After years of research on asking and answering questions, both in the work place and education: a protocol—the Question Formulation Technique— was developed that makes it possible for anyone, no matter their level of income or education, to learn how to produce and improve their own questions and then strategize on how to use them.
The Question Formulation Technique includes the following steps:
Design a question focus.
The teacher designs a question focus. The focus is a statement, not a question.
There are four rules for producing questions:
Students have 7 minutes to write down as many questions as the small group of students can think about. During the question flood, students must follow the rules for producing questions.
After students created their initial list of questions, the students are presented with a simple explanation of the difference between closed-ended questions (those that can be answered with a yes or no) and open-ended questions (those that need more explanation). Then the students reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of questions. This offers students the opportunity to discover how the way a question is asked can shape the kind of information that follows.
During this step, students practice changing questions from closed to open and from open to closed. This task can be challenging for students and adults of any age
Students prioritize questions.
Choose three open-ended questions you want to use in your research. Students review all their question and discuss what they think are the 3 best questions for their research or unit of student. The scribe places a star beside the top 3 questions.
Teacher and students discuss next steps for using the questions.
Once students had chosen their top three questions, students would use those questions to drive their research or unit of study.
The students by now have produced their own questions, analyzed their list, categorized the questions, changed questions from open to closed and closed to open, prioritized the questions, and discussed how they would be using their questions. They had done a lot of thinking and work in about 45 minutes.
Rigorous research on this strategy has been carried out in a range of settings outside the classroom. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) randomized control trial, for example, showed dramatic increases in patients' ability to participate in their health care and partner more productively with professionals when they used the Question Formulation Technique (Alegría et al., 2008). The NIH study and other research published in medical journals demonstrated that it is possible to deliberately teach the skill of question formulation to all people (Deen, Lu, Rothstein, Santana, & Gold, 2011).
Would the same simple protocol work in the classroom? Could teachers easily adapt it to teach the skill of question formulation to students? Initial research on use of the Question Formulation Technique in a classroom environment has shown that "the development of these questioning skills and behaviors empowers the learners to conceptualize and express their thinking without having to depend primarily on teacher questioning to provoke or promote their natural curiosities" (Elves, 2013, p. 2). Teachers who have used the technique in primary, middle, and high school classrooms across all subject areas in a wide range of classes have reported newly energized students who are excited by learning to ask their own questions.
When students first go through the Question Formulation Technique, some take to it more quickly than others. But teachers consistently report that they are struck by how students who traditionally have not participated at all seem to be most readily activated by this invitation. Soon, these students become experts at asking, refining, and prioritizing questions. They can take themselves through the question formulation process as part of a homework assignment. They can use it as a pre-reading activity on their own or in class with others. They can use it to analyze math problems and demonstrate new problem-solving abilities.
The Question Formulation Technique promotes student voice and critical thinking. As students learn to produce their own questions, they are thinking divergently--that is, more broadly and creatively. When they focus on the kinds of questions they are asking and choose their priority questions, they are thinking convergently—narrowing down, analyzing, assessing, comparing, and synthesizing. And when they reflect on what they have learned through the process, students are engaged in metacognition—they are thinking about their thinking.
Students who learn to use all three of these thinking abilities become more sophisticated questioners, thinkers, and problem-solvers.
By: Tessa Levitt, CA BOCES Professional Development
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