A few days ago, our class was divided into groups. The groups were diligently answering questions on a worksheet. A student in one of the groups raised his hand. “Mrs. T, I don’t understand this question.”
The question pertained to information in a pie chart. The pie chart purported to show the percentages of races in the United States in the year 2000. This chart included White/Non-Hispanic, Hispanic, Black, Native American, Asian, and Other. The question asked, “In which category would persons of mixed race be likely to place themselves?”
“Mrs. T, I don’t understand this question.” “Well,” I said. “The question is asking where a person of two or more races would fall in this pie chart. How that person would identify in terms of race.” The question was designed to elicit responses about a potential weakness of the chart, namely, not having more inclusive categories. “Do you understand?” “Yes,” he said. I moved on to another student.
After that class, I met with my corps member advisor, who had been observing. He asked if I noticed what happened with that student after I left him. I had not. I assumed he discussed the question with his group and answered it. My corps member advisor pointed out that after I left, the student still looked confused, raised his hand again, saw me with another student and put his hand back down. We talked about how I could have responded to his question better and how I could have modeled critical thinking for him.
It was a very eye-opening discussion for me. I vowed to be more vigilant when students did not understand something. And to follow-up with a check for understanding, especially when a student had been brave enough to voice misunderstanding. I would try to capitalize on opportunities for effective modeling of critical thinking.
The next evening, I looked over my classroom’s student surveys from the beginning of the summer, which were completed weeks before my student asked me his question. I read the one from this student. At the end, the survey asked “Is there anything else that you would like me know about you before we work together this summer?” In response, he had written, “Please make sure I understand what you are trying to teach me.”
I will. Promise.