More on Student Questioning in the Classroom

For the better part of the last week, I’ve been consumed with the notion that one of my primary responsibilities as a teacher is to encourage student questioning in my classroom.

My thinking is being driven by Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question and by the work of the Right Question Institute, who both argue that innovation and creativity depend on one’s ability to ask killer questions.

As a follow-up to a conversation that we had in class last week, I had my students do some written reflection on questioning yesterday.  Specifically, I asked my students:

How often do you ask questions in class?  Why is that?  What affects your willingness to ask questions in class?

While many of their comments mirrored thoughts shared last week, two new themes appeared that have me rethinking my classroom practices again:

“I try to ask questions a lot, but half the time Mr. Ferriter doesn’t take questions.”

Talk about a gut-punch, right?  Especially given that this comment comes from one of my favorite students — a boy that is as curious about the natural world as any kid that I’ve taught in the last 20 years.

But I know he’s right.  I don’t make enough room in class for questions.  That has to change if I am truly committed to inspiring kids to always wonder.

But I can’t say I’m not worried about the consequences of turning time over to student questioning.  It’s not that I don’t think my students will come up with interesting things to wonder about — it’s that I have a MASSIVE curriculum to cover before the end of grade exam that I’m held accountable for in June.

Turning time over to student questioning means I’ll struggle to cover required content before testing season begins — and struggling to cover required content leaves me at risk in a state where “evaluating teachers” is essentially synonymous with “ranking and sorting by nothing other than test scores” in the eyes of legislators.

So I guess I’m walking the moral tightrope again, huh?

“Sometimes I don’t ask a lot of questions because you answer almost all of them in class.”

That hurt too, y’all.  It is evidence of crappy teaching in action.  If I’m answering almost all of the questions that my kids have before they even get the chance to ask them, my instructional practices are literally preventing my students from becoming the barefoot, ragamuffin army I want them to be.

“Children are the research and development division of the human species,” child psychologist Alison Gopnik argues in Berger’s book.  Stirring their creativity and curiosity depends on nothing more than teachers who diligently avoid the temptation to “teach too much, too soon.”  What kids need most is the chance to develop their own questions and search for answers independently.

By creating a classroom environment where I’m answering all of the questions that my kids have, I’m “inadvertently cutting off paths of inquiry and exploration that kids might otherwise pursue on their own” (Berger, 2014, p. 43)

Do you think you’d get the same kinds of results if you surveyed your own students about the role that questioning plays in your classroom?

More importantly, anyone figured out ways to make student questioning a staple of the work that you do with kids?

#gottafixthis

_________________

Related Radical Reads:

Where Have All the Beautiful Questions Gone?

How Testing will Change What I Teach Next Year

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

8 comments

  1. Philip Cummings

    Hey, Bill. Life’s been a little crazy and I’ve been under the weather lately, but I wanted to join the conversation to offer a couple of resources. I teach questioning with my students and we use two thinking routines to help us with our questioning. First, we use Question Starts (http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/03_ThinkingRoutines/03d_UnderstandingRoutines/QuestionStarts/QuestionStarts_Routine.html) to help us generate questions; then, we use Question Sorts (http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/03_ThinkingRoutines/03d_UnderstandingRoutines/Question%20Sorts/QuestionSorts_Routine.html) to help guide our inquiry and understanding. They are useful tools you might want to try. The more we practice with Question Starts the better my students questioning tends to improve.

  2. glichtman

    It is SOOO hard for us to shut up and wait for students to ask the questions; you are not alone! We grew up understanding that a teacher asking questions was a whole lot better than a teacher just telling stuff. This is next gen and it is hard for us to do it. Our colleague Jill Gough is as good as anyone I know at teaching teachers how to out-wait students who are reluctant to ask questions, and she has great stories about the powerful results when it happens. Stick to it! Hopefully if students get stuck at all, they can relate to some of the stories in my book The Falconer, which focuses on the art of questioning.

    • Bill Ferriter

      Grant wrote:

      It is SOOO hard for us to shut up and wait for students to ask the questions; you are not alone! We grew up understanding that a teacher asking questions was a whole lot better than a teacher just telling stuff

      —————–
      Totally true, Grant! Totally true.

      Sometimes the class feels really awkward only because they can’t believe I’m serious about hearing their questions. Over time, I’m guessing that awkward-ness will go away as my kids get more comfortable asking questions and more comfortable realizing that I”m serious when I ask them to ask questions!

      Rock on,
      Bill

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  5. Max Gold

    Yo Bill – I am a dedicated Ferrieter Follower from the time I first discovered your blogs. I love the practical warts and all uncommon-sense (wish it were shared by more people) you display as you inquire into your educational pratice and the comment on the dumb administrative requirements teachers are often subject to, which distract us from teaching. I am a Positive Behaviour for Learning School Wide Practitioner in Dunedin, New Zealand, who has the job of supporting teachers to implement a Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support framework in their school. For a number of years I have shared an interest in encouraging children to ask questions to help them inquire into things that matter to them. As a teacher I have often put my foot in it and either come up with the question for the kids, instead of helping them develop their questions, or not allowed thinking time for them to generate their own questions. So no worries mate, you are in good company when you do the same with students in your class. Allowing children time to think of their own questions, and helping them frame up the kind of questions which allow them to go to the nub of the issue they want to find out about is important. However it is only part of the process. I think we should be explicitly modelling good practice in helping students learn how to answer the questions they set themselves too, so they know what a good answer looks like. This involves critical literacy skills of locating reliable sources of information, and selecting the information which is most relevant to answer the question. A useful resource I have come across is Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggin’s (2013) Essential Questions : Opening doors to Student Understanding published by ASCD. Thanks for the blog on this issue. Keep on trucking on this issue with your class. Best wishes, Max Gold (from Down Under)

    • Bill Ferriter

      Max wrote:

      I am a Positive Behaviour for Learning School Wide Practitioner in Dunedin, New Zealand, who has the job of supporting teachers to implement a Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support framework in their school.

      ——————-

      Hey Max,

      First, sorry for the slow reply! My school is on a year-round calendar and we are “tracking out” for a three week vacation this week, so I’ve been caught up in wrapping up our quarter and my classroom. I haven’t even looked at the Radical since Sunday.

      And Dunedin, huh?! I have a friend named Beth Downie that lives there. Don’t happen to know her, do you?! That would be small world central.

      Finally, thanks for pointing me to the Wiggins and McTighe text. I love Jay in particular, and yet didn’t know that they’d written that title. I’m fixing to check it out.

      Rock right on,
      Bill

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