Friday, April 5, 2013

"How do you know?"

Another teaching strategy I used constantly as a general education teacher was asking the students "How do you know?" after they answer a question. This encouraged them to think of the process they used to get to their answer, allowed the rest of the class to hear someone other than me explain how to solve a problem, gave me insight into how the student went about solving the problem (right or wrong) and took the emphasis off of whether or not the answer was correct and put the emphasis on the student's work (thank you, Mindset!).

Just like my problem with using talking partners, I'd totally given up on asking my students to justify their answers this year. Again, sometimes getting the full sentence "I am happy" is pulling teeth, so it seemed like a waste of time to ask them how they know an answer. We are really working on answering basic questions and any question that starts with "how" is usually abstract.

At the same March training I started to wonder how I could bring the "how do you know?" question down to my kids. It's a simple tool that I believed so strongly in when I was in general education. I want my students with intellectual disabilities to have the same chance to learn how to reflect on how they learn and process information. In some ways it's even more valuable for them than it is for other students. The stakes are so much higher. We think they cognitively can't understand knowing how they get information, but how will we know if we don't try?

SO, again I went back to the weather question. Now after I ask the class to turn and talk to their talking partners about the weather I ask them how they knew what the weather was. At first I had to give them two choices- did you look out the window, or did you read it in a book? And honestly, at first I had to say, "You looked out the window! That was so smart. You had a question you didn't know, so to answer it you looked out the window!" Then I'd ask the question again and if the student still didn't respond I'd give them the answer and tell them what to say.

It's taken weeks, but now many of them are able to verbalize how they know about the answer.

And although it's taken weeks it's really take no more than a minute a two a day to put into our routine. It's a quick part of our day to add in, and now that we've got it down we can start applying it to other areas of our day. "How did you know that 4 came after 5?" "How did you know that the characters in the book were a dog and a cat?"

Just having the conversation reminds them that they are active learners. I'm not sure that any of them realized that knowledge wasn't a magical thing that just popped into your brain at random times. I can't imagine what it is like to watch everyone around you learn things so quickly while you are struggling with them yourself. I think you would start to believe in magic.

But if my kids can understand that they are capable of problem solving- of finding out information- and of being responsible for what they know- they can add so much to their own lives.

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