Tag: connecting with youth

Newsletter for July 2009: Caffeine for our curiosity

September 8th, 2009

I love good coffee. Every morning I brew up a couple cups of my home roasted beans. Amazing things happen. I form sentences. I’m engaged with the day!

Good questions are caffeine for curiosity, an essential component for engaging teens. Curiosity is an appetite to see and understand. It’s constructive confusion. Too often we provide answers. There is no confusion and therefore no curiosity. By asking good questions–questions that spring forth from our own curiosity–we cultivate fertile ground for learning and positive change.

But all questions are not alike. Basic communication classes teach that a good question is an open-ended question: one beginning with what, how, when, why, and where. Those questions one can answer with yes or no are not good questions, or so goes the rule.

But here’s a conundrum: Open-ended questions are not always good questions and close-ended questions can be brilliant. “What are the three most common sexually transmitted diseases?” These kinds of questions drive students to a prepared, static answer. Now consider how a close-ended (yes/no) question can open conversation: “Do you have a safety plan if you ever feel like your life is threatened?” Imagine the kinds of great questions that might flow from this close-ended question.

Divergent questions that encourage exploration, not a pat answer, are most likely to increase student curiosity. Synthesis and understanding are important. But answers are most meaningful when preceded by divergent exploration. Divergence allows us to explore the context that surrounds our topic, leading to deeper understanding. Too often we bypass this crucial process.

Before signing off I want to underscore that convergent questions are not implicitly bad. “Is everyone understanding what we’re talking about?” is an example of a very helpful convergent question. But divergent questions are caffeine for our curiosity. My hope is that we will be more aware of the types of questions we ask and how we use them in the course of learning. We’re always moving with students from abstract to concrete and back again. Questions are trusted guides for this process.

The next time you observe your staff (or yourself) working with teens, I encourage you to try the following:

On a blank piece of paper create a column for divergent questions and a column for convergent questions.

1) Tally how many questions the educator asks in each category.

2) Note how the educator uses convergent and divergent questions.

3) Note how students responded to the questions.

Push yourself to ask better questions and you will see student curiosity increased. It’s better than Red Bull!

It’s great to be working with you to promote positive change in the lives of young people.



    Newsletter for June 2009: Give ‘Em the stump!

    September 8th, 2009

    An alert teen spotted a stump protruding from the sand while walking with her father along the Oregon coast. The girl commented on its odd shape. Upon closer inspection the two noticed it was encrusted in rust. Curious, they began to shovel away the sand. Other people saw the emerging object, and joined in to help. Several hours of grassroots excavating revealed an enormous elongated mass of rusty metal. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department determined it was a cannon–probably from the USS Shark that ran aground in 1846. (The Oregonian, February 19, 2008, Noelle Crombie).

    Most archeological discoveries follow this progression: Someone happens to notice an inkling of an artifact. He or she begins delving, with interest growing in relation to the treasure’s incremental revelation. This process is one of intrigue, excitement, and wholesale engagement.

    So often we bypass process and display only the artifact. We deliver our message to teens in protracted doses that sabotage teens’ innate curiosity. Eager to make sure we communicate our message, we rush to the punch line–we expose the treasure all at once. But only those present through the unearthing process are privileged to enjoy the sense of wonder, collaboration, and achievement experienced by those beach diggers on Oregon’s coast.

    Engage students in a dynamic learning process shot through with curiosity and they will arrive at or near the destination we hope for. Give ‘em the stump. Follow this natural progression with them of revealing an artifact, and you will strengthen your efficacy. Present a simple, pithy summary of your message. Introduce just enough to orient students to your topic. For example, let’s say you are presenting on the risks of alcohol use. Introduce the main message. Use a demonstration or activity to clarify the message. This is the stump. You can do this in 10 to 15 minutes. Use the balance of your time to dig. With the students discover the message. Examine it.

    There are two key elements to this process:

    1. Good questions

    2. Curious presenters

    In future newsletters I will explore these two elements in greater depth. It’s great to be working with you to promote positive change in the lives of young people.



      Newsletter for May 2009 From Trunks to Bats: Refine your ideas to hit moon shots

      September 8th, 2009

      A major league baseball bat begins as a chunk of wood. Imagine if the players used this unrefined piece of wood as a bat. Not only would it be cumbersome, it would be ineffective. Instead, the chunk of wood is cut down to a blank then placed on a lathe where a craftsman shaves and smoothes the wood into the shape of a bat. Now it’s smooth, agile and ready for action.

      You can nail down your curricula by applying a similar refinement process. Cut, shave and sand away all the unnecessary elements. Create more space for teens to process and own the information–and ultimately connect with their educators in a meaningful way.

      Consider the following thought experiment: Imagine you forgot all your materials for a presentation (not that this has ever happened to you), and class starts in five minutes. How will you determine what to cover with students? Statistics and other minor details would not rush to the forefront of your mind. Your brain would go through a rapid process to recall the three-to-five main points of the curriculum. These would become your focus for the day.

      Now imagine applying this whittling process to your entire curricula. Look at the outline, then the main headings. These are the elements the author considers most important to the fidelity of the curricula. You may even wish to create your own outline of those points you consider most important. With your main points at hand, consider accepting this challenge:

      Present only on the major headings of your curriculum. Students will provide most of the details. Feel free to lend a hand, but only after students have exhausted their ideas.

      Instead of telling students what you think they should know, ask questions. You will discover that students will contribute the remaining curriculum content.

      If you muster the courage to accept this challenge, let me know. I’d love to hear about it!   Also, write me if you’d like further suggestions. Just remember to trust the process.

      It’s great to be working with you to promote positive change in the lives of young people.