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Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Inquiry is based on questions, but not all questions are created equally. Big questions open up big spaces for information, while little questions open up little spaces. The size of the answer is predicted by the size of the question.

Suppose that a bug specialist (an entomologist) comes to speak in your Life Science class. After giving a presentation, the entomologist opens the floor for questions. Note what happens when students ask little questions instead of big ones.

Recently I met a young man who worked his way through college by cranking out research papers for an online term-paper store. The company sells “model” research papers, many made to order, so my young acquaintance might find himself writing about quantum mechanics one week and Stalin’s concentration camps the next. The job gave him lots of practice writing on short deadlines. He also picked up quite a bit of knowledge in many different fields. And of course, he got paid for helping someone else with more money than skill or discipline pass a course at some college.

Obviously, school is intended to prepare students for life. But what do we mean by that? On the one hand, we mean that it provides students with the necessary skills to gain a career after graduation and become productive members of society. On the other hand, the teachers most of us remember long after our own schooling are those who encouraged our individuality.

Making the Grade

Yesterday I stumbled across an article about college students getting miffed when they didn’t get an “A for Effort”: “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes.” I find it a difficult attitude to understand; it breaks down as soon as it’s applied to the working world. A building doesn’t care whether an architect tried her hardest—the design either stands or falls. A gall bladder doesn’t care that a surgeon did his best—the cholecystectomy is either a success or a failure.

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