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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Use Wild Hog Questions in the Classroom

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Eighty percent of what we do as learning engineers is ask questions. Because this is such a big part of what we do to inspire learning, we should do it really well! I began thinking about the research I have done that says that we have a long way to go before we can say that we ask questions really well, and then I thought of the wild hogs in Texas. There are millions of them. They are definitely not endangered and are frankly on the nuisance list. What if the way we ask questions was as tenacious, energetic and prolific as the wild hogs?

That's when I came up with the acronym WILD HOG for classroom questions. It stands for: Written Intentionally for Learning Depth and Higher Order Genius. (I've got to also give credit to my family for helping me come up with this.)

What I have seen in my own professional career as a learning engineer is that most of my questions to students fall into two categories: 1) off the cuff, (in Texas we would say "shot from the hip") and, 2) mostly low-level, knowledge-based questions. I would like to say that I am proficient in both of these strategies, but I am painfully aware that these two strategies are not as effective as I would like them to be. It is a chore to keep everyone attentive, discipline problems emerge, and students daydream and doodle while I try to pull information out of them one at a time. This makes me wonder why I continue to use them if they are not effective? The answer is that they are easy and take no prior effort. That is where WILD HOG Questions come into play.

Thinking Ahead

Using the WILD HOG Question method requires that the questions be created before the lesson is taught while in the planning stages. I find it very difficult, to come up with thoughtful, engaging and Higher Order Genius questions while I am teaching. It's kind of like trying to build the airplane while you are flying it. Paying attention to who is on task, what learning progress they are making, and how to motivate those students who may not be engaged, all get in the way of my thinking processes for fabricating excellent questions that show what students know and incite them to put things together in their brains.

To create WILD HOG Questions, while planning the anticipated learning, it takes just a few more minutes to create a list of questions that progress from easy to difficult, moving up Bloom's Taxonomy. Having the questions already created so you know where you want to go with the lesson and how you want to get there is the real power of effective learning design.

Writing the questions in advance for Learning Depth and Higher Order Genius also allows you to create questions targeted for particular students or groups of students (this is nearly impossible to do on the fly while you are trying to inspire learning). Finally, when you take the time to think about exactly what questions you want to ask students, you can anticipate their responses and better control the flow of the learning activities.

The Benefits

Designing WILD HOG Questions before you teach means you can avoid zombie questions (I'll write about these later) and you can maximize the number of students engaged by planning purposeful opportunities for students to interact at higher levels. With WILD HOG questions, students ask and answer questions from their elbow partners, seat mates, corner buddies, and debate teams rather than simply listening to the teacher ask one student at a time (and we know who those students usually are).

Done right, WILD HOG questions will help students answer questions completely, effectively, problem-solve and discuss deeply learned concepts. What are some excellent questioning techniques that you use to inspire learning and engage your students? Please share in the comment section below.

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