Stark Talking

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Nerds love to debate superhero superlatives. Who’s the strongest? Who’s the fastest? Who’s the most powerful?

Thanks to @reddit_user_1948, now we know which Avenger is the most talkative:

Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark.

Iron Man lines image

 

These results are based on comparing dialogue from the six original Avengers in the Marvel movies, summarized below:

spoken lines chart

 

Dialogue in the classroom is another topic of extensive study. In such research, teachers are like Tony Stark in that they dominate the spoken word.

One of the most well-known researchers in classroom interactions is Ned Flanders.

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(No, not this Ned Flanders.)

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Flanders found that 70% of classroom time is talk, and 70% of this time is teacher talk (1970). He also reported that teachers of high-achieving students talked less (55% of the time) than teachers working with low-achieving students (80% of the time).

No mention of cause and/or effect here, but one could also consider the advice of Harry and Rosemary Wong (First Days of School), who note that those who are “doing” more are the ones who are learning more. In this case, it stands to reason that classrooms with higher rates of student talk (on task) would result in greater student learning.

Instead of Tony Stark/Iron Man, perhaps teachers should look to less vocal heroes like Hawkeye, the archer Avenger. Following Hawkeye’s example, teachers can use fewer words with more precision.

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Like well-aimed arrows, teachers could use purposeful questions and prompts to engage students, assess understanding, and guide discussion.

We’ve discussed questions before (such as here), and unfortunately, good questions don’t always come easily.

Additional research has found that of the 80,000 or so questions teachers ask annually, 80% of them are low level, requiring simple student responses without much thought (Gall, 1984; Watson and Young, 1986).

Like the Flanders research, some of these studies on teacher questioning are several decades old (“classic”). Effective teaching is timeless, however.

Likewise, several classroom habits still linger. For instance, I’ve studied pre-service teachers’ questioning (Bergman, 2013) and found classroom patterns similar to the past. Here’s a sample of those results:

SciPST_Talk

 

No matter how much you talk in the classroom, be sure to make it count. Be intentional in your speech with planned questions and responses to engage students in thoughtful learning.

At the same time, be thoughtful in your own teacher talk. Be flexible and nimble, too, ready to “ad lib” when necessary.

After all, one of Tony Stark’s most memorable movie lines was improvised. Maybe you remember this ending to the very first Iron Man film:

 

Here’s the “behind-the-scenes” story of this famous line, which was instrumental in shaping the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consider how teachers’ words in the classroom can be equally impactful toward student learning and interest.

Adding some humor helps, too.

 

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Question(s) & Answer

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One comic book character who is prime for a screen adaptation is DC’s The Question.  In fact, the folks at  WhatCulture.com list The Question as one of their “10 Obscure Superheroes That Badly Need a Movie Treatment.”

A movie may work fine, but an ongoing Question TV Series would be a perfect fit, featuring a street-level noir hero with regular crimes and conspiracies to solve. If you want to see The Question in animated action, you can find some highly regarded appearances in the Justice League Unlimited series.

You can also find a nifty short YouTube documentary on “Who is the Question?” right here.  The most iconic version is Vic Sage, although more recently the moniker (and mask) was taken over by Renee Montoya, best known as a detective in the Gotham City Police Department.  [A live TV version of Det. Montoya has appeared in Fox’s Gotham series.  No sign of any Question(s), though.]

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In case you’re wondering, there IS a superhero known as The Answer in comic books.  You can read more about The Answer here and here.  Judging from his appearance, I’d say a more appropriate name is The Exclamation Point or The Interjection!

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In teaching, we know that “Questions are the Answer.”  Often, what makes or breaks a lesson is how the teacher interacts with students during the activity.

Rather than just talking at students, teachers must ask questions throughout each lesson.  Questions and similar prompts are effective ways to encourage thoughtful reflection, promote engaged discussion, monitor student thinking, and more.

Unfortunately, research has found that a vast majority (70-80%) of questions asked by teachers require nothing more from students than reciting facts or guessing simple answers (Gall, 1984; Watson & Young, 1986; Bergman & Morphew, 2014).

So the question is this:  What kind of questions do you ask?  

Challenge yourself to challenge students by habitually asking  questions that require high-level thinking, such as those skills classified in Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives:  Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation (Bloom, 1956).

How do you begin?  Here are a few resources I’ve recently come across that may be a good start:

– From Edutopia: “5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students”

– From The Huffington Post*“25 Ways to Ask Your Kids ‘So How Was School Today?’ Without Asking Them ‘So How Was School Today?'”

*This second resource is more for parents, but teachers can gain ideas from the example questions for encouraging conversation.

The goal is to get kids thinking, reflecting, and sharing so you and their classmates can also think, reflect, and share ideas.

I’m glad there are two Questions running around in comic books. It reminds us that teachers need to use multiple questions in our interactions with students.  One question is often not enough.

Like Batman and his utility belt, you should have an entire arsenal of prompts and queries at your ready, posing the right one at the right time.

Batman utility belt

I don’t own a utility belt, but I do keep a small index card in my pocket with question stems such as “In what ways . . .?”  “For what reasons . . .?”  “How might you . . .?” and many more.  Whenever I’m stumped for a good question, I can check my list to keep the conversation going.  And like Batman with his belt, you should continuously update and improve your questioning strategies.

Unlike the hero The Question, however, you will want to add engaging facial expressions.  Smile a little.  Make appropriate eye contact.  And talk in a welcoming tone of voice.

question image

Not the face you want to see in a classroom.

The Question wants to hide an identity and frighten bad guys.  Teachers, on the other hand, need to be personable and supportive of students.  Your questions and interactions, when used effectively, are an important part of this equation.

Speaking of which, there is no mainstream superhero called The Equation.  Get on it, math teachers!