I have a strong belief that developing student’s questioning abilities empowers them to take ownership of their learning. Strong questioning can open up learning paths and is also an important skill for being an active citizen.
Last week, our SLL team offered 3 different workshops for the Friday Staff PD session. This post is sharing the Questioning strategies I covered in my session.
QuestionStorming is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of a brainstorm where people put down as many ideas as they can, questionstorming is writing down as many questions as you can. It is a great strategy for developing students abilities to generate questions.
What I have found with this strategy is that the first 20 odd questions are usually the really basic questions: what is that? why is that there? Once all these basic questions are out of the way, the deeper questions start coming in. Doing this collaboratively also allows you to build off other people’s questions by reframing or extending them further.
I have used this strategy in Learning Hub (our version of an Advisory) to purely build students’ questioning skills:
In this situation, the students started with questions about why is the lady in the bin? And ended up asking questions around what the profits from the World Cup would best be spent on and questioning whether it is wise to award a World Cup to a country with high levels of homelessness.
It also works equally well as a starting point for an investigation/inquiry. Whether you are just starting off on a topic or have finished an immersion stage of learning and are about to start taking action, questionstorming is an excellent strategy to find out what students are interested in finding out more about/ need to find out more about.
After the initial questionstorms, you can then get students to start refining their questions. Depending on what the questions are being used for, the questionstorms can be refined in a variety of ways: 5 most interesting to you, 5 most important/significant etc. At this point I like to get students changing their chosen 5 from open questions to closed and/or vice versa. This means that they see the power of changing 1 or 2 words in a question and what this does to it.
If the questions are to be used for an inquiry/investigation, this is where you would start your normal inquiry processes of choosing a main question and developing a plan to investigate further.
Wonder Walls are great for capturing the questions that emerge for students naturally as they study a topic. Michael Harcourt from Wellington High School first introduced me to these in his History class a few years back. I particularly like using these during an Immersion phase – as students are first learning the core concepts and skills – so I can see what is gaining their attention and what they haven’t truly understood yet.
The photo above is from a current module on food sustainability where groups of students were allocated a window each. The mode of capture doesn’t really matter – I have seen and used these successfully with window pens, post its, whiteboard, vivids and large paper – what matters is that the questions are captured and displayed publicly. This means that one student’s question can provoke thoughts and questions from others as the class progresses.
As well as letting you in on what students are wondering about, it provides guidance as to where inquiries could head and acts as a thought prompt for students as they glance around the room.
This is a great scaffold for students who struggle to create deep questions. I was first introduced to a question grid by Cindy Wynn last year and was stoked when she updated it further to include the final column of “should” as this adds a powerful 2nd word for questions. Should aims questions at real issues of significance, ethics and justification.
These grids work really well at the starting point of inquiries and produce a great range of questions. It really pushes students to consider multiple angles on an issue or concept. It is also a great scaffold for those who struggle to naturally generate questions, showing them how different starters impact on a question.
So, if looking to develop your students’ questioning abilities, I hope these strategies help in some way.
… and now I am wondering about the value of creating 100 questions at the back end of an inquiry, to fine tune the ‘so what’ about the conclusions that were made, and to question the inquiry process itself. If 100 questions were generated, could the students then choose the questions they wanted to ask/answer as part of their self/peer assessments?
Thanks for getting me thinking!
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