Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Four Tendencies in More Depth: Questioner

This week I have been writing about Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies, which she writes about in the wonderful book Better Than Before. If you're new here, I suggest you check out my first post in this series before reading this one. 

Yesterday I talked about how we can get the best out of our Obliger students. Today I'm going to talk about the Questioners.

How do you know if you're a Questioner?

Your line manager tells you to follow the school marking policy of marking books every two weeks and writing an "even better if" target in each student's book. You think that marking often is important, but you think the targets are pointless. So you mark their books every two weeks, but you don't write the targets.

You forget to fill in your register at least twice a week for several years. You get emails every time, reminding you that you must take the register every lesson, and your line manager is copied into the email, but you still put the register at the bottom of your priorities list during the lesson. However, one day your child protection officer explains how not having accurate registers at school could facilitate child sexual exploitation, and since then you have done your register every single day.

You are asked by senior management to analyse the progress matrices of your students and write a brief report. This task will take you approximately thirty minutes to complete. Instead of spending those thirty minutes on the task, you spend the time explaining to your colleagues why progress matrices are meaningless and that any conclusions drawn from them will be totally invalid. You then go home and secretly complete your own (statistically valid and mathematically sound) data analysis of your students. This takes you three hours. You make sure to save this document to your home drive rather than the public drive.

How do you know if your student is a Questioner?

You ask him why he has only done half of his homework. He replies, "question 2 was pointless because I already know how to do it".

You have to tell her every single day not to wear her coat inside the school building. She asks you every time, "why can't I wear my coat inside?" You reply, "because it's a school rule". She continues to break this rule.

In sixth form, during his free periods, he generally works hard and makes good use of the time. However, if he thinks he can get away with it, he will sneak home and work there instead, because he can get more done on his own. For similar reasons, he will sometimes tell his parents he is too ill to go to school, so he can stay at home and get work done by himself instead of attending lessons.

How do you support a Questioner student?

Answer their questions!

When a Questioner asks you why they should do something, give them a good reason. Don't simply say "it's the rules" or "because I said so". You may think that students need to learn not to question authority and to respect their elders, but I would argue that if nobody in the world questioned authority we would be in a very dangerous situation. Don't try to convert Questioners into Obligers or Upholders, accept them for what they are. Explain that they can't wear their coat in the corridor because it covers their uniform, meaning that they are not easily identifiable as a student. If we allowed all students to wear coats in corridors, dangerous strangers would be able to roam the corridors as they please, posing a threat to the students. If you find that you don't have an answer for them, you should probably reconsider having the rule in the first place. If it's a school rule that you have been told you must enforce, take the Questioner student to a member of senior management and have them explain the reasons behind the rule to them.

Give them choices

I have mentored sixth form students in the past who have told me that they have chosen not to do the work set by their teacher because they didn't see the point in it. This has got them into trouble, and has damaged the teacher-student relationship. As a Questioner myself, I often sympathise with these students. However, as a teacher, I know that teachers do know best when it comes to student learning and progress. I think the easiest way to resolve this kind of situation is for the teacher to offer the students choices about what work they do. For example, telling the students that if they find section one easy, they can skip straight to section two. If the teacher wants the class to make a mind map, offer an alternative for the Questioner students who think that mind maps are stupid. When making a new seating plan, ask your Questioner whether she feels she would work better next to this person or that person. Ask a Questioner to stay behind after school for fifteen minutes to help you plan next week's lessons. Ask them which activities they find most useful, and get them to decide what the homework assignment should be.

Make them see the importance

Questioners act according to their own internal belief system. If they think something is valuable, they will do it. If they don't think it's important, they won't do it. Let's assume that this character trait is completely set in stone and unchangeable. So what do you do when you have a Questioner student who doesn't believe that learning is important? The only thing you can do is change this belief. You need to convince them that learning should be important to them. This will probably be very difficult, but if you manage it then everything else afterwards will be a million times easier. A Questioner who believes in the importance of learning is always a pleasure to teach.

As I have said many times, I am a Questioner. I was successful at school because I believed that  achieving high grades was important. I am a successful teacher because I believe that teaching students to love learning and love maths is important. I have become successful despite (or maybe because of?) my Questioner nature, so don't feel like this is something that needs to be fixed. Allow students to be Questioners, but make sure you support them along the way with making good choices.

If you would like to ask me more about being a Questioner, so that you can understand your Questioner students better, feel free to ask in the comments.

Emma x x x

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