Questioning my Questioning!!!

Have you ever had the experience of asking students a question that didn’t garner even a tidbit of discussion? Even after that all important pause to give your adult learners time to think through the question, all that greeted your gaze was a sea of quiet unresponsive faces! I’ve been reading a fair bit on what I now believe is the fine “art and science” of asking the right questions for the right learning situation. As educators, I’m sure we all agree that we need to actively engage students in higher order thinking. We absolutely must strive to incorporate opportunities for both students and educators to ask questions, regardless of the subject we’re teaching.

Hal Gregerson, in the TEDTalk featured below shares that educators on average wait 1 second for a response to a question, and that students ask on average 1 question/month at a critical thinking level. He also proposes that a large number of educators spend most of their time talking in class and little time questioning. His best advice is for everyone to not only to ask more questions, but to also practice becoming more very effective listeners. HIs challenge to educators and students alike is the “4/24” strategy,… to ask at least 4 questions every day!

So, what might have gone wrong in my scenario above, the one that drew blank stares? Perhaps the question was not well aligned with the student’s current level of information and current knowledge? Perhaps it wasn’t phrased in a way that invited dialogue? Certainly these are plausible explanations. As I reflected on past experiences, I realize that when planning a lesson, I have not deliberately planned questions to use to have students explore the content I’m teaching and generate new thinking. Its an interesting realization as I pride myself in being an effective planner. I prepare for the lesson by planning the content, the learning activities, the assessment, and yet, no questions. What an ahhhaa moment for me.

What I’m really excited about now is learning more about how to ask the right questions and being able to be comfortable enough to spend more time in class with students exploring answers.

I think that Bloom’s taxonomy is an excellent resource to assist in question formulation to promote higher level thinking. Bloom’s taxonomy, created by a committee led by Dr. Bloom (1954), identified three learning domains of educational activities: 1. cognitive 2. affective and 3. psychomotor. Each domain is further subdivided into levels organized from low level thinking skills to high level ones. For example, within the cognitive domain, the sub categories are (renamed by Anderson et al, 2000): remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. Using this approach, you can pose a question based on what level of thinking you are targeting with your students. Do you need to them simply remember, understand, or are they ready to analyze, evaluate or even create something on the topic at hand?

Depending on what the topic is and the students’ level of information and knowledge, I might begin with a lower level question (knowledge based), but then as the discussion deepens move up that scale to ask analysis and evaluation questions. I feel that effective questioning that promotes higher level thinking is a real skill that needs to be learned and practiced!

I came across a 2014 resource that I think will help us in our discussion and learning on this topic. Its a table entitled “Bloom’s Taxonomy Planning Kit” that is featured on the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning website at: “>http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/03/new-blooms-taxonomy-planning-kit-for.html

Have you heard of Socratic questioning? It is questioning that “aims to probe student thinking, determine the extent of their knowledge on a topic, to model Socratic questioning for students or to help students analyze a concept or line of reasoning” (Wiki, n.d.). Examples of how to use socratic questioning proposed by Dr. Richard Paul (n.d.) in the video below include:

Why did you say that?
Can you explain that further?
Is there a reason to doubt this evidence?
What is the counter-argument?
Why do you think I asked that question”?

The premise behind socratic questioning is that the mind learns content by thinking, and thinking creates content, hence we need to be entering into these open dialogues that are prompting students to think deeply on the topic and generate new knowledge. I especially like the idea of asking students “what are your questions”, rather than “does anyone have any questions?”.

I can’t wait to try out socratic questioning next week in a session I am preparing for on independent practice. Stay tuned and I’ll update you as I continue to delve into and find answers and strategies that address my quest of “questioning my questioning”.Here’s a video on critical thinking and words of wisdom from its author.

References:
Socratic questioning (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_questioning

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