The Dear Abby Quest

Recently, I asked  students in my Content Area Literacy class to generate a set of questions related to the work we were doing that day. We had been working on understanding the similarities and differences of content area literacy vs. disciplinary literacy (and it’s ok if you don’t know what those are; keep reading) and had done some activities/watched some videos to see these different ideas in action. At the very end, they had to complete a google form which asked them what questions they were left with.

They were left with a lot of questions.

The one thing I struggle with as a teacher (and that drives me nuts!) is that there never seems to be enough time to do it all. In this case, there wasn’t enough time to spend working through the questions without cutting the rest of what was planned – something I didn’t want to do.

So a quest was born, and we called it the Dear Abby Quest.

The idea behind the quest is that it fosters continued discussion about the questions students had and might continue to have over the course of the semester. I created a google document with the existing questions from the form. I encouraged students to add additional questions about anything course related. Students go into the document, find a question that interests them, and then create a response to it. The response can be in any format, but right now all have been written (I did one as a video but that didn’t seem to catch on). Some questions are very long, and no one is expected to take on a question in it’s entirety. It’s fine to take on just a portion of a question. Quality is what is being valued here.

I created a new group on PI (the app we are using to communicate) so that both my classes could participate. I made the google document available to both groups and asked both groups to join the cross cohort collaboration group I had created to participate. This meant that a student in one class could ask a question and have it answered by a student in another. As of this writing, no one in my other class has written a question on the document or responded to a question already there.

This is disappointing to me because I think there is great value and potential when students talk across classes. Plus, they have a lot to offer each other. Keep in mind that the Dear Abby Quest is not required. Almost all of my students select their own paths to their grades. Not requiring it definitely has it drawbacks in that I cannot force collaboration to occur – but really, what good is forced collaboration anyways? I’m much rather they opt into it because they see the value in doing so or want to give it a whirl.

For the students who are participating in Dear Abbey, it looks to be going well. They are providing high quality responses to questions posed by others. Without this quest, these questions would have been left hanging in the wind. And while I think it’s always a good idea for students to consider what their lingering questions are, I hate to just leave them swinging out in the breeze. I’d like us to be able to do something with them. Dear Abby provides them with such an opportunity.

One Year Ago Today


3 thoughts on “The Dear Abby Quest

  1. lisamlangford September 15, 2015 / 6:15 pm


    I think that this is so powerful because you are taking yourself out of the teacher-answers-all-questions-role and using your students’ knowledge to teach and engage with each other! This is one of my big goals for this year. I talked with my kids today about how they are constructors of knowledge, not just me and my TA. I’m hoping to empower them this year to take on more of a role of answering each others’ questions. Thanks for empowering us!

    • leighahall September 16, 2015 / 8:07 am

      Thank you for telling me this! It is very helpful to hear. It’s a fun but challenging transition because everyone has to break habits and routines.

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