Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blog Post #5

Questions: What are we really asking?

We begin the post by describing what a question is. A question is a probing for information about a specific subject from a source (as defined by me). The dictionary defines a question as a sentence in an interrogative form, addressed to someone in order to get information in reply. Now for me this is basically the same as my definition of a question with the source being someone and probing being a sentence in an interrogative form. So, what does this have to do with questions asked in the classroom. Well, now that we can correctly identify what a question is we can determine what type of response we will get. If the source does not have the information they cannot respond to your question, so is your probing in vain? A lot of times in the classroom it is. We have to ask questions that we know the students have an answer to. Most times these are open ended questions but they don't have to be if we know the student has an answer. We only need to ask questions in which we know an answer is inevitable. This could be a question like "What part of this equation don't you understand?" They'll answer with what part they don't understand, or they will say that they don't understand any of it, or they will say that they understand it completely. This in my opinion, is a good question.

green chalkboard and some erasers, the board says Any Questions?
The Teaching Center have these strategies that you should keep in mind when asking questions:
1. When planning questions, keep in mind your course goals. This is a great strategy because it requires that you focus the attention of your question on something you want the students to learn. This way you can test what you have taught and then determine if further explanation is needed.
2. Follow a “yes-or- no” question with an additional question. This I really like because it requires all of your students to be thinking about the question. Just because you asked one person a yes or no question does not mean that you will not go to another student for more information. It also doesn't mean that the student you asked the question is just done with a yes or no answer. It may prepare the students to give further details if you do this enough as they know a follow-up question will be coming.
3. In class discussions, do not ask more than one question at once. This is important for two reasons. The first reason is that students have trouble focusing on more than one question at a time. The second reason is that it allows you to ask more questions based on the answer given by the student. It encourages discussion that might come from a question then and answer and then another question and another answer.
4. Ask a mix of different types of questions. This may be implied from what I have stated above but it only goes to show that a mix of types of questions may also help generate discussion. You don't just want to ask open-ended questions and you definitely don't just want to ask yes and no questions. The mix will keep students off guard but if you always ask questions, they will anticipate some type of question from you.

Maryellen Weimer, PhD stated this in The Teaching Professor Blog and I found it in an article called: "Three Ways to Ask Better Questions in the Classroom" on a Faculty Focus site:
1. Prepare Questions
2. Play with Questions
3. Preserve Good Questions
Now all three of these are good ideas but I have slightly varying opinions on what she suggests. While I agree that you need to prepare questions. You want to base your questions on what is perceived to be misunderstood. Usually you can tell what students don't understand by the confused look on their faces. This way you can direct the question and focus on the confusion instead of a pre-planned question that may or may not be worth asking. I guess this kind of goes with the play with questions that she suggests. If you play with questions you can see what students understand and what they don't. When they finally answer questions that required more thought they may have put the thought into it and then again, they may not. You can tell but does it mean that it was not a good question because the students did not put enough thought into it. You really can't tell but you will see how much the students care about the question. I don't think preserve good questions is necessarily a key. Yes, you can ask it again in a later class or maybe the next quarter or semester but you can also think of more questions by then. Good questions should be kept for no longer than 1 year and if kept longer than that, used no more than 2 times in a 5 year period. That way students can't communicate to other students what question you will ask. I say, "keep them on their toes", ask as many new question as you can knowing that eventually you will run out and have to repeat. The more time in between them the better.

To sum this all up, I would like to address what has been known as the most famous question taxonomy, Bloom's Taxonomy. Bloom and his associates indicated that we should ask questions dealing with these 6 different cognitive functions:
The first level—Knowledge—asks students to recall information.
The second level—Comprehension—asks students to put information in another form.
The third level—Application—asks students to apply known facts, principles, or generalizations to solve a problem.
The fourth level—Analysis—asks students to identify and comprehend elements of a process, communication, or series of events.
The fifth level—Synthesis—requires students to engage in original creative thinking.
The sixth level—Evaluation—asks students to determine how closely a concept or idea is consistent with standards or values.(Volger)
basic picture of bloom's taxonomy and the different levels of thinking
Now, all of these types of questions have their place but I believe we should focus on those that require critical thinking. What I mean by this is that we should really be asking comprehension questions and questions about real-life applications. But we should not forget that we want students to reflect on the answers they are giving, so giving them questions which require analysis is excellent. Also, synthesis questions are excellent because it requires individuality and finally evaluation but not for the reason you may think. I like evaluation because it requires students to compare and contrast, thus getting them into the habit of research. Now, all of these types of questions aren't applicable for exams, in fact the first two types are probably the most applicable for exams but the others will be useful when students are learning PBL skills. By having these types of questions, they are required to use what they have learned but also find applications of what they have learned and think of ways in which to improve their society as a whole.

picture of a bunch of different color arms and hands reaching for the stars
We should be asking questions that require creativity within our students. We should be asking the questions that require them to go out and seek knowledge: knowledge far beyond what we could ever teach them. If we ask these types of questions applying part of Bloom's Taxonomy, varying our questions, preparing questions or even giving questions as prompted by the students’ answers that require research, we will get more out of our students. If you really want to see what a student knows or is capable of, challenge them. Challenge the student to be themselves! If they don't know who they are, challenge the students to discover themselves! Challenge the students to surprise you! These are goals for the students that will not only benefit them, but it will also benefit you as a teacher because the answers they will return based on their perceived/real ability will probably be far better than you could ever expect. Students are capable of a lot. Let's not limit them with questions that don't really matter in the long run. Let them reveal something in them to you that they didn't even know existed!

References: Kenneth E. Vogler (Bloom's Taxonomy), Asking Good Questions, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/summer08/vol65/num09/Asking-Good-Questions.aspx
Maryellen Weimer, PhD,Three Ways to Ask Better Questions in the Classroom,http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/three-ways-to-ask-better-questions-in-the-classroom/
The Teaching Center,Asking Questions to Improve Learning, http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/strategies/Pages/asking-questions.aspx#.Uyd5MfmwJRc

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