likely to give—not because they’re
mind readers, but because they
have thought deeply enough about
the lesson to envisage what those
questions and answers will be (Di
Teodoro, Donders, Kemp-Davidson,
Robertson, & Schuyler, 2011). Savvy
teachers prepare ahead of time questions that will do three things: elicit
prior knowledge, uncover student
misconceptions, and move students
toward their conceptual goal.
Notice I didn’t say you should give
the answers—only that you should
predict what the answers will be. It
can be incredibly tempting to move
this process along by giving students
the answers when you see them struggling. But it’s a mistake to do so in
an attempt to spare them discomfort
or because you don’t think you have
Write down your most important
questions and carry the list around
with you as you check in with student
groups. This way, you’ll be sure to
ask each important question to each
group. Occasionally, these well-crafted
questions still won’t be enough to
elicit the understanding you are targeting. It’s important to dig deeply for
understanding because we as teachers
are so familiar with the content that
we may lose track of how difficult it is
for students to grasp the content. This
phenomenon, called the expert blind
spot (Fisher & Frey, 2010), can be
avoided with savvy prediction about
where students might get stuck.
When a learner does get stuck, it’s
essential to have a follow-up question
or cue that will scaffold that student’s
conceptual awareness and point
toward the targeted content. Consider
TEACHER: What’s a nocturnal animal?
STUDENT: An animal that stays awake all
TEACHER: Tell me more about that.
Does a nocturnal animal have special
STUDENT: Well, it doesn’t sleep a lot.
TEACHER: I’m thinking of those pictures
we saw of the great horned owl and the
slow loris in the daytime and at night.
Does your answer still work? (Fisher &
Frey, 2010, p. 15).
This teacher wanted to uncover
a student’s misconception that nocturnal animals sleep very little. So she
drew attention to photos the student
had seen that showed such creatures
sleeping in the daytime. Had the
teacher stopped at her first question,
she never would’ve uncovered the
underlying misconception. And had
she not had her follow-up prompt prepared, she would’ve missed a perfect
opportunity to push the student to
examine his or her own thinking
rather than having that thinking corrected by the teacher.
It’s powerful to reframe questions
to use the word you. Imagine that
after a student sees a discrepant event
(such as a just-launched marble falling
straight back down), you ask, “Why
did that happen?” On the surface
this seems like a legitimate question.
However, it sets a student up for trying
to explain the right answer and will
likely reveal little about the mental
models that learner holds. Instead, ask
“Why do you think that happened?”
or “What do you think will happen?”
These questions encourage reflection
and require the student to make his or
her covert thinking visible—even if it
Your probing could stop here. But
remember, you’re asking these questions because you’ve predicted that
students harbor misconceptions that
might warp the lens through which
they view the content. It’s good to
ask a further question—like “Why do
you think that?”—that enables you
to uncover the underpinnings of students’ thinking.
The reason to keep probing is like
the reason to have a house professionally inspected before buying it.
The house might look fine on the
outside, but on closer inspection you
discover the foundation is riddled with
termites. The earlier you know, the
sooner you can do something about it.
Using the Cycle in Layers
cycle can be used in layers. For
instance, in the first part of my dark-matter lesson, I used the cycle with a
concept that was familiar to the students. After this cycle was completed
and students’ misconceptions had
been addressed, we began a second
cycle with content that wasn’t familiar.
This second cycle took advantage
of the conceptual work done in the
first cycle to “feed forward” students’
In this second cycle, I asked students to predict the orbital velocities
of stars beyond our solar system, stars
located farther and farther away from
the galactic center. Every student predicted that these stars’ velocities would
slow down with increasing distance