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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Questions Are at the Heart of Personalized Learning

Alison Gauthier, science teacher at U-32 Middle and High School in Montpelier, gave a presentation at this year’s Vermont Middle Grades Collaborative Conference. Gauthier delivered the presentation to a room full of adults and students, much in the way, I imagine, she delivers a lesson to her 9th grade science students, with enthusiasm, engaging instructional practice, and an emphasis on student led discussions.

Gauthier started by quickly sharing the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from The Right Question Institute. The technique starts with experiencing an artifact with or without context and then using that interaction to formulate questions for discovery. An artifact can be any number of things, including video clips, sound bites, live demonstrations, science experiments, and art pieces. After just a few basic instructions, participants were well on their way to engaging with their first artifact, a video clip.

After watching the video clip, participants would be asked to write questions with one or two people and share them as a group. Gauthier explained that smaller groups were better and allowed for equity of voice. Exemplifying good instructional technique, she asked for four volunteers to read the QFT rules out loud:

  1. All questions are created equal; Write them all down.

  2. Write down the question exactly as it’s stated.

  3. If it’s a statement, turn it into a question.

  4. Don’t try to answer the questions.

The video, from the 2012 feature film, The Impossible, tells the tale of one family caught in a Tsunami. Gauthier chose the clip because of the possible correlations with U32's unit on Earth Connections. After watching the clip, everyone wrote their questions before Gauthier led participants through a filtering process in which they labeled their questions using the QFT guidelines: (C)lose-ended, (O)pen-ended, (E)arth Science-related and/or (S)ocial Studies-related. In the end, each small group shared one memorable open-ended Earth Science question with the whole group.

In Gauthier’s classroom, the questions that her students created inform their learning for the unit. By sharing questions, researching together, and presenting their findings with the class, students naturally met the Earth science goals of the unit as well as some of the high school's transferable skills (such as arguing with evidence). This process can be followed over and over again with different artifacts to really get students thinking about the content they will be expected to learn in the classroom.

Inquiry instructional techniques like this are at the center of personalized learning in a proficiency-based system because they promote student voice and choice and get to the heart of the content at hand. In the Question Formulation Technique, students are intended to have different reactions and questions related to the artifact based upon how they think and their previous life experiences. They are asked to singularly follow those questions to reach their answers, or, even better, to ask more questions. They are then asked to share their learning in their own way with others. It doesn’t get more personalized than this.

To check out other presentation topics and access further resources, visit The Middle Grades Collaborative website.

Read Parts 1 and 2 in this series:
Lessons in Personalized Learning from Vermont’s Middle Grades Collaborative Conference
Math Meets English: The Unexpected Ways Language Impacts ELL Success


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