"What's in a question, you ask? Everything. It is a way of evoking stimulating response or stultifying inquiry. It is, in essence, the very core of teaching."
Experienced leaders use and create a variety of good questions throughout the summer to propel their team members into the inquiry flow. According to a summary of research by Patricia E. Blosser, questions serve a variety of important roles in effective science education:
- Provoking interest in a topic or idea;
- Stimulating thinking about information and issues;
- Helping learners develop a certain mind-set;
- Reinforcing information and ideas; and
- Managing activities and learner behavior.
An educator may ask learners hundreds of questions in the course of teaching. But studies consistently find that they predominately ask learners closed-ended, low-order questions - questions that require learners to recall memorized correct answers. You can improve your teaching by asking more focused, open-ended, and thought-provoking questions. Try the following with youth on your research teams:
- Focus your questions. Keep in mind the authentic inquiry process at the heart of D2D: observing and wondering, sparking provocative questions, formulating hypotheses and investigation, analyzing results and generating conclusions. Where are your team members in their inquiry process? Where will they flow next? Use questions to propel them there.
- Know why you are asking each and every question. Will your question provoke learners' interest in what comes next? Will it reinforce key ideas or skills? Will it encourage youth members to further analyze or synthesize the topic? Visit the Questioning Toolkit in the From Now On journal for examples of questions that serve a variety of important purposes.
- Make sure your questions target a variety of learning-levels. Do you ask your team members to demonstrate, construct, calculate, diagram, or predict? Bloom's Taxonomy defines six different levels of intellectual behavior, each with "action verbs" you can use in writing questions for team meetings. Low-order questions ask learners to recall information or reproduce skills from memory. "Who can show me the first step in properly filling in our data sheet?" exemplifies a low-order question. High-order questions prompt learners to interpret, analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply ideas and skills in new situations. "How did you decide that this is the best way to graph your data?" or "What are the strengths and weaknesses of this study design to compare bird species in our wetland and prairie sites?" are both high-order questions. Low-order questions are great for reinforcing ideas or managing activities. High-order questions are usually better suited to provoke or stimulate critical thinking, and help youth make connections.
- Make sure your questions have an appropriate structure. Open-ended questions are broad in nature with many potential and varied answers. E.g. "How could you design a form to collect information about tachnid wasps at our site? What about spiders?" Alternatively, closed-ended questions are limited to one or a few specific "correct" answers. E.g. "Who can tell me if this is a robin call?" Closed-ended questions are good for reinforcing information and ideas, stimulating recall, or managing activities. Open-ended questions serve well to provoke and stimulate critical thinking.
Well planned and delivered questions will help you keep your team members in the flow of inquiry. In the words of Cathleen Galas: "A good question leads to more new questions, new discoveries, new realms never even considered before....Teachers should share the excitement of asking questions and finding answers to personally relevant questions."
Center for Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
University of Minnesota Extension
Bloom, B. et al. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook 1. Cognitive Domain. New York: D. McKay.
Blosser, P.E. (1990). Using questions in science classrooms. Research Matters - To the Science Teacher, No. 9001. Online at http://www.narst.org/publications/research/question.cfm.
Galas, C. (1999). The never ending story: Questioning strategies for the information age. Learning and Leading, 25(7).
Lewis, K.G. (1999). Developing questioning skills. Section 5. Teachers and Students: A Sourcebook for UT-Austin Faculty. The University of Texas at Austin Center for Teaching Effectiveness. Online at http://ncnewschools.org/uploads/library/0807-questioning-article.pdf.
McComas, W.F., & Abraham, L. (n.d.). Asking More Effective Questions. Online at http://cet.usc.edu/resources/teaching_learning/docs/Asking_Better_Questions.pdf.
N.A. (1997). A questioning toolkit. From Now On: The Educational Technology Journal, 7(3). Online at http://www.fno.org/nov97/toolkit.html.