Saturday, January 12, 2019

Funneling or Focusing: Using Questions to Support Thinking

Asking questions is the fulcrum of the GIR model, the coaching moves that gives the bulk of the decision-making to the teacher.  If you have been working with a teacher on something that was new for them, like differentiation or technology integration, you probably offered a lot of support initially, modeling and making recommendations. When teachers have more experience with the approach, you want them to take ownership for it. You do this by asking questions – but be careful what you ask.

Math teachers sometimes talk about two types of questions: funneling and focusing. Funneling questions start broad and get narrow, leading the learner to your answer – the idea or approach you had in your head.  Focusing questions support the learner’s responses and guide them based on their own problem-solving pattern. Although there are times when funneling is the right approach, when you are ready to tip the balance and shift responsibility to the teacher, focusing questions will be your friend.

A focusing pattern of questioning will center on the teacher’s contributions. You listen to the teacher and consider her responses, asking follow-up questions that center on these ideas.  The result is a conversation built on your expectation that the teacher now has the experience to think strategically about how to use the new approach.  Focusing questions demonstrate your respect for the teacher’s ideas.

Focusing questions are more open-ended and thought-provoking than funneling ones. Compare the two coaching conversations below:

Teacher: I’m planning the final project for the unit and wanted to think of some ways to differentiate.
Coach: We’ve talked about differentiating the process, product, and content. Do you want to try differentiating all three for this project?
Teacher: Sure.
Coach: Have you considered using the RAFT format?
Teacher: I don’t think I’ve heard of that.
Coach: RAFT is an acronym that stands for Role of the writer, audience, format, and topic. You make a chart to give students choices about each.

This is an extreme example, but you get the idea. It is the coach’s thinking that is at the center of this conversation.  Here’s another example:

Teacher: I’m planning the final project for the unit and wanted to think of some ways to differentiate.
Coach: What are some of the ideas you’ve been thinking about for the project?
Teacher: I really don’t have any solid ideas yet, but I want students to really be able to demonstrate that they understand different perspectives about immigration.
Coach:  You want each student’s project to represent multiple perspectives?
Teacher: Maybe. Or maybe they could choose which perspective they want to represent. And then when they present, everyone would experience those multiple perspectives.
Coach: Hmmmm.  Either way could be valuable. Do you think students could be successful with either type of project – taking multiple perspectives or choosing one to focus on?
Teacher: Some could handle a multiple perspectives project, but I’m feeling like we’d get to the same purpose, and maybe go deeper, if each student chose a perspective they wanted to represent.
Coach: So, what are those perspectives? Do you want to give students a list to choose from?

In this conversation, the coach guides the teacher to examine her own ideas. Although funneling might be a helpful form of questioning when there is one right answer or when a teacher gets stuck, a focusing conversation supports teacher exploration and problem-solving, giving the teacher ownership for solutions. Focusing tips the scale, giving the teacher the problem-solving power.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

Advice for new coaches:

Ways students can use Pinterest in the classroom:

A well-balanced diet – choice and parameters in reading and writing:

As the new year gets underway, you might consider: Is balance the right goal for life?

If you still want to strive for more balance, consider the acronym SPREAD:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

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