Monday, October 05, 2009

Fishing for ideas

Gained a little insight into the kids' thought processes as they select essay questions. Facing 12 possible questions, they brainstorm as many anecdotal examples as they can think of per question, thus eliminating the questions they have no examples for. This wouldn't be a bad way to narrow 12 choices if not for the fact that most of the time they end up eliminating all 12, leaving the final option of 'whatever' which they then proceed to write -- example after example after example randomly associated with the topic area in question but with no regard to the question itself.

The kids are puzzled because they are not getting the rewards they think they are entitled to just because they've been able to re-tell several brain-cell killing pointless anecdotes they've forced themselves to study. They did study, didn't they? So why aren't they scoring like they expect? Simple, examples don't answer questions, no matter how long the list. I mean, examples are a fine and necessary thing, it's just that they alone are not the answer we're looking for.

If the question is "why?" the answer is "because." If the question is "should?" the answer is "why (or why not)." If the question is "how far" the answer is "under these specific conditions." If we think about answering the question, paying respect to its particular demands, then from a list of 12 questions, we have 12 options from which to choose our favourite.

By addressing the question, the relevant supporting evidence will surface without much effort. That is, as long as the kids have been keeping up with their daily readings. That's because the right context will locate the appropriate content. It's the difference between fishing in the ocean with random bait and fishing in a fish farm with a net. Ocean fishing is fun, but if we don't use the right bait we have no idea what we're going to catch, if anything at all. Fish farm fishing is hardly sporting, but we know what we're fishing for every time and we'll catch what we want.

GP is different. Unlike the other content subjects, we don't care what you KNOW. We care about what you THINK and if you have good reasons for thinking that way. Which is why our kids are still all lost at sea.

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