I think it’s critically important to put excellent question asking skills at the center of learning. The way that I do that is to created a question driven classroom.
We all want our students at every level, to be critical thinkers and problem solvers in all aspects of their lives. This doesn’t just come to them once they enter the world. It has to be germinated, then cultivated from the moment your students enter school. And a key tool to becoming both a better thinker and problem solver, is becoming a better questioner.
Most kids can ask simple questions in response to a story – where does it take place or what time of the day is it? My job is to push students further to ask the next tier questions that might be about the motivation of a character, or how the story might have ended differently. When students are addressing these higher order questions, it opens up many new possibilities for discussion and critique.
Teachers are pressed for time during the school day. What I am recommending are some daily thinking activities that may only take a few minutes. For example, there are simple tools to elicit good questions or that begin with good questions:
-If the math answer is 100, what is the question?
-In a science curriculum you might ask what does a cirrus cloud think of a stratus cloud?
-What does a triangle think of a circle?
-Would you rather be this or would you rather be that?
In a question-centered classroom, you develop a capacity in students to be curious, full of wonder, and strategic and creative investigators in ways that will carry on in their academic lives and most importantly, in their lives outside of school
What I did well…
As I reflect on what worked during my session, I am happy that the teachers who attended were engaged and active participants. This active sharing enabled attendees to leave the session with even more ways to strengthen student-questioning skills. I think I gave examples of how to weave the questioning strategies into the school day and provided strong rationales for why questioning is critical for young students. I believe I stressed that with practice, students continually develop as more competent questioners across content areas and grade levels, and can effectively apply their questioning skills. The pace of this session was quick but I believe I communicated the importance of higher order thinking and questioning, and this was also demonstrated during the classroom activities. I really enjoy experiencing how young students engage with each other when participating in things like the “Mystery Box” and “Noticing and Wondering,” and I believe my enthusiasm came across.
What I would do more of, better, or differently…
I would have loved to slow down how fast I was talking. I was trying to share a wide range of questioning activities and I was moving quickly. I had many more examples of student responses and materials for the participants to work on which I never even got to. Analyzing the student activities in the classroom, I realize I could have had them up and moving around more. I could have provided additional wait time for the participants so they could have had a chance to slow down and ponder their answers and questions, since wait time is essential as thinking time. If there had been a few more minutes at the end of my session, I would have asked participants for their takeaways, connections to their classrooms and final questioning reflections.
I still want to grow in this practice by…
I continue to collect and develop lots of different questioning activities and actively share them with elementary teachers through conversations, conferences, workshops and professional learning sessions. Questioning is a critical tool for all teachers to skillfully utilize since it can be used to assess, differentiate and extend learning across the curriculum and throughout all grades.
Students who practice questioning become curious thinkers and teachers who explicitly weave questioning into the culture of their classrooms cultivate strong inquiry skills. I want to grow this practice because questioning is a habit, disposition and skill that is essential for all learners!
About Jeanne Muzi
Jeanne Muzi is the Elementary Enrichment Specialist/GT Teacher at Lawrence Township Public Schools in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Her focus is on K-...