Monday, March 14, 2011

The art of questioning.

Have you taken the “Questions Only” Challenge?
Here is more on the Art of Questioning:
Our students want to be engaged, challenged and intrigued!  If you disagree, try lecturing to your students for an entire class, and then ask them about how much information they have retained or even bothered listening to.
I believe true engagement and challenge comes from the way we pose our questions towards students.  Teachers need to realize that not only do the tasks or assignments we provide to students determine the outcome of the lesson, but how a teacher addresses the challenges the students may have with these tasks also contributes to the quality of learning the student receives.  Looking back at my previous years, I have given higher level thinking tasks to students, but when a student required assistance my questioning techniques destroyed any critical thinking that had occurred
In 2003, Weiss et al. wrote “effective questioning is relatively rare in mathematics and science classes”, and Redfield and Rousseau in 1981 wrote “asking higher level questions has been shown to facilitate learning”. 

Educators need to stop asking questions where the answer can be a simple Yes/No, and start asking questions that requires responses with deeper thought.  Easy analogy: The deeper of understanding required to answer a question means the deeper level of learning that has occurred.
This does not imply that we should only be asking higher level thinking questions, but instead we could start asking initiating questions of a reasonable difficulty and then scaffold to more challenging contexts.  Most teachers are aware of the taxonomy introduced by Bloom, et al. in 1956, but another strategy was created in 1996 by Penick et al, which can be used in math and science classes.  Penick suggests asking questions that build on the students’ history, relationships, application, speculation and explanation.  Here is how Penick describes questions of these categories:
History – questions that relate to students’ experience:
·         What did you do….?
·         What happened when you….?
·         What happened next….?
Relationships – questions that engage students in comparing ideas, activities, data, etc:
·         How does this compare….?
·         What else does this relate to…..?
·         What do all these procedures have in common?
Application – questions that require students to use knowledge in new contexts:
·         How could this idea be used in design….?
·         What recognized safety issues could this solution solve?
·         What evidence do we have that supports…..?
Speculation – questions that require thinking beyond given information:
·         What would happen if you changed…..?
·         What might the next appropriate step be?
·         What potential problems may result from….?
Explanation – questions that get at underlying reasons, processes, and mechanisms:
·         How does that work?
·         How can we account for…”
·         What justification could be provided for….?
Questions should promote students learning outcomes using their own thought processes.  As teachers should not take the pencil/pen from the student and complete their work, they should also not be taking their learning and thinking away from them either.  To illustrate, how effective questioning appears in a math class I remember when a student was squaring negative numbers and keeping the product negative.
Student: If I square negative 3 the answer is negative 9.
ME: Why is the answer 9?
Student: Because in my calc, -3 squared is – 9.
ME: Forget your calculator, what does it mean to square a number?
Student: (Pause) To multiply by itself
Me: What happens if you multiply a negative number by another negative number?
Student: I am not dumb, I know a negative by a negative is a positive, but when you square…. Oh wait…. -3 times -3 is ….. stupid calculator!
From the outside some would say I taught the student how to square a negative number, but to the student he taught himself.  This is a powerful idea to the individual student.  Our goal, through questioning, is teach our students how to critically solve problems without asking any questions at all.
the true goal of a teacher is to put themselves out of a job, by having students solve problems without their help.

I fear that a common questioning technique by teachers, to students, is to ask "What do you think?"  Here is a take on that by this site:

Everyone asks questions (especially my four-year old granddaughter). It’s how we learn, understand issues, solve problems, and even socialize. But of all the questions you can ask, there is one that invariably leads to confusion, especially between men and women: What do you think?

It’s innocuous enough, and everyone uses it, but it can cause big trouble. Here are just a few examples:

A female employee just finished a project she had spent several weeks perfecting and brought it to her male boss expecting to receive lavish praise. She asked, “What do you think?” and he found a small criticism. She was devastated.

A female employee brought to her male boss an issue about which she wanted to gain some more insight, and asked “What do you think?” He told her what to do, and she felt that she now had to do the wrong thing.

A male employee asked his female boss for advice on a problem and asked, “What do you think?” She started a discussion about the topic when all he was looking for was confirmation that his approach made sense. He left frustrated and disillusioned.

A female marketer had her sale “wrapped up”, everyone loved her product, and they were ready to sign on the bottom line. She asked, “What do you think?” One person raised a minor issue that ended up taking a long time to resolve and almost cost her the sale.

My friend went to buy a dishwasher and had a specific brand in mind. She wanted to “involve” her husband so she insisted he come shopping with her. She asked, “What do you think?” Her husband answered, “I think we should get the GE”. Unfortunately she didn’t want that brand and now had to convince her husband otherwise.

A woman tried on a new outfit and asked her significant other, “What do you think?” He said, “It’s OK”, and she was deflated because she loved how it looked.

What do you think? is a question that really doesn’t ask anything so it can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. There are much better ways to get opinions and information.

1 comment:

  1. "What do you think? is a question that really doesn’t ask anything so it can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. There are much better ways to get opinions and information."

    Wow. So true. This question can go down many unintended rabbit trails. A slightly related question might be "How does this relate to you?" I'd be prepared for some push back with that one, though.

    Good post. It definitely has me thinking.

    - @newfirewithin