Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Importance of Questioning

Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is to never stop questioning.” Einstein is also noted for saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Einstein believed that questioning and curiosity were the catalyst to learning. Trying to find answers requires a person to think. The more questions that are asked, the more thinking occurs.

The key to questioning is asking the proper questions. Questions should spark curiosity. Curiosity will ignite a fire to learn more. It is so easy for a teacher to ask the basic, lower level “right there” questions. These questions simply require students to regurgitate information they have been given. These questions may be “In which year was President Obama elected President?” “Who was President Obama’s Vice President?” “What color was Goldilocks’ hair?” “How many bears were in the house?” These questions simply require a student to look at text and pick out the answer. There is not a lot of thought put into providing the answers. Are these questions necessary? Yes they are! They are initiate recall, the first step to higher order thinking.

Higher order thinking questions are questions that require students to put together information that they have to formulate an answer. “How did his reaction to the crying child cause the child to stop crying?” requires a level of thinking beyond asking, “What did he do to get the child to stop crying?”  Both questions will provide the same basic information, but the former requires a student to analyze the information provided rather than simply recall it as with the latter question.

To assist students with their thinking, ask why questions: “Why did you think that was correct?” “Why do you believe that was the incorrect choice?” “Why did you put those pieces together instead of using the other pieces?” Asking why questions will encourage students to show understanding of what they know, apply the knowledge, and then evaluate its accuracy in relation to what they know and what they understand the question to be asking.

The highest level of questioning requires students to sort through information/knowledge they have, determine how it can best be organized and utilized, and then produce an answer based on evidence they have gleaned from their answers. These questions will be in the order of “What was the most exciting part in the story and why?” “What do you think would happen if children could make all the decisions about school?” “How could you determine which method is the best for building permanent friendships?” “What information is needed to decide the best route to school?”

Many reading this bog are thinking “That’s good for older students, but what about the lower grades, like Pre-K through second grade?” Proper questioning works for those students as well. The vocabulary will naturally change, but the type of thinking will be the same. Ask “What if…” or “How would…” or “Why is…” or “What would you do if…” These questions will generate all sorts of possibilities, but most of all these questions will generate thinking.

Never be so quick to answer the question yourself. Some students need think time. Others will realize if they are quiet for more than a second, they will not need to provide an answer. Should you inadvertently answer the question, then ask the student why that answer was the correct response. This type of questioning may cause you and your students to feel uncomfortable at first. However, if you practice enough this becomes the norm for your teaching, then students will learn to anticipate this type of questioning and start thinking outside of the traditional box.

Engage your students by questioning. Ask open-ended questions rather than the recall and remember ones. Challenge your students to think, but be prepared for them to challenge your thinking as well.

Kathy Drew is a fourth grade teacher in Wayne County Public Schools. She received her Bachelors in Elementary Education from the University of West Florida, in Pensacola, Florida and her Masters in Elementary Education from Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is a National Board Certified Teacher. She was  selected as a 2016 Wayne County MODEL Educator (Master Educator, Obligation to a Respectful Learning Environment, Demonstrates Leadership, Effective Instructor, and Lifelong Learner). She serves as the Region 2 Director of NCAEE and is one of the original founders of the organization,