The researchers behind the book Make Just One Change are calling the week of March 13 #QuestionWeek. We are big fans of their Question Formulation Technique (QFT) because we have seen the results of students improving their questioning after moving through this protocol in the classroom.
The idea behind the QFT is to lead students through the questioning process, asking them to reflect and refine upon their questions along the way. This is a group activity and often takes us about 45 minutes to get through with a class. However, it is also a technique that is best practiced multiple times throughout the year, as students need to consistently practice strong questioning across content areas.
The following examples are ways that we have used their protocol as a basis for questioning activities in our classrooms. We have found the best time to use the QFT is to start a new unit/topic of study or introduce a text.
The QFT always begins with posting a statement that the students must use to formulate their questions. Students spend time posing questions they have about the statement without judging one another’s questions or answering the questions. Some of the statements we have used are:
- A young black man is shot.
- We used this to introduce the book How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon in a 10th grade Honors US History Class. Students posed questions relating to how it happened, who did it, and if race and/or gender was a factor etc.
- In China, a teenage girl is bullied.
- This statement was used to start a book club about the memoir Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang. The 9th grade Global Honors students had to think about what they had learned about the culture in China in order to ask questions surrounding class, religion, and politics.
- A young black girl is raped.
- 11th grade students in an English class grappled with asking questions about this statement as a means for introducing The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. This chart demonstrates the wealth of questions they brainstormed about many different topics.
- Nine million people were killed in the Russian Revolution.
- 9th grade Global Studies students had to use their prior knowledge from studying the French Revolution and learning about the structure of revolutions in order to ask questions that will ground an inquiry study of the Russian Revolution.
- Teenagers are fleeing their homes without their parents.
- Students in a co-taught ninth grade Global Studies classroom were questioning this statement as a means to get them thinking about the refugee crisis in Syria. This was a way for them to activate any prior knowledge they might have before reading an article on Newsela.
We do not require a note taker or that students all ask their own questions. We just give each group a piece of chart paper and some markers. The way they decide to generate questions is up to them. They just can’t judge one another’s questions, comment on them, or answer them.
The key to having students write a variety of questions is to have an engaging but vague statement. As teachers, we were introduced to this technique by going through it ourselves using the statement Donald Trump is running for president. You can imagine the questions that came out of this statement!
Closed vs Open Questions:
Once students have determined their first list of questions, we introduce the idea of closed vs open questions. We explain that a closed question has one answer, which is often yes or no. An open question has multiple answers, needs supporting evidence, and often is a catalyst for discussion.
Students look through their questions and code them open vs closed. Most often, students find that they have MANY more closed questions than open.
The next step is to have them think about the advantages and disadvantages of both types of questions. It is really important for students to understand that closed questions are not “bad” questions. We need specific information in order to formulate ideas about open ended questions.
Part of this discussion includes making a list of words that start closed vs open questions. Some words we have come up with are:
Closed: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, IS
Open: WHY, HOW
Once students have coded and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of these types of questions, we have them practice turning three closed questions into open questions.
← example for closed to open
This requires them to consider the complexities of the information they are trying to uncover. For the example above, the students questioning the statement “A young black girl is raped” asked a closed question about the perpetrator:
Did he have a criminal record?
Through their discussion, they decided that a stronger question that would evoke more of a response would be to think about the perpetrator’s past in general. They changed this to the open question:
How has his past led to this event?
Now, the students are going to be thinking about character development throughout the book in order to gather evidence to discuss this question.
Determining Class Questions:
The final step in this process is to have each group prioritize their questions and choose the top three that they want to contribute to the class. We ask students to choose the questions that they are genuinely curious about as these will be the questions that guide the discussion of the unit/text. When sharing their questions, each group needs to explain WHY they chose the three questions they did. We also do not allow groups to repeat questions.
In reading the class collection of questions, in each case it has become clear that the students are asking questions that will evoke thinking during the unit. Many times, these have been questions that we might have given students to think about prior to beginning the unit. Yet, this is a much more powerful way of engaging students as the foundation of inquiry is that students drive their learning.
Reflection on student learning is the final step in this process. Before students leave the classroom, we discuss the different types of thinking that they engaged in throughout this process. We take the terms and definitions directly from the QFT protocol.
- Divergent thinking- The ability to generate a wide range of ideas and think broadly and creatively.
- Convergent thinking- The ability to analyze and synthesize information and ideas while moving toward an answer or conclusion.
- Metacognition- The ability to think about one’s own thinking and learning.
In helping students to become aware of the various types of thinking they employed throughout the lesson, they are going to be more cognizant of the type of thinking they are doing during other activities.
We will continue to post more work with students and questioning during #QuestionWeek.
To get involved with Question Week, you can follow this link to the Right Question Institute.
To gain a better understanding of the QFT, consider buying the book Make Just One Change. It is a fantastic model for eliciting authentic student questioning.