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Mar-19-2017

Rethinking Questions

Posted by Tim under Assessment, Personalized Learning

This past week I was struck with an idea about questions in the classroom.  It isn’t new. I’ve come across it before. But for some reason it resonated with me.

One of the ways teachers evaluate learning is by asking questions. It is important enough that it is even one our teacher evaluation rubric. Asking questions that require deeper and deeper understanding of the subject to answer adequately is the goal. As a teacher evaluator, questioning is something that jumps out at me during a lesson. I want to see how kids respond.  All kids.  Not just the select few that are eager to please.

And so, this idea of questioning began to swirl around a bit.  I’ll use math as an example because it is probably easiest to make my point, but the idea can be applied to all subjects.

In math, one of the first things we do is easy types of problems.  We need kids to understand how numbers work. Like sight words for reading, some of the simplest problems are the place to start.

Sally, what is 2+2?

In this case, there is one answer. I remember tons of worksheets like this when I was a kid. Those timed 1-minute and 2-minute math drills were fun (although I don’t know what they assessed exactly). I was always competing to be the first one done.  Missing 3 or 10 out of 100 wasn’t of any concern for me. Being second was.

But this is the typical standardized test question that can easily be graded by bubbling something in, or choosing a number on a website. While handy, it is a very weak question. The answer is 4. The answer is always 4 (when working in base 10 anyway). Anything other than 4 is wrong. Try it again.

But what if we asked the question in a way that allows for an infinitude of answers?

Sally, what is 4?

Now the answer could be 2+2, or 10-6, or (2×10)-16. Kids now have the freedom to express themselves in ways much larger than 4. Just asking this question isn’t enough, however. We need to go deeper.

We need to personalize the questions.

Sally, why did you choose that way to express 4?

This is where we can truly begin to understand a child’s mathematical thinking. We can see if they are thinking in more complex math thoughts. And we can get an understanding of where to take them next.

Hint: It will be different for every child.

Have you considered the way you ask the questions in your classroom? What would happen if you started rethinking questions?

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  1. MaryAnn Said,

    I find that in my classroom, I am still mastering the art of questioning. The questions I have to ask at times deal around content the students don’t connect with. Mainly because they have never been exposed to the depth of content we are dealing with. But also because they don’t have the history foundation they need. Geography is no longer just location… we have to understand the where and why people are where they are. Asking freshman to make these connections is very hard. I have a few older students and it’s easier for them because they’ve had works history and US history. I’m learning to reframe questions but it is a process.

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