If we want our students to think critically in our classrooms, we need to help them discover their innate abilities to use their brains as active tools and not passive receptacles of information to be spewed forth on test day. In other words, we need to ask students thoughtful, appropriate questions that lead them to the discovery of critical content knowledge. We want our students to think for themselves; we want our students to assess and synthesize information in critically appropriate manners; and, we want our students to be successful citizens in a complicated, ever-changing world. Let’s ask questions. Let’s stimulate their curiosity and help them start thinking for themselves. What follows is a simple, bare-bones model for starting, or improving, the questioning strategies we use with our students every day.
As a rule, I start with whole class instruction, and then I break students into groups of three or four. My questioning mainly occurs within these small groups. While I am moving from group to group, all students are working on the task I have assigned during whole class instruction. This assignment is time sensitive. When I work with these small groups, I question each student and quickly assess his or her understanding of the assigned task. I ask students specific questions that will help move them beyond their current understanding or discover new ideas on their own. When I walk up to a table the first thing I do is . . .
I listen carefully before I start asking questions. I value what students have to say, but I listen for openings to extend their knowledge. Inevitably, I start my questioning with one of the following key words . . .
I never stop with one question! I might ask three or four “whys” before the student hits pay dirt. I may need a series of questions that start with “explain” or “how” and follows with “what” and ends with a “why.” I continue to listen carefully in order to ask the right question. After I am finished questioning a student, I always leave them with “something to consider.” I leave them thinking about something they can continue to explore. Finally, remember to –
Give students time to think and respond!
Make your thinking visible – especially when it’s messy.
Admit when you don’t have an answer to a student’s question.
Praise students for their thinking even if the thinking is not quite there yet.