2/14/20 - A More Beautiful Question

Written by Chelle Wabrek, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs
Happy Valentine’s Day!

There are really no festivities like those that happen at Lower School!  From Valentine delivery to serious sugar delivery, there is nothing that can compare.  Yet situated within their celebration was time carved out for gratitude. Yesterday, first graders did a little “cooking,” dipping pretzels in chocolate and decorating with sprinkles……
…..to get them ready for today’s drop off in the dining room.  Students made individual valentines for each member of our dining and cafe staff and wrapped three pretzel treats for each. It was an incredibly thoughtful gesture for those who do so much to take care of all of us each week. 
The Valentine’s fun was diminished only by the magic of The Little Mermaid! The voices and acting of our students even outshone the bright lights of the costumes and giant virtual background!
And if you think our admissions staff isn’t always churning out the world’s most creative ideas to capitalize on all the good that happens at Lovett, they invited prospective families to the dress rehearsal……
….found an Ariel, threw out a red carpet and told families to let their kids come in costume all to shine a GIANT spotlight on our fine arts department. One dad remarked when walking out, “Whether my three kids get into Lovett or not, the application fee was a bargain after seeing this!”  

I started my week showing off your awesomeness to a few of our trustees with help from Erin Dixon and Jen Tatasciore.  From a LS Chapel that was completely designed and run by 4th graders detailing how to celebrate “Palentine’s Day” by demonstrating kindness….
...to the time they spent in each division…..

….it was my honor to talk about your amazing work.  One trustee noted, “Thank YOU and the fabulous teachers for letting us observe and be a part of what happens daily at Lovett — inspiring teaching, interactive learning and collaboration in creative spaces with the use of thoughtful technology. Wow! It is so affirming to see a school embrace the philosophy of Eva Edwards Lovett while also being progressive and current in teaching styles and methods. I am even more committed to the stewardship of what we offer at Lovett.”  Another said, “Our students are lucky to have such impassioned teachers.” 

Other than all that fun, I spent my week collecting questions.  Inspired by Warren Berger’s book, Ask a More Beautiful Question, I listened to both teachers and students inquire of one another.  In Upper School, I found economics students who had used game theory to analyze pricing decisions, firm interaction, market structure as well as to quantify and predict outcomes whenever there is strategic interaction between multiple people. They created games that demonstrated these outcomes….
 ….and I was able to hear the feedback they received:

  • If I drew this card, would it change my optimal strategy?  
  • How would you know if the strategy changed?
  • Why would I want to choose this card over that card?
  • How can I figure out the expected payoff?

Each question was designed to elicit deep thinking and problem-solving before they bring their games over to the computer science class to have them made into apps (WOW!). 

The Socratic seminar I found 10th graders engaged in focused on the Opium Wars. 
Students (and teacher) asked each other things like:
  • What is the significance of the Opium War? If it wasn’t about Opium, what was it about?
  • How is the big problem Britain faced linked to industrialization?
  • Why does yielding less ore matter?
  • Who cares? (taken deeply seriously by the participants)

My question was, “How long can 10th graders sustain conversation last on a Valentines’ Friday afternoon without the teacher redirecting?”  Easy answer...the whole 65 minutes!

Middle Schoolers embarked on an exploration of Steinbeck’s The Pearl and again it was the provocative questions that stole the show…..
Well-designed questions elicited analytical responses:
  • How can you make two different arguments for this character?
  • What gave you the sense that the pearl was magical?
  • Does he respect his choice based on his values?
  • How does one group get power over another?
  • How might people be changed by power?
  • Are people inherently greedy?
And a key student question here…..”Can we do a trial or debate about this?” 

Questions in MS theatre were equally weighty as students worked to block a scene from Love’s Labour Lost…..
I heard…..
  • What is the modern equivalent of the conversation these characters are having?
  • When you express sarcasm what does your body language convey?
  • What do these characters know about what motivates people that helps them explain what the other characters are doing?
David Hackett Fisher’s quote, “Questions are the engines of intellect, the cerebral machines which convert energy to motion, and curiosity to controlled inquiry.”  I love that I work at a place where I see these engines at work every day!

Lower School overflowed with questions as well!  As our fifth graders wrote argumentative essays about gender stereotypes, they used a mentor text to help them frame their own work…..
Questions helped students dig deeply into memory and impact practice:
  • Did you notice a pattern in the way these paragraphs are structured?
  • What would you need to do to add more details?
  • If I look at this claim, what will you expect to see in the paragraphs?
Each question designed to help students create meaning from their classroom experience. 

As students worked to learn word patterns by engaging in a card game, questions emerged to provoke thought at the way letters get together to make sounds and at how to manage strong emotions that spring up in a game….
Things like….
  • What do you notice about that card?
  • Can you think of a word that follows that pattern?
  • What is frustrating about this for you?
  • How do you think your words made her feel?
  • How can you get your body ready for Spanish class?

This was a beautiful synergy between academic content and the important emotions connected to learning. 

I was inspired in my own work, to value inquiry over advocacy, to be more curious than certain, to ask a “more beautiful question,” in my meetings and in my English class.  Berger asks in his book, “What if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change, by enabling them to be better questioners?” 

I plan to invite him to Lovett because you are doing just that!

Happy, happy long weekend!

Joyfully, 
Chelle
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