Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Asking Questions

“When students know how to ask their own questions,” say Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana of the Right Question Institute in this Harvard Education Letter article, “they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own.” Questioning is usually seen as the teacher’s province, but Rothstein and Santana believe that students can be taught how to do it themselves, in the process fine-tuning their divergent, convergent, and metacognitive skills.
Here are the six steps of the Question Formulation Technique, which takes 45 minutes the first time students use it but can be cut down to 10-15 minutes with practice:
            • The teacher suggests a focus. For example, a class studying the 1804 Haitian revolution was provoked into formulating questions by the statement, “Once we were slaves; now we are free.”
            • Students brainstorm questions. They begin after learning four rules: (a) Ask as many questions as you can; (b) Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions;
(c) Write down every question exactly as it is stated; and (d) Change any statements into questions.
            • Students fine-tune their questions. The teacher helps students see the difference between an open-ended and single-answer question and gives them time to edit theirs so as to elicit the maximum depth, quality, and information.
            • Students prioritize their questions. The teacher suggests criteria for picking the most important questions – for example, “Choose the three questions you most want to explore further.”
            • Students and teacher decide on how to use the questions. For example, one class decided that their Socratic Seminar question would be, “How do poverty and injustice lead to violence in A Tale of Two Cities?”
            • Students reflect on what they have learned.
            Rothstein and Santana say this process improves group participation, classroom management, and equity of outcomes. Using this process, teachers realize that just asking, “Do you have any questions?” elicits very little, but teaching students how to generate and use their own questions is a powerful spur to high-level learning.

“Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions” by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana in Harvard Education Letter, September/October 2011 (Vol. 27, #5, p. 1-2, 5-6),

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