Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thinking is driven by questions

Another online course I'm currently engaged in is Bernajean Porter's Creativity, Curriculum and Multimedia course via ASB's Online Academy.  This is a 6 week course and I absolutely love it as Bernajean's focus is on rigor.  She says:
Learners need to be guided to be meaning-makers going beyond fact-based information FIRST . . . then media-makers.  If the content is not worthy - then no reason to waste time and resources in packaging "superficial thinking" up with creative digital tools!
The most important thing that I think many teachers doing this course have come to fully understand is that producing slideshows, videos and so on is not automatically "Creating" on Bloom's Digital Taxonomy, if the content of the media is simply a fact-based remembering of information.  Even though I've been a technology teacher and coordinator for 13 years now, I'm learning a lot from analyzing the student products that Bernajean is providing.  Now the most important thing I'm looking for in these media products is the thinking - what I'm looking for is the questions, not the answers.

One of the resources I read through recently was Elizabeth M. Role's The Art of Questioning.  In this she writes that fields such as biology and physics only stay alive to the extent that fresh questions are generated.  She writes:
Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues.  Answers, on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought.  Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such.
This is an interesting question:  if it is true that only the students who have questions are thinking and learning, then why are we giving students tests and examinations that call for answers?  Would we be better to ask them simply to list all the questions that they have about a subject?

A lot of research has been done into classroom questioning which has given us the following conclusions:

  • instruction which includes posing questions is more effective in producing achievement gains
  • oral questions are more effective in fostering learning than written questions
  • asking questions is positively related to learning facts BUT increasing the frequency of questions does not enhance the learning of more complex material
  • posing questions before reading and studying material is effective for students who are older, high ability and known to be interested in the subject matter BUT very young children and poor readers tend to focus only on material that will help them answer questions if these are posed before the lesson is presented.
Research has also been done into "wait time" which refers to both the amount of time a teacher allows to elapse after he has posed a question and before a student is invited to speak, and also to the amount of time a teacher waits after a student has stopped speaking before replying.  Here are some findings:
  • for lower cognitive questions a wait time of 3 seconds is positively related to achievement (less success with both shorter and longer wait times) 
  • there is no wait time threshold for higher cognitive questions - students become more engaged and perform better the longer the teacher waits
  • increasing wait time leads to teachers listening more, engaging students in more discussions, increasing teacher expectations regarding students, and expanding the variety and higher cognitive questions the teachers ask.
So often as teachers we are focusing on the answers that our students are giving us, yet research seems to show that it's the questions and the way that they are asked that are the most important - for both the students and the teachers.

Photo Credit: milos milosevic via Compfight cc

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