10 Things We Know About Questions

Yes, we are obsessed with questions! We love them. We ask them, ponder them, research them, reconsider them, and try our best to answer them. Here’s 10 things from the field that we have discovered about questions:

questionmarks10. Asking a ton! Teachers ask a ton of questions. On average, we have observed teachers asking anywhere from 5 to 10 questions during the start of a lesson and more than 30 during the course of instruction.

9. Answering their own! Although teachers are asking a lot of questions, they are also answering a lot of their own questions–mainly because of #8.

8. Not enough time! Wait time, that is! On average, we have observed teachers extending about 3 seconds of wait time. The higher the cognitive level of the question, the more wait time needed. We suggest 30 seconds. Thirty seconds sounds likes an eternity, but 30 seconds is generous enough to give the brain time to retrieve and process.

7. Attaching names! Teachers love to be specific when it comes to students, but when a teacher attaches a name to a question–“Jamie, do you know..?”–every other student becomes less accountable, less attentive, and usually less interested. Posing questions to the entire group keeps everyone alert, focused, and thinking.

6. Avoiding Punishment! Asking a question to punish, embarrass, or humiliate demeans the power of inquiry. We strongly discourage the use of questions, assignments, quizzes, tests–in essence, learning–as a punishment.

Questions

5. Engaging in the Making! Teachers should engage students in the act of generating questions. Not only does the task directly align with the Common Core State Standards, it promotes reflective thinking, re-reading, and high cognitive skills.

4. Going Deeper! Before surrendering to answering their own questions, teachers can actually scaffold their questions to provide cues, foster insights, and seek further clarification. Additionally, questions help teachers probe deeper to discover students’ understanding.

3. Asking to Understand! The great thing about good questions is that the inquirer has to have some conceptual understanding of the content to pose them. The more thoughtful the question, the more the individual demonstrates his attentiveness to the content.

2. Reframing for Ownership! Reframing situations–especially disciplinary situations, for example–can be done effectively through questions such as what if this happened or what would you do differently? When individuals have opportunities to answer and ask reframing questions, they develop ownership of potential outcomes.

1. Planning, Planning, Planning! Although teachers we have observed asked a ton of questions, their questions were constructed on the spot and did not always reflect higher cognitive demands of rigorous instruction. We suggest that teachers continue to ask a ton of questions but think through and use our simple strategy Plan 5. Simply, take the time prior to instruction to plan 5 really great questions–questions that move from understanding to analyzing, evaluating, and creating–questions that foster rethinking, re-reading, and reconsidering and require textual support.

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