Some years ago, I was working with a group of sixth grade teachers, looking at student work. A science teacher in the group shared an end of unit test from class study of the laws of motion. On the front side was a multiple choice section, and on the back were several open-ended questions. We noticed in particular that one student who received an A on the test had aced the multiple choice questions, but gave minimal responses to the open-ended questions. It was clear that while this student apparently had excellent recall of the facts, she lacked understanding of the underlying concepts, which greatly concerned the science teacher. This led to a discussion of the possibility that rote memorization can stifle real learning, while intentional questioning can help students reflect, connect to content, and experience deep, transferable learning.
I recently had a conversation with this teacher and asked her how that realization has affected her classroom practice since. She said that as a direct result, she began to implement “small” questions at the end of each class period, such as, “Why did we do this lab today?” “What do you think you were supposed to learn?” “What questions do you have?” providing students opportunities to process learning as part of instruction. The student engagement that resulted from these “small” questions led the teacher to further expand the role of questioning in the classroom. She introduced and modeled “what if “questions, such as, “What if we had done things differently?” The students began to generate their own “what if” questions after lab work, and to seek the answers in the next lab experience, empowering and making them more expansive learners than under the old “teacher asks-students respond” model. The students now share responsibility with the teacher for generating questions—and for finding answers.
What have you discovered about the role of questioning in your classroom? How do the questions you and your students ask move thinking forward and lead to new learning?