Two weeks ago, Jan was with Kim in Florida, where we experienced the powerful advantages of face-to-face collaboration. Jan stayed in Kim’s guest “suite,” where the guest bathroom toilet runs unless you leave the handle up. After spending all day Monday with Jan trying to remember to leave the handle up but forgetting anyway, and Kim either reminding Jan or going into the bathroom and adjusting the handle herself, Kim left Jan a “tripwire.”
Tripwires are reminders we set in place for ourselves (or that others set in place for us–as in the case with Kim’s toilet) to help us remember to make the changes we want, particularly when those changes require behaviors that are the opposite of our habits. The intent to change something is rarely enough to follow through when in-the-moment muscle memory kicks in and we unwittingly default to our automatic behaviors.
Chip and Dan Heath write about tripwires in their book Decisive (Crown, 2013), and Joan Moser, in the lovely and smart foreword she wrote for our new book Who’s Doing the Work? (Stenhouse, April 2016), suggests that the question– “Who’s doing the work?”–is a tripwire for shifting the ways we scaffold students.
Thinking about this question, particularly if a teacher wants to shift some thinking work from him or herself to the student, can be helpful to evaluate the prompts we use during instruction. Typically, when a child encounters difficulty when reading, we are inclined to say things like, “Does that make sense?” or “What would sound right?” We worry that these prompts intervene too quickly, telling students what they need to do before they’ve had a chance to self-monitor and think for themselves about what they need to do. We are concerned that such well-intended interventions may be inadvertently creating roadblocks to independence by implicitly teaching students to rely on us, rather than on themselves, in the face of difficulty. Using the question “Who’s doing the work?” as a tripwire reminds us of David Sousa’s important premise that “The brain that does the work is the brain that does the learning,” which, in turn, reminds us to begin our prompting by asking questions that require the most work of students. So, instead of asking, “Does that make sense?” we might say, “How can you check?”
To further support our efforts to remember to prompt students differently, we developed “The Prompting Funnel,” which you can see below:
This graphic helps us to pause to remember that the more children do for themselves, the more they learn. The more they learn, the greater their potential for achievement. So, today, we end by encouraging you to think about the questions you use to prompt students. How can questions that require the least work of students be revised to require students to do more?