Asking the right questions and the 11th grade:

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies to North Africa and into Egypt against the British (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my second try at the SOLE my 11’s had to find out if Mussolini and Hitler were more similar or more different.  They got stuck on this idea during their presentation: Which one gained power through a more legal means?  So I set the answer to this question as their homework. But when my students arrived to class the next day, I quickly realized that they hadn’t done any research.  They were using the same evidence as the day before to prove their point.  So I decided that maybe I needed to give them a worksheet to guide their research.

I felt like I was giving up on my “Student Centered” inquiry.  But at the same time, I think my students needed some guidance.  After a few days of reading, researching other outside sources, and watching a few documentaries I had set, the students then discussed their findings.  Many had changed their previous opinions.  In the beginning, they were all so convinced that Hitler obtained power through a much more legal means than Mussolini.  They felt that the differences between the men were huge.  After more careful, guided research, they realized that their earlier impressions lacked supporting evidence.  Their impressions now were that these two leaders were much more similar in their acquisition of power.

Did I guide them into my way of thinking through my worksheet questions?  Maybe.  Or did I just model how to compare and contrast?  But I tried to create questions that could be used to study any world leader’s rise to power.

We got to the end of the discussion and I said “So, what is the next question?”  I had just read Jackie Gerstein’s post on learners developing their own questions, so I was feeling more confidence in continuing with this style of study.  My students gave suggestions like…What were the causes of WWII? How did Hitler lose the war?  I then pulled in the reigns.  “Guys, we just placed these guys in power as a prime minister/chancellor.  There is more to the story.  How did they consolidate their power?  They didn’t just become a dictator over night?”

The students said… “Can’t you just give us a work sheet?”  “NO,” I was irritated now.  “You need to learn to ask these questions yourself.  If this were a paper prompt or a research task, you would have to create these guiding questions for yourself.  What kinds of questions do you need to ask in order to examine how Mussolini and Hitler consolidated their power to become dictators?”  They smiled and realized I was not going to give in.  They were going to have to take control of their learning and not rely on me to present the information to them.  The questions then began to flow.  They came up with the following:

How did Mussolini and Hitler dissolve their parliaments’ to gain absolute power?

What promises did they make to gain continued support of the masses?

What improvements did they make for society?

How did they use propaganda? Movies? Posters? Speeches? Rallies? Monuments?

Who were their opponents and how did Mussolini and Hitler deal with them?

How did these men develop their “cult of personality”?

I don’t think I could have made a better list myself.  The students then broke into groups to research their topic.  They had roughly one class period to research.  20 minutes in the following lesson to prepare a presentation, and 35 minutes for the groups to present their findings.

So how do your students do with questioning?  Are they able to create the right questions?  Do they stay on task to find the right answers?  What are you thoughts on inquiry based learning?

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2 replies

  1. Wow, this is great! I’m so glad you’re blogging, Mrs. Ralf. The world needs to hear your perspective on teaching. In my experience, students rise to the expectations you have for them and are definitely able to generate good questions, but it all needs to be properly scaffolded. You set your students up for this success by initially creating worksheets and questions that modeled the kinds of questions they should be asking. You showed documentaries and guided them through research. With this strong background, they were ready to start coming up with their own difficult questions and answers. I’m a strong believer in inquiry-based learning, but I don’t know if “school in general” always does the best job of preparing students for it, so I do believe that sometimes we need to model and teach the inquiry process before students can generate the kinds of questions yours did. Nice work!

    • We are going to try a similar activity when we take them on their school trip. Give them city museum ticket, a question, and then they must plan, investigate, and present the next evening. Should be an exciting task.

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