Engaging All Learners through Questioning

In order to help all students think at higher levels, we need to ask questions that help them to move up Bloom’s Taxonomy and deeper into Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. This is very difficult to do “on the fly”. In order to add rigor to our classroom instruction, planning for the kinds of questions you ask your students is critical. Good questions are not only relevant and purposeful, but they entice your students to openly engage in the learning. Although all of our students are not always fantastic readers, or perhaps even average writers, they can be outstanding thinkers!

As part of my job responsibilities I perform hundreds of classroom visits at various buildings throughout the school year.  One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that there tends to be more learning taking place when the teacher practices asking open questions, gives students time to think and process, and encourages a variety of paths to various answers to that question.  When I am in this type of classroom I get super excited because I know that the students are being encouraged to think and explore how they get to an answer.  When teachers do it really well it feels like we are all on a journey together to discover this new learning and everyone is more focused and engaged.

In an Education World article by Wendy Petti, she lists qualities of good questions that call on higher order thinking skills especially in the area of mathematics.  Between articles like hers and exposure to the math modules, I am getting a whole new look at what math can be.  When I was growing up it seemed like you just had to memorize the formulas and hope you still remembered it for the tests.  Even though I was in advanced math I never felt like I really “got it” or really understood the reasoning behind the formulas.  Now as I sit in on a 2nd grade classroom and see students really exploring different ways to get to an answer, I am so encouraged.  I see general education students alongside students with special needs and everyone is working on the same curriculum. They are exploring how to get to an answer and really understanding the problem solving and the critical thinking behind the answer(s).  In this way of teaching, the answer itself is not only what is celebrated, but the journey to the answer and the in-depth understanding of the concepts. Students are encouraged to show their classmates how they arrived at their answers and openly discuss their thinking as they problem solved. At times there may even be more than one acceptable answer. Once foundational skills are in place, then students may be asked to apply this learning to a new or more challenging situation.  Sometimes this new situation is in Science or Social Studies. Students then come to understand that these skills are not done in isolation and only in “math class”, but are relevant in different areas of study and have real life application. Oh, if only I had been taught that way all those years ago.  I believe I would be a much better thinker and problem solver today!

In a 4th grade classroom I recently remember watching as two teams struggled over a problem that they were asked to solve.  Each student bringing his or her own strengths to the table. Here they worked together to come up with a solution.  All students were engaged and focused on the problem presented.  This too was a math class, but could have easily occurred in any content area.  The power in these lessons come from the questions asked and the expectation set as to how your students will solve a problem.  Is this how your classroom looks? Are your questions open ended so that students can think more deeply?  If not, I encourage you to explore how you might ask better questions that help your students engage in the learning, think at a higher level, and understand more deeply.  If you have examples of some things you have done in your classroom to encourage higher order thinking, please share!  If you would like more assistance in how to weave better questions into your lessons, or plan lessons that encourage higher order thinking skills, feel free to contact me anytime.

Ohora_Siobhan_150pxSiobhan O’Hora
Special Education School Improvement Specialist
sohora@ocmboces.org

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