Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Students Answering Their Own Questions: Voices from High School Chemistry Classroom through Lesson Study

by Amelia E. Punzalan and Arlene P. de la Cruz apdelacruz@up.edu.ph

Mas napapa-isip ako sa pagsagot sa tanong ko. Celyn, 15 years old (I think more of answering my own questions.)

nasasagot ‘yung hindi namin maintindihan. Ann, 14 years old (… the things we do not understand are being answered.)

The two statements above are part of several explanations given by third-year high school chemistry students during an interview on why they would rather ask questions (and answer them) than answer questions from the teacher. This paper presents the results of the second and third cycles of one of the two high school chemistry lesson study groups under UP NISMED’s three-year lesson study project in public schools in Metro Manila. The focus of the discussion is on the interview responses of the students after the second cycle of the study. It includes comments on teaching and learning science, the students’ questions and answers, and lesson study as a professional development activity and research opportunity in teaching science. 

The lesson study group, which was formed in May 2010, was composed of three chemistry teachers (designated as T1, T2, and T3) and two researchers from the UP NISMED Chemistry Group. These three teachers were all seasoned ones with more than two decades of high school chemistry teaching experience. Both T2 and T3 retired from the service at the end of school year 2012-2013, having reached the optional retirement age of 63 years. T1 and T2 were usually assigned to handle the relatively low-ability sections of about 40 students. As reported earlier (Punzalan, de la Cruz, Nudo, Baltazar, Mindo, & Fernandez, 2013), some of the students in these sections were repeaters. On the other hand, T3, acting as observer, knowledgeable other, and documenter, had been teaching in the top three third-year pilot science classes of the school. 

The lesson study group members decided to adopt the same goal and sub-goal of the 1st lesson study cycle, which are stated thus: The goal is to develop and nurture self-directed learners who have enduring understanding of science concepts that can be applied to real-life situations; The sub-goal is to participate actively in communicating the students’ ideas by asking questions and finding answers to their questions. They also decided Gas Laws as their research lesson. 

At the end of the four-day lesson on Boyle’s and Charles’ Laws, an intact group of six students were randomly selected by T1 and T2 from each of their classes, and interviewed by the two NISMED staff. These two groups of 12 students were composed of 10 girls and 2 boys aged 14 years (50%), 15 years (41.7%), and 17 years (8.3%) years. The purpose of the interviews was to get students’ feedback up close regarding their experience of raising and answering their own questions. The group interviews were conducted right after their respective classes. The students were instructed to be brief and direct to the point in writing down their responses which could be in English or Filipino. The interviewers saw to it that all the students had finished writing before proceeding to read the next question in Filipino. The interview questions were the following: 

1. What was your reaction when you were told to make your own question regarding the activities in your science class? 
2. What was your reaction when you were told to answer your own questions? 
3. Was it difficult for you to ask questions and answer your own questions? Explain. 
4. Which do you prefer the teacher asking questions or yourself asking questions? Explain. 
5. Did you learn science when you were given an opportunity to ask and answer your questions? Explain. 

Based on the students’ responses, as well as their reaction when told by their teacher that their task was to ask questions and answer them, the students expressed that they were excited and surprised, and that they happily welcomed and liked the idea. Therefore, they set themselves to immediately think. On the other hand, they also felt nervous and anxious, thinking they might give wrong answers. However, the students appreciated the teaching style of the teacher; because of which, their questions opened up discussions among them and they were able to freely express their thoughts about their observations and answers to their questions. It was just like imitating their teacher where she elicited from them answers to her questions. 

In this study it was also shown that students did not find the task of answering their own questions difficult. Half (six students) of those interviewed said it was not difficult, while the other half mentioned that it was just a bit difficult. They prefer being the ones asking questions, so much so that they learned their science well. 

Further, it is worth mentioning that the observers noted from the classroom observations that the students were fully engaged in the activity as well as in posting papers on the board, reading their reports, and listening to other group reporters. Students participated actively in communicating their ideas among themselves in both the small groups and the whole class, and to the teacher. 

The students’ explanations about why it was not difficult to ask and answer their own questions at all were further discussed. They reasoned that they made actual observations during the lesson and that they could confidently express themselves because they were using the mother tongue. Tagalog is the base of the national language, Filipino, which is the lingua franca in the area. Additionally, four out of the 12 students interviewed specifically mentioned the advantage of using the mother tongue in communicating and expressing their questions and answers, as well as in understanding their lessons. Their explanations affirmed previous findings regarding the use of the mother tongue (Saong & Punzalan, 2013; Punzalan et al., 2013). The students expressed their reasons for their difficulty: not knowing the correct answers to their own questions and needing to do some more thinking. 

Meanwhile, given a choice based on interview question 4, students overwhelmingly preferred that they be the one asking questions rather than the teacher. Students were learning the things they would like to know, be clarified with, and understand. They would like to ask things they were curious about. The enumerated reasons about the benefits to learning affirmed other studies mentioned in this study (Chin & Osborne, 2008, Eshach et al., 2013, Weinstein, et al., 2010, Carpenter, et al., 2006, Karpicke & Roediger, 2007, McDaniel et al., 2007 cited in Weistein et al., 2010). Students had an idea where the lesson is going to proceed. Interesting questions were asked by other students, which they understood and for which knew the answers very well. Answers were accepted and the wrong answers were corrected. However there were students who got nervous when the teacher asked questions. They said that they learned nothing when the teacher does the questioning. Perhaps, questioning, both a teacher behavior and an important instructional strategy (Kim & Kellough, 1987) does not need to be dominated by the teacher any longer. 

In consonance with the research lesson sub goal ”communicating the students’ ideas…” being able to verbalize what they know, or think of what they know is an important aspect of learning (Developing Communication Skills, n.d.). When students listen to each other, they have the opportunity to hear the same things they already know as well as other questions and ideas different from their own. Along with explanations or answers, they come to realize, first hand, that it is “alright” to have many questions and ideas about an event (Jelly, 1985). Only when ideas are made to surface will there be active learning as opposed to passive or memory learning (Chin, 2001 p. 99). 

The full version of this article is published in the UP NISMED’s Lesson Study Book 2: Learning more together, growing in practice together.
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