On Friday, I was working alongside a group of about 350 school leaders who were thinking and talking about ways to move from evidence and data to classroom practice. The data that they had been called to look at came from a variety of sources: classroom-based evidence, large-scale assessment results at grades three and six, and data sets that included contextual, attitudinal, and demographic information. Indeed, they were ‘data rich.’
As we explored the nature of evidence and the many ways that it can be a ‘call to action’, I proposed several questions that these teams might want to use back at their schools in order to uncover what the data might be telling them:
- What do you see in the data…patterns, trends, and anomalies?
- What might be some of the reasons that these patterns, trends, and anomalies exist?
- In what areas does the data indicate that the students are doing well? What are some of your hunches as to the reasons for these strengths?
- In what areas does the data indicate that there is room to grow? What are some of your hunches as to the reasons for this?
- What does the classroom-based data for this group of students tell you? Strengths? Areas for growth?
- What questions does this data raise for you that you might want to pursue?
- What are you learning? What new perspectives might you be gaining?
- What do you want to think more about?
These questions are not earth shattering; they are questions that have been asked before. However, they are questions that are mediative in nature. That is, they are invitational and intentional in nature. Bob Garmston and Art Costa, founders of Cognitive Coaching, assert that mediative questions engage and transform thinking when they are invitational.
Invitational questions are posed:
- in the plural form (e.g., some of your hunches…, some of the reasons…),
- using tentative language (e.g.,what might...?, what are some...?),
- with positive presuppositions (e.g.,What are you learning?),
- and as open ended, rather than as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions (e.g.,What do you want to think more about?)
As the group considered the eight questions from above, we used a carousel strategy to think more deeply about them. One of the questions that the participants responded to was ‘What other questions might we ask about these data sets?’ I have included a picture of one of the chart papers that was posted.
Participants created questions that intentionally opened thinking up, rather than questions that ‘shut down’ thinking. It is in this way that we move to create deeper meaning and understanding. As Descouvertes de la Salle said, “It’s not the answers that enlighten us, but the questions.”