’ day wrote scholarly works in Latin. Today we use memes, YouTube videos and trucker hats to convey our deeply held convictions.”

In-depth analysis, close reading, and time to think — “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Hence the explosion of social media self-appointed pundits and conspiracy theories. In her book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, Anne Applebaum writes: “The emotional appeal of a conspiracy theory is in its simplicity. It explains away complex phenomena, accounts for chance and accidents, offers the believer the satisfying sense of having special, privileged access to the truth.”

And all that without ever having to listen, think and respond.

Response-ability is important. I am proud to say that our students are developing it. We see evidence of this in classroom discussions, in our #Vis1on meetings with Oxford city leaders, in passage presentations of student digital portfolios.

Our students can listen, think and respond respectfully to each other. This is no accident. The monotonous volley historically found in classrooms of the past has given way to dialogical conversations where students build on the ideas of each other. As monologue turns into dialogue, students gain their voice, and teachers partner with their students to enhance classroom dialogue, formative feedback, and student learning.

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Quality questioning helps students develop response-ability.

This can potentially be the catalyst our society needs to lead to a resurgence of civil political discourse.

Heath M. Harmon is principal at Oxford High School

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