Monday, February 23, 2015

Teaching Students to Ask Questions

TPS-Barat, Primary Sources Nexus Teacher Resources Blog just posted on another useful tool for helping students engage with primary sources: Question Cubes. They explain:
If your students need help with asking questions when analyzing primary sources, bring out the question cubes. You can make them from paper or cleaned-out school milk cartons. Each student or student group should get two cubes [one with the words "who, what, when, where, how" and the other with "is/are, would/could, should, might/will, was/were"] ... and roll both to help get those questions flowing.
Templates for the cubes are provided here.

One of the reasons I like the idea of Question Cubes is because I think asking questions--especially good questions--is a lot harder than we tend to think. It is also a critical skill in learning and life.

The article "Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions" in the Harvard Education Letter outlines a technique to do just that, developed by The Right Question Institute. It is called the Question Formulation Technique.

According to the article,
The QFT has six key steps:
Step 1: Teachers Design a Question Focus. The Question Focus, or QFocus, is a prompt that can be presented in the form of a statement or a visual or aural aid to ... stimulate the formation of questions. The QFocus is different from many traditional prompts because it is not a teacher’s question. It serves, instead, as the focus for student questions.... For example, after studying the causes of the 1804 Haitian revolution, one teacher presented this QFocus: “Once we were slaves. Now we are free.” The students began asking questions about what changed and what stayed the same after the revolution.
Step 2: Students Produce Questions. Students use a set of rules that provide a clear protocol for producing questions without assistance from the teacher. The four rules are: ask as many questions as you can; do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions; write down every question exactly as it was stated; and change any statements into questions. ...
Step 3: Students Improve Their Questions. Students then improve their questions by analyzing the differences between open- and closed-ended questions and by practicing changing one type to the other. ...
Step 4: Students Prioritize Their Questions. The teacher, with the lesson plan in mind, offers criteria or guidelines for the selection of priority questions. In an introduction to a unit, the instruction may be, “Choose the three questions you most want to explore further.” When designing a science experiment, it may be, “Choose three testable questions.” ... During this phase, students ... zero in on the locus of their inquiry, and plan concrete action steps for getting information they need to complete the lesson or task.
Step 5: Students and Teachers Decide on Next Steps. At this stage, students and teachers work together to decide how to use the questions. One teacher, for example, presented all the groups’ priority questions to the entire class the next day during a “Do Now” exercise and asked them to rank their top three questions. Eventually, the class and the teacher agreed on this question for their Socratic Seminar discussion: “How do poverty and injustice lead to violence in A Tale of Two Cities?”
Step 6: Students Reflect on What They Have Learned. The teacher reviews the steps and provides students with an opportunity to review what they have learned by producing, improving, and prioritizing their questions. Making the QFT completely transparent helps students ... internalize the process and then apply it in many other settings.(From Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions)
 The entire article is worth reading, including the "Sidebar" that outlines the protocol. You can find out more about the Question Formulation Technique from The Right Question's website. To access some of their information, you have to register--but it is free and painless and well worth the time.

Looking for more about questions? Here's a post I wrote awhile back on different types of questions (Essential Questions and Research Questions.)

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