Clownin’ Around

“That’s a clown question, bro.” And with that, 19-year old Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper was a viral internet sensation. The follow-up article from Slate by Katy Waldman made the decidedly unclownlike inquiry, “What exactly is a clown question?” She offers that “Clown questions get on people’s nerves because they raise topics that no one cares about.” She goes on to add three key components, that clown questions are 1) irrelevant, 2) irreverent, and 3) “gotcha” in nature. They are, in other words, designed to trip you up – as was the alcohol-related question posed to the underage Harper.

So is this B-roll material for ESPN between SportsCenter reruns, or can we learn from this instantly meme-worthy moment? What kind of questions do we as educators ask in our classroom instruction? Are they clown questions? Hopefully not! As we strive for authentic assessment through inquiry-based learning, the prompts and questions we use should never be “gotcha” in nature. Our goal is not to make our students wriggle and squirm like they’ve been caught in a trap!

Neither should our questions – whether they are spoken or on a test/quiz – ever be anything other than relevant and reverent. By relevant, I mean that our assessment needs to be grounded in what it is important and valuable for the growth, development, and achievement of our students. We must connect to real-life scenarios whenever possible, and use constructivist-influenced lessons to make problem-solving link to our students’ experience sets – past, present, and future.

Reverent questions are important too, by which I mean we need to have respect for our students. They of course deserve nothing less than us at our best, and our professionalism counts for something. Save the whoopee cushions and pie-in-the-face antics for another time… We’re busy building the future here!


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