Sunday, February 5, 2017

Questions in the Classroom

In middle school, I was in many classes that should have encouraged creativity and speculation.  However, most of the time we couldn’t discuss these ideas a class because we were “behind” and “had to move on.”  My ideas were trapped inside of my head with no way to get out.  I was looking for ways to connect material that was learned at different times of the year, but I couldn’t do that.  My class was stuck in a never-ending loop of taking notes, doing some practice, and moving on.  There was no room to explore the material further than what we did in class.  When we started hearing about a certain class that did such things, we were shocked.  How was the teacher able to go into lessons with such detail with the little time he had?  I only recently found this answer.  He used a method that all good teachers use: questioning. 

I know that this sounds like something that all teachers do.  However, this one teacher managed to crack the code on how to teach the curriculum through questioning.  Now that I am in his class this year, I see how powerful questions can be.  Asking questions forces the student to use his or her mind to think deeply and activates the student’s critical thinking skills.  Questions often lead to speculation and stimulates independent learning.  “Thus the questions we ask define what-and how and why-we teach.”  (The English Teacher’s Companion, 2008)

There are many types of questions, but most are broken into two categories: lower-level thinking or higher-level thinking questions. Lower-level thinking questions are primarily used for the recollection of information.  These are very effective when trying to memorize something or reviewing material.  Higher-level thinking questions are used for deeper learning.  These questions involve the student use previous knowledge to form their own conclusion.  For example, a higher-level thinking question might have the student connect material from multiple units to reach an answer.  They would also encourage the student to speculate.  “This freedom to speculate is essential, for we must, whenever possible, teach to complexity…”  (The English Teacher’s Companion, 2008)

Although higher-level questions sound like the better form of the two, there must be a balance between both.  If lower-level questions are not asked, the student will not get the basic understanding in the concept.  There must be a foundation before being asked higher-level questions.  Higher-level questions are necessary because they have students take the information to the next level.  Knowing when to use both forms is also important.  The amount of higher-level questions used should increase with the age of the students.  Asking too many of these questions to elementary schoolers is not a good idea.    As the students increase in grade level, the amount of high-level questions should increase.  The opposite is true for lower-level questions.  Giving too many of low questions to high school students will decrease their interest in the material. 

Knowing how to ask questions is extremely important.  Teachers should always keep the students thinking.  The more the students are thinking, the better.  “For most of the conventional school day, kids just sit while the teachers talk…They move in lockstep through rigid, balkanized curricula aimed less at deep learning than at the fulfillment of government mandates…”  (The One World Schoolhouse, 2012) For lower level questions, always follow a yes or no question with another question.  Normally these questions have the student explain their thought process on their previous answer.  This prevents students on making half-hearted answers.  Another necessity for lower-level questions is to make sure the questions themselves are direct and clear.  They require less thinking so there is no need to make them more complex than they have to be.  Unfortunately, not every answer will be correct.  Teachers should always point out what is incorrect.  However, they should never just focus on the bad parts of the answer.  This can harm the student’s self-confidence and decrease the amount of times the student will want to answer a question.  Instead, show the good parts of the answer along with the bad.  After this, a follow up questions should be asked that will lead the student to a correct or stronger answer.

Higher-level questions are much different, so unique strategies must be used.  “…I hoped to help students see the connections, the progression, between one lesson and the next…”  (The One World Schoolhouse, 2012) This is what higher-level questions are about.  They help connect information between lessons and units. e These questions can be much more difficult and thought-provoking.  Due to this, teachers should always let their students think and formulate an answer.  This wait-time is essential for higher-level questions.  The more wait-time, the more thoughts that can be implemented.  One way to have students gather their thoughts about a question is having them write their ideas down.  Once everybody has created a response to a question, a discussion should be started about the question.  These discussions can be in small groups or with the entire class.  Discussions are great ways to give every student an opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts. 

Using any of these strategies will make the student think and feel involved in the class.  Teachers are always striving to create positive relationships with every student in their class.  They can get to know each student in their class as an individual with their own identity and personality through questioning.  Once students realize that their opinion matters, they will start to enjoy the class more.  They will start to comprehend that a teacher’s classroom is a place for them to be themselves and express their ideas.  Questions require teachers and students alike to succeed.  They require effort and respect from both ends.  “…a class is defined by not only by the questions we ask but also by the extent to which students themselves help to shape or ask these questions.”  (The English Teachers Companion, 2008) The entire atmosphere within a classroom can change with a single question.  Once all classrooms embrace the idea of questioning, it can start to fix the negative connotation on school.  The right question can even change a student’s life.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to find the right one for each student that they teach.  Once every teacher has mastered the art of questioning, the classroom will become a much better place.


Jim Burke - Heinemann - 2008

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined

           Salaman Khan, London: Hodder & Stoughton - 2012. Print.

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent, Sean. I teach gifted ELA in grades 5/6 and am always looking for better ways to encourage my students to think critically and creatively. I know it is difficult to give the time necessary to foster deep thinking, reading, and writing in school because of high stakes testing; however, I have a terrible fear that there are young people who feel the same way you do in many classrooms - including mine sometimes: "My ideas were trapped inside of my head with no way to get out." I'm excited for you that you found a teacher who will allow you to get those ideas out. Thanks for sharing the strategies. I'll be sharing this post!