Developing Focus Questions That Stimulate Thinking

If you spend enough time with a three-year-old child, you will at some point get into a question loop that is driven by one query: “why?.”  If they ask it once, they will likely ask it a thousand times, because they are trying to make sense of the world that is still quite new to them. 

The same holds true for our students. They are trying to navigate content that is quite new to them. However, instead of them asking us all the questions, teachers have to plan questions for students in order to maximize their learning experiences. In the book Questioning for Formative Feedback: Meaningful Dialogue to Improve Learning, author Jackie Acree Walsh discusses the importance of questions that encourage students to think deeply about their content and learning. According to Walsh, the questions must (p. 38): 

  1. Align with the learning goal. Questions must be pertinent to the content and lesson at hand. They must focus attention on the important matters of content. 
  2. Be appropriate to learners’ needs and interests. Questions must be relevant to the content, classroom context, and students themselves. They must spark some intrigue, so that students will pursue answers. 
  3. Contribute to feedback about student learning. Questions must help students determine where learning gaps exist and provide direction for filling those gaps. They must help students continue to grow in understanding and skills. 
  4. Be clear and understandable. Questions must be carefully planned, so that students are absolutely sure of what they are to learn. They must be formulated using language that students will readily understand. 

As you prepare questions for your classes next week, keep these criteria in mind. You and your students will be glad you did!

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