Can I Ask You A Question?

An Examination of Interrogatives

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Questions and ideas should be the ax that breaks open the frozen sea within us.  -Kafka

How much thought do you put into the questions that come out of your mouth? Do you write out questions to ask in your classroom? Your journal? Are you on automatic pilot?

I love great questions personally and professionally. As an introvert I like to have an ice breaker question ready when in a social situation. I do not mind silence, but I have noticed people around me do not. I am not a fan of the typical, “What do you do for a living?” question. One of my favorites comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron which is, “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I have found this question leads to all kinds of interesting conversations.

Another conversation question I like is: What is inspiring you lately?

In the classroom, I often plan out higher order questions I want to be sure to ask. The lower level questions come to mind more easily but lessons need to contain more than just surface level content. According to research, teacher questions should be varied and from several category types according to Bloom’s Taxonomy in order for them to be effective. These categories are familiar to every teacher I know: knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.

I always love the questions that show how students make connections I would never think of. Connection to other subjects and the world in my experience yield the most interesting conversations. The more questions they students ask, especially the ones that the teacher cannot answer, show students how to research and inquire deeper about their curiosities.

I have found the most effective questions can come from students by having them write questions for each other. I have a space on my board where I pose interesting questions to my students. I love when they suggest one for the next day.

With the high stakes testing becoming the norm, DOK or Depth of Knowledge has been my go-to sentence stems for teaching and coaching. A simple overall breakdown looks like this: DOK 1 have only one answer. DOK 2 you must use information or a concept and usually there are two steps. DOK 3 requires reasoning and usually a more complete answer requiring steps DOK 4 requires synthesis and making a judgment -it requires investigation.

Another simpler method to help teachers if the DOK levels are overwhelming, is “thick and thin question stems” seen below. This is also a great way to teach students to write more robust questions.

Life is better when you ask better questions to others and yourself.

Let’s Talk About Cold Calling

If cold calling is done correctly, it is not a punishment. Many teachers and adults in workshops use it as a tactic to try to control the room by shaming someone who is not paying attention. Don’t do this. It does not motivate anyone to answer you moving forward.

The culture you create in your classroom feeds how your students ask and answer questions. If risk and curiosity is nurtured in the learning environment then they will ask and answer. If you have to shame students into answering your questions, I would examine the engagement and interest level of your lessons.

As a coach I have said many times: Sometimes it is a teacher problem, sometimes it is a student problem and sometimes it is both. Own the areas where you need to improve in order to reach your students.

Cold calling is designed to be a positive technique. You can read more here about it used effectively from Doug Lemov.

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What are your favorite questions to ask? What is inspiring you lately? I would love to hear in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Can I Ask You A Question?

  1. Before we started our planning meeting today, my principal asked, “How did you win the day (so far) today?” This lead to a really interesting conversation, and it started us off in a positive direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For my Book Club, my colleagues and I are using a book Personalized Learning by Timothy S. Stewart et al, the part about student agency has questions I hope to use- “What do I want to learn?, How will I demonstrate that I have learned it? “and more. Thanks for sharing the questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Weekend Coffee Share – The Accidental Inspirationalist

  4. This is great stuff Tammy. I too love the Q&A approach to triggering dialog. I’m not nearly as good at it as I’d like to be so I may study your lists some and expand the items in my Socratic toolbox. Thanks for some great material.

    Liked by 1 person

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