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Sunday, December 2, 2012

I've Got A Lot of Questions...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hp15/
Have you ever noticed that great teachers ask great questions?  That actually wasn't a great question.  I could have asked several related questions:  (1) Why is it that great teachers ask such great questions?  (2)  What great questions have you ever been asked by a teacher?  (3)  Have you ever been asked a great question by one of your teachers? - or - (4) Have you ever noticed that one of your better teachers was really great at asking question?

Since taking on more of a leadership role in school I have noticed the importance of  "good questioning."  As a TAP ( Teacher Advancement Program) mentor teacher I was told to look at teachers and how they asked questions.  And, as a teacher in a TAP school,  I was observed and reminded to use good questioning techniques.

When I moved to a school using PBL as its main delivery method I learned of specific types of questions that were important to getting students hooked on the theme of the project - Driving Questions.  In studying driving questions I discovered that it actually mattered whether the teacher presented the driving question or whether the students created the driving question(s).  I decided that at the K - 5 level it might be better for teachers to present a problem statement and driving question.  At 6 - 8, it was better to present a problem statement and help the students create a driving question that all of the students work on to answer.  And, at the high school level, teachers should present a problem where the students then create a problem statement and driving questions that they will pursue during their examination of the problem. 

As I continued reading more and more about the importance of having students derive a driving question, I became more sure that this was the necessary first step in having students "own their learning."  While reading a blog post about questioning, I first saw a mention of "The Right Question Institute " or RQI.  This group takes student ownership of learning to the next level by having them create questions around a central idea that they work on.  So now we have moved beyond teachers asking great questions and are moving to students learning how to ask great questions that fuel their learning.

My first paragraph was actually based upon the first few steps of the RQI's Question Formulation Technique (QFT).  Step one of the QFT, The Question Focus, was my blog post title.  It tweaked some interest that got you to read the first few lines of the post and started you asking yourself questions about why I might be writing this post.  In step two, The Rules for Producing Questions, are rules established by the teacher on how the students should create their questions.  I omitted this step.

The third step is where the students Produce Questions.  Like brainstorming in the Engineering Design Process or Scientific Method, this should be limited by only time. The students shouldn't think about whether it is a great question, they should just list their questions.  My four additional questions were an example of this step.  

Once they have their list of questions then they can think about the questions and they will have a chance to  Categorize the Questions , (step 4).  There are only two categories: Closed Questions or Open-Ended Questions.  My first question was an example of an open question and questions 2 - 4 were all closed questions.  While in the categorizing mode the students should be told to change one or two of the questions so that they might fit the opposing category.  For example my question 4 (closed) might be reworded to "How might a teacher ask questions that stimulate a desire to learn about a topic?" That is a more open ended question.

With their questions categorized they are ready to go on to step 5: Prioritizing the Questions.  The criteria for prioritizing can be set by the teacher or, for older students, stated by the students themselves.  This is the point where students can focus their work and as they are prioritizing the are ready to consider step 6, which is their Next Steps. The next steps might be simple like getting ready for a summative assessment or completing an assignment.  Or, they might be more involved like completing research for a project idea.

And so I end by asking, have you ever noticed that great students ask great questions?   Take your students to the next level by helping them learn how to question.  While they are learning the process remember that there really is a step 7 in the process.  Have the students reflect on what it is that you have purposefully done in the classroom.  Ask them to think about whether writing down and prioritizing questions helped them focus on what needed to be learned.  Ask them how they might use this technique in life.  Ask them great questions because, if you are using this, you are a great teacher.