Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Right Questions

We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.”  - James Stephens

Questioning techniques are one of the easiest areas of instructional design that can be improved, at least in my opinion.  By looking at the question stems, one can determine the level of thinking our learners are expected to demonstrate.  Low-level examples almost always begin with who, what, where, when. These aren’t bad per se as you need knowledge to move up any knowledge taxonomy chart.  The problem is when questions reside here and don’t push kids to think and apply their thinking in more complex ways.  Learners also don’t find much purpose with these beyond just getting them right. 

Herein lies one of my major issues with how I see many digital game tools used in the classroom as typically comprised of low-level, multiple-choice options.  As I mentioned before, there is a time and place for this. However, it goes without saying that an emphasis on recall and memorization will not prepare kids adequately to thrive now and in the future.  Disruption caused by the 4th Industrial Revolution, and living in a knowledge economy, continues to teach us this lesson. If a student can easily Google the answer, then it goes without saying that the question isn’t very challenging.  In the end, questions are more important than answers if learning is the goal. More on this later. 

The image above provides a great visual to look at the types of questions that are asked in classrooms or on assignments and scaffold them in ways that empower learners to demonstrate high-level thinking as well as mastery of concepts.  It is important to note that each and every question doesn’t have to be at the uppermost levels of knowledge taxonomy.  The key is to try to bump them up when warranted, especially if they are at the foundational knowledge level.   If question stems begin with who, what, where, or when then there is a natural opportunity to tweak them in a way to get up to at least the understanding level.

Now don’t get me wrong; developing great questions that get kids thinking is excellent. However, the real goal should be the creation of performance tasks where learners are applying their thinking in relevant ways.  This is where the role of instructional design is critical.  When challenging learners through an authentic application where there is an underlying purpose, what results is natural inquiry.  During numerous coaching visits with schools across the country, I have seen this play out over and over again.  Students are so immersed in an activity that collaboration, creativity, and collaboration converge with thinking while they work to solve real-world predictable and unpredictable problems.  What results is that the students then develop and answer their own questions. 

The Rigor Relevance Framework, of which an iteration is pictured above, is a great tool that can assist teachers and administrators develop better questioning techniques and learning tasks to engage kids with a higher purpose.  What results is the process of inquiry, which fuels the learning process.  The right question isn’t necessarily about arriving at an answer per se, but instead it acts as a catalyst for the development of more questions.  

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