October 20, 2011 by Terry Ropp
Fall is here with football games, Frito pies and hoodies. School is in full swing with parents and kids going through the “how was your day” routine. For the most part, that routine is a meaningless ritual plagued with generic responses such as “fine” or “okay.” Parents feel they are showing an interest in their childrens’ educations and students feel they have dodged a bullet. Better questioning can heap huge rewards without taking excessive time many families simply don’t have.
The best way to revise the routine is to ask more specific questions as more specific questions can generally foil evasive answers. These questions force kids to reflect on their day, which is a form of review. They also make home an extension of education rather than separate from it.
My favorite question is “What is something new you learned today?” If that provokes another generic response such as “nothing,” follow up by asking what was done in a specific class. When children know that questions are coming and that you won’t let them slide over the answer, they start observing what they are doing in each class more carefully, that is, with better focus. They are also using a different perspective, which requires evaluating what they are learning in order to provide you with acceptable information, a higher thinking skill critical for a good education. Meanwhile you are in closer touch with how they spend their days, what their teachers are like\ and have a chance to identify problem areas before they become serious. You have just moved from the twilight zone into the informed parent zone!
Other questions work well, too. One might be about what was the most challenging thing they did that day. Another could be about the most important topic of the day, which can easily lead to a discussion that benefits everyone. Still another might center on which teacher did the best job and why.
Most schools use a student-based news program called Channel 1 at some point during the day. It is an insightful few minutes that explores current issues and common student problems. However students frequently ignore this little gem, making a question about the day’s content another good source. Once you get started, you will easily come up with questions of your own.
Many families have more than one child. Questioning can help siblings keep in touch with each other as well as provide a fun family atmosphere. The best way to do this is to put all the questions on a little card or slip of paper in a box or cup and then have each child draw his or her own question for the day. Then everybody listens to the answer and can ask follow-up questions if desired.