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Digging deep

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Probing questions are in at Central Ridge Elementary

By Mike Wright

CITRUS SPRINGS — They’re growing deep thinkers at Central Ridge Elementary School.

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Out are “thin” questions, the kind that often start with “Who” or “What” and provide one-word answers.

In are “thick” probing questions that show students have given the subject some real thought.

Even if the subject is a typical second-grade story about Halloween adventures among some friends.

Michelle Muse and Muriel Burnett co-teach at Central Ridge, where the hallways are lined with charts that pinpoint key portions of books read by students.

“It’s going beyond what the text says,” Burnett said.

It’s called “metacognition,” or an awareness of what one is thinking.

Dictionary.com defines metacognition as “thinking about one’s own mental processes.”

Pretty heady stuff for little kids, but teachers Muse and Burnett said it basically teaches children to fully comprehend what they’re being taught.

Another way to look at it: Adults read books and comprehend the meaning without giving it much thought. Metacognition teaches children from a young age to pay particular attention to that thought process.

“It’s thinking about what you’re thinking,” Burnett said.

The walls of their second-grade classroom are filled with probing thoughts.

“Quality questions make our thinking go deeper,” one poster reads.

Muse, reading a Halloween adventure story typical for second-graders, urged children to go beyond the obvious.

“I want your thinking to go deeper,” she said.

They wrote in a candy corn-shaped journal as she read the book. Students wrote down questions and the answers, if they knew them.

In one passage, the narrator said that the characters laughed so hard they nearly cried.

Luke Wells had that figured out.

“Sometimes when you laugh too hard you nearly cry. Your eyes water,” he said.

Muse encouraged her students to think deeply with each passing page.

“Your brain is asking all these questions,” she said. “We are always thinking. Our brain is going all the time.”

When the story concluded, Muse asked the children for some of their questions. Megan Webster had a question and an answer, though the answer didn’t directly come from the story.

“Was that answered in the text or are you inferring that?” Muse asked.

Megan didn’t hesitate. “I’m kind of just inferring that,” she said.

Burnett believes starting these deep-thinking exercises while children are early in school will pay dividends later on.

“Our goal,” she said, “is to continue building knowledge.” 

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.