Every day during the first week of school, and during one of our class meetings each week for the rest of the year, I make time for students to ask me anything. After we have established classroom norms, volunteers who want to sit in front of the class for 20 minutes to facilitate their own ask me anythings. Immediately beforehand, I review our classroom norms -- attentive listening, appreciations/no put downs, mutual respect, and the right to pass -- as well as past examples of low-stakes, medium-stakes, and high-stakes questions from our class meetings.
As with class meetings, I ask volunteers to help facilitate the conversation by doing the following tasks.
Maintaining a speaker's list and inviting a new person to share whenever there is a break in the conversation
Monitoring use of the attentive listening sentence frames during the conversation, particularly the use of the "frame of the day"
Monitoring the amount of time I am speaking versus the amount of time students are speaking in order to minimize teacher talk and maximize student talk
Montioring the number of times each person contributes to the conversation in order to minimize teacher talk, maximize student talk, and encourage those who normally speak to listen and those who normally listen to speak
The data collected during these conversations is tracked over the course of the day, week, and year to track trends and students' overall progress.
Attentive Listening Sentence Frames
I have a question for [NAME]. [NAME], [QUESTION]?
I think I have an answer to [NAMES]’s question. [NAME], [ANSWER].
I have a comment for [NAME]. [NAME], [COMMENT].
I made a connection with what [NAME] said. [NAME], [CONNECTION].
I want to add on to what [NAME] said. [NAME], [ADDITION].
I would like to respond to what [NAME] said. [NAME], [RESPONSE].
It would help me to reword what [NAME] said. [NAME], what I thought you said was [REWORDING]. Did I get that right?
I would like to know what [NAME] thinks about this issue. [NAME], would you mind sharing your thoughts?
We video record all of the student ask me anythings, so students can watch them later and reflect on their public speaking, comfort level with their classmates, and questions they might ask people they are meeting for the first time or trying to get to know better. You can see the reflection here.
My Favorite Teacher Ask Me Anything Questions
How many laps did you do in the Walk-a-thon?
During the 2013 Stevenson PACT Walk-a-thon, I walked about 30 laps, but keep in mind I had to leave early!
Did you play sports as a kid?
When I was growing up, I took swimming and tumbling lessons. I also briefly took karate lessons, but I think I just went to one of those. Obviously, I didn't think those were as much fun. For a few years in elementary school, I played soccer, baseball, and basketball. I also played tennis for a year in high school.
Do you like to watch "Garfield?"
I haven't seen the new "Garfield" movies, but I used to watch the TV show. In fact, I really liked it. I used to rent "Garfield" VHS tapes, along with "Goof Troop" and "Rocky and Bullwinkle" videos.
How many states have you visited?
I have spent time in 32 states: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
I'm not allergic to any foods, plants, or insect stings, but I'm allergic to some medicines.
Do you like animals?
I like animals, but probably not as much as I did when I was younger. When I was a kid, my favorite animal was a turtle. When I go to the zoo now, I probably spend the most time watching the bears, penguins, and tigers.
When you were growing up, did you speak English at home?
I grew up speaking English. I took Spanish for two years in middle school and Latin for four years in high school, but I can't really speak either of them now. I would like to learn how to speak Spanish again.
Have you ever seen a shark?
The closet I've ever come to a shark was when I petted a small one at an aquarium back in St. Louis when I was a little kid. Since then, I've only seen sharks at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Why did you go to two colleges?
I went to two colleges because I have two college degrees. I got my bachelor's degree in political science from Washington University in St. Louis. I got my master's degree in education from Stanford University. I could have gotten that degree at Wash. U. too, but I wanted to live in a new place, and I was really impressed by the program at Stanford.
Do you like geckos, lizards, and other reptiles?
I do. I used to want a pet chameleon, but I never got one. I did, however, have three pet turtles -- two that came from the pet store and one that came from our backyard. I named all three after Ninja Turtles. I learned a few things from my time as a pet owner. First, pets are a lot of responsibility. Second, wild animals don't make good pets. Third, it's just as important to wash your hands before handling some pets as it is that you do afterwards.
Are you the oldest, youngest, or a middle child in your family?
I'm a middle child in my family. One of my sisters is younger than me, but my other sister and brother are both older than I am.
What year were you born?
I was born in 1988.
Do you have any pets?
I don't have any pets right now, but my mom still has one of our dogs that she got when I was in high school. He is a peekapoo, which is a cross breed between a Pekingese and a poodle. His name is Brody.
How many people do you have in your family?
There are five people in my immediate family now : my wife, my mom, my two sisters, and my brother. One of my sisters is married, and she has two kids of her own -- a boy and a girl. My mom recently got remarried too. My family keeps getting bigger.
What is your favorite football team?
I don't follow football very closely, but I get most excited when the teams from places I've lived do well, so I'd like to see the San Francisco 49ers or the Oakland Raiders win the Super Bowl. I paid closer attention to football when I was in high school because I knew the players and felt more loyalty to my school than I have to the cities where I've lived.
What is your favorite place?
That's a really hard question! My favorite place changes as I get older and experience new things. Some of my favorite places are Stanford, San Francisco, Big Sur, Idyllwild, and my friend's old apartment on Pershing Street in St. Louis.
What are you going to be for Halloween this year?
I'm not planning to wear a costume this year. The last time I dressed up was a couple of years ago, and I was Harry Potter. When I was a kid, I was Fozzie the Bear, Peter Pan, Leonardo from the Ninja Turtles, and the Red Power Ranger.
Have you ever moved?
Yes, I lived in four different houses when I was growing up. Since I started college, I have moved thirteen different times!
Were you born before computers were invented?
There were computers in 1988, but they weren't like the computers we use today, and they weren't as common as they are now. The first time I remember using a computer was playing a game called, "Math Blaster," on a PC at my grandparents' house, and the second time was making an invitation to my seventh birthday party on a Mac at my mom's friends' house. We didn't get a computer at our house ,until I was in second grade. I used it to play games and read encyclopedia articles.
How big was your college?
There were about 14,000 students at Wash. U. and 16,000 students at Stanford. For comparison, we have 366 students at our school, so those schools are about 40 times bigger than Stevenson.
How many books have you read?
I have no idea, but I would guess that the number is in the thousands, if you could all of the picture books I read as a kid.
What was it like in high school?
I got to study different subjects, take different classes, and learn from different teachers. My favorite classes were about American history and government. After school, I was in clubs, like our school's student council and Latin club, and on the weekends, I went to football and basketball games with my friends. One of my best friends is someone I met in high school. It was a lot of fun!
What was it like when you were in third grade?
I don't remember a lot of things about third grade, but I remember a little bit about my teacher, Mrs. Harrison. My favorite thing about her class was that she let us work on projects. I wrote a book, called The Birthday Sam Will Never Forget. It was based on the time I broke my arm on my birthday. With my dad's help, I got to make a model of an adobe house, which is the kind of house Native Americans from the southwest lived in. I made a poster with information about Maryland, like its population and size, too. I presented both of those projects to my classmates and their families.
What kind of TV shows did you watch when you were a kid?
When I was a kid, I had a TV in my bedroom, which I don't recommend. I probably watched more shows than I should have. Sometimes I would have my TV on, even if I was doing something else, like building Legos or doing homework. I mostly watched cartoons and sitcoms. My favorite TV shows were "Arthur," "Doug," and "The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers."
What was it like living in Illinois? How was it different than California?
I liked living in Illinois, and I enjoy visiting my family and friends there and doing some of the things I did when I lived there. I make sure to eat at some of my favorite places that aren't in California, like Imo's Pizza and Steak 'n Shake. I think the biggest difference between the two places is geography. Illinois doesn't have any mountains, deserts, or oceans. It's a lot greener there too.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite book as a kid was The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky. It is about an old man who lives alone and hates doing his chores -- especially washing the dishes. One day, he decides to stop them. Eventually, he runs out of clean dishes, so he eats out of weird things, like flower pots and ashtrays, and he has even more to clean up!
What type of music did you listen to as a kid?
As a kid, I liked listening to whatever was on the radio, so I liked rock bands from the 90s, like Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, and Matchbox 20. Back then, I also liked buying soundtracks from my favorite movies, like "Space Jam" and "Men in Black." I figured that if I like the movie, I would probably like whoever sang songs on it too. This was not always the case.
Who is your hero?
One of my heroes is President Franklin Roosevelt. He was president during the Great Depression when many people didn't have jobs or enough food to eat. He came up with lots of ideas for new programs so that they could work and feed their families. At the same time, he led the country during World War II when people all over the world were in danger.
What is your favorite color?
My favorite color has always been blue, except for a few years when it was orange (I like orange-flavored candy), red (my favorite Power Ranger), and white (my new favorite Power Ranger).
How old are you?
I am 28.
Do you play video games?
I don't really play video games anymore. I went through brief "Plants vs. Zombies," "SimCity," and "Pokemon Go" phases the past couple of years, but those are over for now. As a kid, I played Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Nintendo 64, and X-Box. My favorite games were "Pokemon," "Zelda: Ocarina of Time," and "Project Gotham Racing." A few years ago, I shared a video clip of Zelda with students.
Do you like being an uncle?
I like being an uncle. My sister sends me pictures of her kids every couple of months. I am look forward to seeing them when I visit my family over winter break.
Do you like teaching second and third grade?
I really like teaching second and third grade. I have had the chance to work with children from preschool to fourth grade, and second and third graders are definitely my favorite. Second and third graders usually have a basic understanding of reading, writing, and math; lots of practice working with others; and a desire to learn, so I am able to have interesting conversations with them, while also letting them work independently. When I first started teaching, I thought I wanted to teach fifth grade, but I think second and third graders can do almost anything fifth graders can do.
How many years have you been a teacher?
This is my fifth year as a teacher. Before that, I worked as an assistant teacher at a preschool and in a three different elementary schools. I have also worked as a camp counselor, a youth sports coach, and even as a teacher for other teachers.
Do you like Snickers?
I really like Snickers. It is one of my favorite candy bars. I also like Dark Chocolate Hershey's Bars, KitKats, and Twix.
How tall are you?
I am 5' 9''.
What has been your favorite vacation?
My favorite vacation was going on an Alaskan cruise when I was in the eighth grade. We flew to Seattle and boarded a cruise ship that ported in several cities along the coast of Alaska. We saw glaciers and travelled by train through inland Alaska and British Columbia. My parents let me video record everything on their camcorder. I have also vacationed with my family in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Nevada, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.
Do you have kids?
I don't have kids, but I would like to have kids someday.
What is your favorite food?
I don't have an absolute favorite food, but a few of my favorites are clam chowder, crab legs, fried rice, and nachos. My favorite desserts are chocolate chip cookies, Dairy Queen ice cream cake, Oreo cheesecake, key lime pie, and pumpkin pie.
What is your favorite TV channel?
My favorite TV channels used to be Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Then, it was MTV2 and MSNBC. I am not sure I have a favorite TV channel anymore. I still watch a few shows on MSNBC, but I also watch shows on AMC, NBC, HBO, and HGTV.
How old are your parents?
My dad died a few years ago. He was 54. My mom is 58 right now. Her husband is 64.
Do you like being a teacher?
It is hard being a teacher, especially at our school because I have to make plans for parent volunteers on top of the lessons I plan in all of the subject areas, but I like it because everyday there's a chance I might introduce people to something they might end up studying for the rest of their lives. I'm lucky to have the chance to make that kind of an impact on so many people's lives.
How fast can you run?
I'm not sure. Last time I timed myself with my sports watch was this past summer, and I was in much better shape then than I am now. I could run a mile in around 8 minutes, and run for a few miles at about six miles per hour.
How many Roald Dahl books have you read?
As of right now, I have read twelve of his books: The B.F.G., Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, George's Marvelous Medicine, The Witches, The Twits, Danny: Champion of the World, The Enormous Crocodile,Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, The Magic Finger, The Giraffe the Pelly and Me, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and James and the Giant Peach. I am looking for more all the time!
Who is your best friend?
That's a tough question! Out of all of my friends, I spend the most time talking to my wife, but I have known some of my other friends much longer, and we have a lot of good (and funny) memories.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a cartoonist or a stand-up comedian, and then it was President of the United States or a doctor. It wasn't until much later that I even considered becoming a teacher.
Do you like cats or dogs better?
I like both of them, but I think I like dogs just a little bit better.
My Favorite Student Ask Me Anything Questions
If you could invite any three famous people over for dinner, who would you invite?
If you could pick one person to live with on a deserted island, who would it be?
What do you like to do in your free time?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
What is your favorite car?
What is your favorite color?
Would you rather be a Skittle or an M&M?
Would you rather live in a mansion or a giant gingerbread house?
Would you rather travel 30 years into the future or 30 years into the past?