Open thinking, closed questioning: philosophy in the classroom
When is a question closed and when is a question open? I’ve attended several insets over the years on this topic and still don’t know the answer. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Maths teacher and most of my questions are closed! What’s the answer? 2? Moving on then…We had a discussion which centred around 4 questions. All we had to do was say which was closed and which was open? Easy, right? Well, try it yourself before reading on:
- Do you like apricot jam?
- What can you tell me about Paris?
- What is the mind?
- Is the mind the same as the brain?
Of course it depends on who is asking the question and who is giving the answer, but we decided to focus on two things. Firstly, is it grammatically closed? Secondly is it conceptually closed? The answers are below:
- This question is grammatically closed and conceptually closed, although if you are an apricot jam enthusiast (and I’m not) you could argue that you could talk about this topic for 10 minutes. Someone actually tried!
- Conceptually closed and grammatically open – this means the opportunity is there to answer fully but conceptually it is a closed question. The answer could be ‘nothing’.
- Conceptually open and grammatically open – this question is asking for a detailed explanation and everyone can contribute as it’s a topic everyone can familiarise themselves with and have an opinion on
- It was argued that this question was conceptually open but grammatically closed. This question is asking for a yes or no answer but actually it’s possible to give a very detailed response.
I have to say I’m none the wiser with regards to questioning but this is certainly an argument that can be continued!
Black Box Thinking – Achieving high performance
This was fascinating. Matthew Syed, who penned David Beckham’s recent biography amongst others, talked about Black Box thinking. If a plane crashes, the black box recorder is analysed and mistakes that happen to cause the crash are investigated. The likelihood of this same error happening twice is unlikely. Matthew likened this philosophy to the NHS. Hospitals that report the most mistakes make the least number of mistakes overall. This is because these mistakes are analysed and corrections are made to minimise the likelihood of these mistakes happening again. Hospitals that report the least number of mistakes make more errors as they are not tackled. But how does this apply to teaching? For me, it’s an issue of allowing time for yourself to reflect on best practice. If you reflect on your own teaching often enough, you’ll end up making fewer mistakes in the long run and ultimately become a better teacher. I’ve been teaching for ten years and actually I’m guilty of this. I don’t reflect on my own teaching anymore, and I should! My new target is to spend 5 minutes, once every week, to reflect on a lesson and analyse what could have gone better.
Confident Teachers and Confident Students
Confidence has to be just right. Over confidence is damaging and not enough confidence is damaging. Teachers have to get this right. This can be applied to teaching using the Goldilocks principle. The Goldilocks principle states that in a given sample, there may be entities belonging to extremes, but there will always be an entity belonging to the average. Or in other words, in a sample, there will always be a U-shaped distribution. When the effects of the principle are observed, it is known as the Goldilocks effect.
The Goldilocks principle is derived from a children’s story “The Three Bears” in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by three bears. Each bear has its own preference of food and beds. After testing all three examples of both items, Goldilocks determines that one of them is always too much in one extreme (too hot or too large), one is too much in the opposite extreme (too cold or too small), and one is “just right”. The correct amount of confidence applied in the classroom instils confidence in pupils. Definitely something to think about here!