When Wonderings Threaten to Derail Your Lesson - Part 1

Photo by Jason Leung
We've all had those exciting teachable moments that make our heart flutter a bit.  You know, those moments when the intrigue of a particular topic takes over the classroom.  When that topic matches the one in your lesson plans—wow, it's powerful—creating a perfect storm  scenario for learning!    Those are the moments that can be among the most memorable of the year!

But what about those dreaded times when the topic of interest doesn't match the one written in your lesson plans?  What do you do when one lesson spawns additional inquiry and questioning, but the actual assessment coming up is over the primary lesson and concepts?  Do you take the track to the side, or do you keep on the track at hand?

Sometimes it would be so easy to push aside the plans you've made and the curriculum goals at hand.  That lesson can surely take a back seat to the related (or not) topic now pushing its way to the forefront of your classroom....all in the name of student-driven learning, right?

Can you allow student questioning to have a VOICE (and a strong one) without sacrificing your lesson?  Yes, it's possible; first and foremost, see if tying the two together will work for you.  If so, run with it!  Be sure to communicate to students the need to tie the two topics together.  For example, once my students became enthralled with the idea of hurricanes vs typhoons vs tornadoes vs cyclones vs monsoons.  It was a reading class and we were working on text and graphic features, so it was easy allow the class to veer off on a different path.  The students could easily find and cite examples of graphic features in other sources outside of the ones I had available.  My students were off on a tangent, but by giving VOICE to their questions, I gave them a CHOICE in their learning.  Soon they were exploring questions they didn't even know they had!

However, there are those times when you cannot allow time for learning objectives to change course.  Fear not, all is not lost—you can still give VOICE to their wonderings, you just need a place for students to record them.  This can easily be done in private using student journals; or curious questions can be posted publicly in your classroom on a chalk/whiteboard, on sticky notes, on a simple We're Wondering form, or on another form you may have.  Creating a routine where students know what to do or where to post wonderings is a powerful way to set the stage for future learning.

We've linked a little FREEBIE to help with this.  Simply keep a few of these WE ARE WONDERING forms on hand and jot down the student or class, the question, and post this form in a place set aside for wonderings on the wall in your classroom—it can be easy to set up a Curiosity Corner or Wonder Wall.

With this routine in place, students can later come back to these musings to dive in more fully when time permits.  You will be amazed that the students actually want to come back to these questions when they are given time, and you'll be equally amazed to see what new "rabbit holes" these questions open up.  In many classrooms, these wonderings can be the start of a passion project, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, or even a genius hour project.

Be sure to check back next week for Student Wonderings, Part 2, and we'll explore the value of allowing time for learning that isn't driven by standards or curriculum maps, but learning that is driven by student interest.  We'll also share some phenomenal resources to give students both CHOICE and a VOICE in their own learning.

Thanks for reading—be sure to share your thoughts or ideas for capitalizing on student-inquiry in the comments below!