Creativity for control freaks

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: What was the question?

It wasn't very long ago that I thought Benjamin's Bloom's Taxonomy was the Victorian art of stuffing large flowers. Now I know it's a way of classifying thinking in terms of levels of abstraction. It's not a concept I've shared with my class yet, but they do know about the different kinds of questions that can be asked in our classroom.

I began with a "question of the day". Everyone has their own way of getting pupils settled at the beginning of the day and I have tended to have something on the board to be copied or completed. Pupils knew they must write down the minimum requirement accurately or it would become a playtime job.

Recently, though, I changed my sentences into questions. The bare minimum was that the question was copied, but I realised that more often than not an answer followed and the quality of that answer was not simply dependent on the depth of the children's understanding, but on the question itself.

The questions are all related to the previous day's learning but I try not just to give recall questions, following Bloom's theory that you get better thinking out of pupils if you go beyond the who, what, when and where type of question. Here is an opportunity to reflect on learning that has gone in a little bit further.

So having looked at Jewish customs about the Sabbath, instead of asking "What do Jewish believers do on the Sabbath?" I asked, "Why do Jewish believers keep one day of the week special?" Some gave brief answers that were activity based: "To pray" or "To rest". Some began to show that they understood the reasons behind the Sabbath: "Because God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh"; others showed a much deeper understanding: "Because the other six days are filled with work and they need some space to remember what God has done for them." A few began to apply it to wider issues: "You've got to make time for the things that matter or you just forget how important they are."

The next stage is encouraging pupils to develop the skills to ask these questions themselves. At the moment, under our class notice, "Have you got a question?", is the picture of a dog balancing three teacups on its head.

There it stands, tilting its head towards the table, ready for the cups to slide off. Images such as this are superb for encouraging the questioning that builds up the creative muscles in a pupil's imagination. Beginning with the "what", discussing the "why", moving on to the "what if", pupils gradually begin to be as proud of a great question as they are of a great answer. My favourite is: "I wonder how he's carrying the spoons?"

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester. Write to primary@tes.co.uk

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