Let’s face it: Despite the research, many public/state schools are clinging to standardized testing in a desperate attempt to easily measure learning and make comparisons. As many schools (unwillingly) turn their focus to memorizing facts and “teaching to the test,” it is even more vital for us to cultivate strong thinkers everywhere we can. And how do we do that? We ask challenging questions, and we teach our students how to ask challenging questions.

When we ask the right kinds of questions, we stimulate high-level thinking in our students. We challenge them to analyze the unfamiliar, synthesize their learning, and view different perspectives. We show them that we value their thinking. We set up an environment where trying to find an answer is more important than knowing you have the correct answer. And we model good questioning.

thinking girl
photo credit Sharon Mollerus (Creative Commons)

So what kinds of questions should we be asking to stimulate thinking and learning? We all know that we should be asking open-ended questions, but here are a few more things you should think about when formulating questions with your students.

  • Good questions allow for more than one student to offer insightful input.
  • Good questions encourage students to reflect on their own understanding and incorporate other students’ responses.
  • Good questions should lead to more questions, which deepen understanding or filter out misunderstandings.
  • Good questions help students to make connections to what they already know.
  • Good questions can challenge teachers to inquire further or find new ways to explain things.
  • Good questions give the teacher insight into the thinking and learning that is taking place in the classroom.
  • Good questions are rarely black and white.
  • Good questions often require the students to pause before they are able to articulate an answer.

Teachers are masters of asking questions that they answer themselves. Bear in mind that how you ask the questions plays a key role in the depth of thinking and learning you will foster in your classroom.

  • Give students enough time to think and respond. Uncomfortable silence can be a good thing.
  • Allow everyone a chance to respond. On that note, don’t let any students think they can sit back and wait for someone else to respond. There are many, many ways to do this (a post for another day).
  • Create an environment where students feel safe answering, even if they are unsure about their responses.
  • Encourage a context of respectful debate, where students are conscious of perspective, cultural differences, and “agreeing to disagree.”

What would you add to these lists? How do you promote high-level thinking and questioning in your classes?

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