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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Asking Good Questions?

Asking Good Questions?

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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11 Replies 2173 Views

In the project learning model we teach, every project has a Driving Question. Obviously, we spend a lot of time developing that particular question. It is generally the hardest task for the teachers with which we work, as it is where the teacher commits to finding the most engaging, authentic (related to adult work when possible) question that will speak to the student's personal excitement WHILE also teaching to the standards [a difficult tension and balance].

However, asking good questions (driving questions, project sub-questions, and general questioning in the classroom) is one way to make life and learning an adventure. How do we ask good questions as teachers? And how do we teach the asking of good questions?

As a math teacher, my students would laugh because 99% of the time I answered their questions with a question. Also, when I was helping students one on one, I prided myself on guiding their learning with good questions....until I discovered one day an article where a student said about tutoring: "When I am tutored, I can asnwer all the questions, but when I am taking the test in class, I can't remember the questions!"

That is when I realized that when we ask good questions as teachers, we don't necessarily fully 'close the loop.' We have to find ways for students to be staring at the blank piece of paper (on a test, or in their mind), and then 'create the question for themselves that they have to answer.' Any ideas on how we help students develop that skill?

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Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Blogger 2014

Throughout the year, I teach about what is Evidence vs. what is Commentary. Commentary, I say, is that tickertape that continuously goes through your brain monologuing about everything. Sometimes it's on topic (I relate to that! That reminds of me of...! I can visualize that!) and sometimes it's not (Yummy bannana.) But Commentary is also about questions...even unanswerable ones or hypothetical ones or loaded ones.

In the beginning of the year, I scaffold by providing sentence stems so we can practice this version of commentary in our expository essays. (This is in addition, of course to many ongoing activities about metacognition and think aloud as a way to freeze our tickertape and examine what we're thinking and how we got to that point of thought.) I'll use Costas', Bloom's, whatever.

By the end of the first semester, however, I see many students branch out and away from the typical stems, going deeper and deeper into what makes a good, thoughtful question based on what they observe in the evidence.

-Heather WG

Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates
Facilitator 2014

Wow, Heather, where do you teach? Can my children go to your class? I was twenty-three years old before I noticed my mental tape loops and gave them a name! I wish I had been in your classes. Would you mind copying and pasting some of your question stubs into your next post? I bet our members would love to see more details about what you did.

Armando Di-Finizio's picture
Armando Di-Finizio
Principal of a Secondary School in Bristol, UK

I think the ideas abover are great and I will take them back to my school. We have spent session after session with teachers on developing questioning techniques, but how do you stop teachers giving into temptation and showing off their expertise? I observe so many sessions where I find the teacher asking closed questions which practically give the answer. The teacher rather than the student is the one who often develops the answer to a deeper level (which could be achieved through good questioning).

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

When I'm working with students and I want them to think for themselves or come up with their own questions/reasoning, I often throw back the question, "Is it?" when they ask me if something is right, or makes sense, or is correct, etc. The often look at me like I'm crazy! But I tell them they should think about it and decide if it is "right" or "ok". This get them thinking and beginning to ask themselves questions about their own work.

Nathan Manderfeld's picture
Nathan Manderfeld
Fourth Grade Teacher Bermuda Dunes, CA

I have been teaching for 11 years and believe it or not am just getting into project learning. I really need someone I can talk to that does it regularly to guide me.

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

[quote]I have been teaching for 11 years and believe it or not am just getting into project learning. I really need someone I can talk to that does it regularly to guide me.[/quote]

I don't get to do it as often as I used to due the move to inclusion that my school has taken but I LOVE to do projects and I still do them with my MG/Enrichment group. When I had my own classroom, I did projects for just about everything! From math assignments to writing to literature. (I taught Math and Literature - my kids went out for Science and Social Studies.)

I'd be happy to talk to you about how I did it then and how I use projects with my MG/Enrichment class. Because I see them so rarely, I do a year long, cross-curricular project. The kids really enjoy it!

Let me know!

Erika Saunders

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia
Facilitator 2014

I've always modeled my questions on Yoram Harpaz's (and other's) work on Fertile Questions. I thought the categories - that it is rich, undermining, charged etc etc led to really good questions for students to explore. The real challenge, I've found, is encouraging students to develop their own fertile questions.

Darlene Pope's picture
Darlene Pope
8th Grade Social Studies teacher & Dept. Chair, AVID Coordinator

The key to increasing student performance lies in getting students to ask good questions. It is my experience that the one who asks a question is the one who is thinking at a deeper level. It is in this process of inquiry that deep learning is reached. Additionally students develop the skills they need to overcome their anxiety when they see the blank page of a test. Have students create questions every day. Focus on Costa's level two or three. Implement Socratic Seminar. Value the investigation of the question rather than a "right answer".

Sue Boudreau's picture
Sue Boudreau
Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

Need Help!

I have been teaching for 11 years and believe it or not am just getting into project learning. I really need someone I can talk to that does it regularly to guide me.

Can help you with several ideas for pbl - have been implementing it in my middle school class room for several years. We have the Take Action Project going right now that you can check out at www.takeactioncurriculum.org. Really enjoy figuring out what will work with other teachers and situations too. So let me know if you'd like to chat. email sueboudreau2004@yahoo.com.

Sue Boudreau's picture
Sue Boudreau
Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

"What surprises you?" is a standard question I ask students when they observe a phenomenon, watch a video clip, read a text passage. It makes them compare what they know and expect with what they observe. It points out gaps in their knowledge and stuff that doesn't fit. It develops metacognition and it's sort of fun. Because in the end, surprise is next door to delight. And surprises often lead to deep and meaningful quests for answers - a research grant or a project that fits a student's particular interests.

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