Least Tern > Workshops > But not Least > Learning and Lobstering

But not Least...

Questioning: The First Skill

"Collaboration is driven by attending to the questions and answers..."  (Learning and Lobstering)


Student Questions fall into two categories:

None of these is useful for infomation Filtering, although all of them are useful for information gathering. It is through using Teacher Questions that students begin to filter.

I am not going to discuss in detail the construction of Teacher Questions, for I feel that Jamie McKenzie has researched and written wonderfully, clearly and thoroughly on the subject (see McKenzie's work in the Resources). Another excellent summary site is Asking Good Classroom Questions, from Francine P. Peterman of Ball State University. A last resource is the listing of "Questions Builders" based upon Bloom that The Landmark Project uses to guide users of its S.L.A.T.E. Web Activity Builder (requires that you begin an activity, which would be a wonderful activity). It will suffice to say that teachers should copy examples and lists from McKenzie and Peterman and the S.L.A.T.E question builders and paste them into their plan books. And use them daily to construct, model and teach Questioning.

Framing good questions is hard, probably the hardest task faced by the technology-integrating teacher. A good Essential Question (See McKenzie and Dodge), especially one asked in the context of a WebQuest or other group inquiry task, results in student curiosity and involvement. It often points toward a product, whether this be a decision, a list, a performance, a display, a publication or a presentation. It is no wonder then that a teacher tends to give herself a pat on the back once the project gets under way, to sit back and go with the student flow. Gentle nudges in the direction of completion are all that is needed. The students do the rest.

Wait a second. That scenario omits the other set of Teacher Questions, what I call Filtering Questions, McKenzie calls the Prime Questions (there are 17 other varieties in his Questioning Toolkit), and others call Key Questions, Core Questions, Information Problem Questions, or Foundation Questions. Their role in the research or inquiry process is to hone the information search by directing it toward information that will be specific to the problem. Moreover, these Teacher Questions require opinion and an age-appropriate level of conceptual thought (see our Learning Model for some examples). In the initial stages of student research (the early and middle grades and often the first inquiry projects within one class) the Teacher/Guide provides these questions. It is a goal of the research process for the student to generate good Filtering Questions independent of teacher (or librarian) input. So the teacher, armed with a list of sample questions, monitors the student research and asks Filtering Questions along the way; in an advanced scenario, the students themselves generate the Filtering Questions. All the teacher has to do is to assess the product, the learning outcome. The students do the rest.

Wait a second. Product = Learning? If this is true, what is the point of the questioning?  I believe that learning at the k-12 level is as much about process as it is about product. There are times when product = factual knowledge. At these times there is a 1-to-1 relationship between question and answer; at these times, learning is fully individual and it is cooperation, not collaboration, that is the task methodology (for a discussion of the difference, read Who's On First?). At these times, it is appropriate for teachers to assess only the product. These are not projects that develop essential skills for the future, however much they may gather essential facts.

When the learning task draws upon the higher order thinking skills that good Essential Questions and Filtering Questions demand, students are learning about learning as well as constructing knowledge. Such a task demands tha students construct new knowledge. However, it's very easy for students to bypass this learning. For example, the Filtering Question, "What are two important effects of..." can generate a two of creative and thoughtful responses, both of which can be tested further, or it can generate two facts gleaned from a website or library book - easy - first come first say. Answers, then, are as important for collaboration as questions.

go to answersI Don't Want to Think About That (and other answers)


E. Sky-McIlvain 5/22/04