“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Really? Teachers often say this familiar line as a way to invite their students to ask whatever is on their mind – which, as we all know, can be a minefield. However, our focus in this On Practice is not on student questions, but on teacher-directed questions. As teachers, one of the most common ways to assess your class quickly and informally is through questions. So I ask, are some questions better than others? That is similar to asking, is some chocolate better than others? Those of you in Europe will certainly agree that some chocolate is far superior! If you are anything like me, however, if I am desperate enough, I will eat any chocolate. The same is true of teachers: if we are desperate enough, we will ask any question, even if the answer is boring, unclear, or rote. So what are the ingredients of a good question? A good question should:
- be open-ended (the answer is more than one word and can be stated many different ways);
- integrate prior knowledge;
- involve higher level thinking skills such as evaluating, critiquing, and comparing; and
- above all, make us THINK!
The goal of teaching is not just to get through the curriculum, but rather to teach students to think. Thinking at a higher level doesn’t automatically happen because we are introducing new content. We need to engage the students with the content and help them think about it. Evaluating information is particularly important because of the growing amount of information available to our students in and outside of the classroom. If we can equip our students to evaluate, critique, and create from a Christian worldview in our classrooms, they will be prepared to do it outside of the classroom as well. Several years ago, while doing an Action Research project to complete my Master’s degree, I decided to assess the level at which my students were thinking in classes. What I quickly came to realize – and research from Walsh and Sattes backs this up – is that if I, the teacher, prepare higher-level questions beforehand, I will ask better questions and my students will answer at a higher level; however, if I don’t prepare the questions ahead of time, my questions will remain at lower levels, as will my students’ answers.
In order to develop and write better questions, I suggest keeping a good ol’ Bloom’s Taxonomy around while you are writing your lesson plan. These question starters are also helpful to print out and have on hand. For each lesson, write down two higher level questions to ask during the class. Don’t be discouraged if you still have to ask several lower-level questions before the students are prepared to answer the higher-level question. The goal is not to eliminate remembering, understanding, and applying, but to get beyond these levels of thinking. And like European chocolate, once you have had a taste of higher-level questions and answers, you might just become a bit more discerning about the questions you ask.
This article was first published in OnPractice on 15 October 2013.