“What if . . . ?” and More Marvelous Questions

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The latest Disney+ Marvel series is new in a multitude (multiverse?) of ways.

First, What if . . . ? is noteworthy as the first animated show in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t count . . . not yet, at least.)

Second, What if . . . ? is significant since it explores all kinds of hypothetical storylines in the MCU. The series takes well-known characters and contexts of the films and follows different routes. (Remember when the first Avengers movie combining multiple film heroes was considered a risky idea? Look how far we have come!)

So far, we’ve seen different characters taking the mantle of significant heroes (Captain America, Star-Lord), as well as heroic characters doing unheroic things. In addition to the allure of endless possibilities, the What if . . . ? series is enjoyable because these alternative tales come in bite-sized episodes. Even so, some of these scenarios have potential for all kinds of fun adventures and far-reaching ramifications.

As a testimony to the power of “What if . . . ?” consider how there are 200+ issues of this comic series, begun nearly 50 years ago. As creators publish stories in “regular” comics continuity, other writers can explore branching paths and possibilities.

The question “What if . . . ?” can foster similar results in the classroom. Past blogs have written about the power of questioning, which you can check out HERE and HERE.

It’s important to remember not all questions are equal. Some are more effective in cultivating engaged and reflective students. Below is a list of potential questions teachers can ask to facilitate, encourage, and assess students’ learning.

  • “What if . . . ?”
  • “For what reasons . . . ?”
  • “What do you think could happen if . . . ?”
  • “How might that compare with . . . ?”
  • “Why might . . . ?”
  • “Where else could we . . . ?”

These are just some examples, and I’ve shared more in a recently published article available HERE. Note that NONE of these questions can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No” or similar dichotomous response.

In other words, students have to go further and THINK about the topic in a more robust manner. Moreover, there’s less chance they can “fake it” or just guess an answer. Often, such work promotes collaboration and communication.

Such open-ended questions may not catalyze a zany tale about alternative Avengers, but they can produce meaningful learning.

One caution is to beware of counter-productive conversation. When dealing with open-ended questions like “What if . . . ?” there is potential for students to go down pathways the teacher did not intend. While this may add to creativity and application, it could also veer into darker territories. Just consider some of sadder episodes of What if . . . ? we’ve already seen, in which [Spoiler Alert] a hero becomes the villain, or ultimately destroys their world.

Hopefully your classroom won’t pivot to such hopelessness. Still, be mindful of keeping students on-task and oriented toward learning goals. Even when using open-ended prompts, teachers can guide student thinking toward intended outcomes. Such parameters could be as simple as time limits or brainstorm boundaries. For example, a science teacher might pose a challenge that prompts investigation, but requires students to use only certain materials or technology. Sometimes this is called a “testable question” in science classrooms.

No matter the subject, teachers can be purposeful in using “What if . . . ?”-type questions to get the full effect. For inspiration, consider how masterminds behind the MCU have carefully scheduled and set up movies, television shows, specials, etc. Each production features minute details and allusions that result in monumental meaning in subsequent films. (For example, it’s no coincidence that What if . . . ? has come out between the Loki television series and the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home film.)

Teachers don’t have the multi-million dollar movie machine like the MCU, but they can still be intentional and inspirational by providing creative, challenging, and coordinated questions for their students.

Just imagine . . . What if . . . ?

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.

220px-Ned_Flanders

(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.

Jeremy-Renner-in-The-Avengers-1-600x339

 

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.

 

Summer Break 2015

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It’s that time again when T4SH takes a short break during the summer months.

A break from lengthy blog posts, at least.  Look for resources, updates, and links via Facebook while you’re chilling out poolside, beachside, or inside.

bishop-front summer

Time-traveling X-Man Bishop proves that blue jean cutoffs NEVER go out of style. Just beware that nasty tan line.

BONUS!  Here are some blog highlights from the past academic year, if you need something to review and recharge your mutant teaching energy:

Teachers for Hire – Research and statistics on teachers’ time and money.

Question(s) and Answer – Resources and strategies for asking good questions in the classroom.

Flex Plan – Movie studios plan superhero movies YEARS in advance.  How far into the future should teachers plan lessons?

Fantastic Teaching – Timeless traits of effective teachers, inspired by Marvel’s First Family.

Weird Superpowers – Superman has some weird superpowers.  What’s YOUR weird teacher power?  (Hopefully it is not fake-super-flabby-arm.)

superman at beach

Take time this summer to work on your beach bod AND your classroom prowess.

Educatio!