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Questions for Learning

Questions for Learning An Article that describes many different sorts of questions and then organises them into 4 basic categories. Also includes a teacher-self-check: How's your questioning shaping up?

This is a Free Sample Resource
Categories: Article, Thinking Skills, Any Subject, Educators

Tags: Questioning Bloom's Taxonomy
Children start school as question marks and leave as full stops.
Cited by American educator Neil Postman

What is a question? What are questions for? How can we use them to enrich learning?

A question is a request for information that causes the answerer to think. That’s pretty simple. But it gets more complicated (and more interesting) when we dig deeper and find that there are many different types of question each with specific uses and requiring different levels of thinking. Researchers at Newcastle University, England identified over 50 frameworks for thinking. It’s a small step to propose these as 50 frameworks for questionning. Here are just two:

Bloom’s Taxonomy presents 6 types of thinking hierarchically (e.g. synthesis above knowledge; evaluation over synthesis). Each type can be activated by specific questions (e.g. What? When? Who? activate Knowledge; What if? activates synthesis.

Jamie McKenzie lists 17 types of question in his Questionning Toolkit. He includes ‘essential questions’ that are central to life and living (e.g. How should I treat other people?); strategic questions (How can we best solve this problem?); unanswerable ones (How will I be remembered?) and provocatives (What’s the point of all this?).

So it’s a reasonable deduction to make that every type of thinking has a set of questions that cause it, and that every thinking framework has a framework of questions linked to it. Fortunately the Newcastle researchers rationalised their 50 thinking frameworks into a simple 4-part ‘meta-framework’: a coherent structure through which thinking frameworks could be analysed, compared and contrasted - 

1. Information Gathering
Sensing (seeing, hearing,
Retrieval (memory skills) 
 2. Basic Understanding
Organising information
Forming concepts
Linking ideas
3. Productive Thinking
Using ideas/understanding
Creating, deciding
Analysing, evaluating 
 4. Strategic/Reflective - Thinking about 1, 2 and 3

By causally linking questions to thinking we can also have a simple 4-part ‘meta-framework’ for questions. Hurray!:

 1. Information Questions
What? When? Who?
What do I know?
What do I remember?
2. Basic Questions
How does it fit in?
How does it link to what I
know already?
 3. Productive Questions
What if? How? Why?
Which is better? Best?
How does it work? How can I use it?
4. Strategic/Reflective questions - Which questions should I use? Which questions are best here?

Asking a range of questions activates a range of thinking. This in turn leads to effective learning because a mind occupied by productive thought is a mind that’s changing and growing (i.e. learning!). The responsibility falls to us educators to manage classroom questions that maximise thinking and learning.

Here’s a progression for thinking about teacher questioning skills: Where would you place yourself?

1. Teacher presents answers with little or no opportunity for pupils to ask for clarification or further

2. Teacher presents information and asks lower order questions such as what?, where?,

3. Teacher presents starting points/prompts and leads pupils to answers through a range of connected questions.

4. Teacher presents starting points/prompts; activates pupils’ own questions and supports them in finding answers/ further questions.

Asking questions that skilfully guide pupils to ‘treasured hidden knowledge’ makes for an engaging lesson. But it’s still a lesson firmly in the hands of the teacher. Why not activate pupils’ own questions and support their independence in seeking answers, providing your expert knowledge only when you judge it necessary.

Related Resources:

101Q Thinking

5Q Thinking

BBB Thinking

Hard Q Thinking

Hotter Thinking

Power Question Thinking


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