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Asking Good Questions

October 6, 2015

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Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.Robert Half

In a fast-paced, technology-infused learning environment, students have quick access to information, answers and research. Finding answers is easy;  knowing how to manage the information is quite another matter.  One of the most important practices that a teacher can use to deepen learning, build a growth mindset and help students become aware of their thinking is asking well-designed questions.  Masterful teachers innately and purposefully ask questions that can lead to specific learning targets.  In theory, students are questioned at all stages of learning: understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.  Early in a unit, the questions simply stimulate curiosity: “What do we want to know?”  Later in the unit, the questions might have an analytical focus: “What do you think might happen next?”

With preposterous access to information, questions that simply require students to repeat facts are easy to solve. However, information garnered via the Internet has little long-term value.  Teachers need to focus on developing questions that prompt students to ask additional questions – to consider multiple responses, to build habits of mind.

Developing questioning techniques that foster deeper thinking and inspire students to consider various viewpoints takes time and practice. Master teachers design questions targeted toward each learning goal. Good questioning helps students achieve at high levels not only in the specific content area, but also teaches valuable life skills: persistence, risk-taking, flexibility, listening, cultural awareness, and interdependence.

Asking specific, thought-provoking questions is a tool that teachers and parents can use to stimulate learning.  Typically, the response that parents hear to the question, “What did you do at school today?” is, “Nothing.”  Rather than ask such a broad question, help guide the child with leading questions that are specific to the student’s learning environment.

  • Wow!  I like the squirrel picture that you drew. Why do you think a squirrel has a bushy tail?
  • Tell me about the science experiment that you did today.  What conclusions did you draw?
  • I see that your homework is about photosynthesis. What is that process?
  • What games did you play on the playground today? Can  you think of a way to include more friends?
  • Do you think that you could explain common denominators to me?

Examples such as these will keep students thinking about learning and help to extend and commit that learning to memory.

The mission of the Saline Area Schools is to create lifelong learners. Asking open-ended questions that encourage flexible thinking and reflection is a strategy to achieve that goal.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jasen Witt permalink
    October 6, 2015 7:19 am

    More thought-provoking, practical insight from a committed ed leader. Keep up the great work!

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