Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: Highly Effective Questioning

On the lookout for good Socratic education books, I stumbled upon Highly Effective Questioning: How and Why to Ask Questions in the K-16 Classroom by G. Ivan Hannel. It's a short textbook, less than 200 pages, and I flew through it.

Hannel absolutely confirmed my thoughts about last week's lesson to my peers, so I'm glad to say that I was on the right track!

I also noticed that it conflicted directly with a few things I'm being taught at the university, particularly where tests are concerned. In public schools, we teach students test-taking skills to better prepare them for assessments. If assessments weren't necessary, as implied in Highly Effective Questioning, we wouldn't teach test-taking strategies but learning strategies.

At any rate, what follows is my notes from reading. It was a wonderful read, and I found myself writing and quoting a lot! Thus, I think I'll put them under a cut.

*Critical thinking is
- a mental act--a product, not the process
. The content itself is neutral, it's what the teacher does with it that makes a lesson good or bad
- a critical act - not an automatic activity
- amenable to instruction - yes, it CAN be taught
- generalizable across content

*Students must have a "wide body of information in one's pool of knowledge ... critical thinking skills take students beyond [those] facts, where true learning occurs." (p 23)

*Content (that which presented in the book, etc.) fits together to form concepts through critical thinking skills.

*"Through HEQ, our intention is to develop a specific set of mental acts to find comprehensive yet global rules that help students make sense of an almost infinite variety of content in our ever changing world" (p 27)

*"In HEQ, questioning is the preferred means of coaxing students to exercise their critical thinking skills using content to construct conceptual meanings. The questioning by the teacher is a form of mediation or engagement that helps the student to bride between the infinite content of the world and the concepts that society creates to organize that content" (p 27)

*"The process of using one's critical thinking skills is learned and can be improved through systematic questioning by the teacher" (p 27)

*"Concepts are repeatedly built, not just remembered ... whenever a skilled person comes upon some content, whether presented by way of a new textbook lesson or merely some content floating in the world at large, the person's mind will begin to employ critical thinking skills in an attempt to make sense of it. Again, the process is a learned one that seems, because it is so familiar, to be almost innate or automatic, though it is not. ... Concepts are constructed and reconstructed each day" (p 27)

*Because concepts are not just remembered, when a student cannot construct a correct response, it is not because he needs the information repeated. Rather, it is because he needs to construct the concept personally in his own mind.

*"A useful mental image of ... the process of HEQ ... is to imagine two people, a teacher and a learner, on he phone with each other trying to solve a problem. Because the teacher literally cannot point out the solution, he must rely on questions to get the student to comprehend all elements of the problem and solution. If he teacher is not careful in what is asked, there is no option of simply rushing over and showing what is intended. The question must be expertly designed to lead he learner to understanding" (p 35). Similar to giving technical support over the phone.

*Questions do all of the following: assess and engage students, help elicit and thus develop students' critical thinking skills, require teachers to keep focus, assist on building upon students' answers and give immediate feedback.

*7 Principles of High Expectations (setting the environment)
- Principle 1 - Students come to school with the need to learn, and when they are in school, they don't have the right not to learn
. All students must be engaged and called upon to answer questions. "While we recognize and empathize with the student's shyness or fear, we must still call on him or her because of his or her need to learn. ... The student who does not learn how to speak in front of others, or the student who doesn't learn to think because he's rarely asked questions, is unlikely to have a good academic or economic future." (p 45)
- Principle 2 - Underachieving students are the most undertrained, not underbrained; they are dormant, not dead!
. Ask ALL students the same quality and quantity questions. Do this by thinking of a question first, then randomly selecting a student to ask the answer from, not the other way around.
. "In HEQ, we scaffold questions but do so in terms of the class as a whole" (p 51)
. "Remember, in HEQ, success isn't measured by the student simply answering a question properly but by the student stretching at the margins of his or her present cognitive potential. The easy questions tend not to lead to much stretching" (p 51)
- Principle 3 - We must learn to use intensive questioning, not just occasional questioning
. "HEQ requires creating intense periods of time devoted strictly to questioning" (p 55) This may be 5 minutes for kindergarteners or 35 minutes for high school students. Remember, you are on the phone with them! So no showing, modeling, hinting, telling, or explaining allowed--only questions!
. With so many questions, all students will get a chance to answer correctly and incorrectly. This removes the stigma.
- Principle 4 - We attempt to follow a Question-Response-Question (Q-R-Q) pattern as we question students
. Students must do more than participate; they must justify their responses. After a response, ask a follow up question (to the same or different student) to give reasoning, justification, or elaboration.
. This is done regardless of the quality of their response. The point is justification, not correctness.
. Define what "justify" means to the students and tell them that their job is always to justify accurately enough that they have convinced the teacher and their classmates that their answer is correct. They must stand behind their justifications but be prepared to change their mind if new, better evidence is presented. They must remain confident but open minded.
. When validating a student's response, always do so AFTER justification.
- Principle 5 - We must keep our questioning positive overall
- Principle 6 - Do not encourage random guess-making or trial and error behavior through questioning
- Principle 7 - Try to reduce "I don't know" responses and attitudes
. Students say "I don't know" because they don't want attention or to have to work. Let them know that this is not acceptable by asking 1-3 follow up questions.
. In order for "I don't know" to be considered a legitimate response, it must be followed by, "... but I believe ..." or "... but I can find out by looking [location] ..."

*"The question should be phrased in such a way as to allow for the broadest set of possible answers. Maintain broad scope in your initial questions. Narrow your scope as the questioning coninues. The answers you intend to hear back from your students should have the characteristics of being specific, justified, and complete" (p 79) Tell the students that's what you expect. Ask, "Can you be more specific?" "Can you justify your answer?" or "Is there anything you can add to make your answer more complete?"

*Questions in HEQ follow a logical order that creates a cognitive scaffold. The order is vital. The teacher may go backwards steps to reiterate and clarify, but never skip steps in the process.

*The steps that follow may also be thought of as stepping stones from one side of the river to the other. Not always more difficult, but always moving the thinking forward.

*7 Steps of Critical Thinking (asking the questions)
- Step 1 - "What do you see here?" Verbs: label, idenify, find, notice, see
. "The earlier in the cognitive process that oral articulation is introduced, the better the student will come to understand the problem, as verbal representation is so critical to understanding" (p 102)
. Relevant facts first! "What should we notice first in the problem? Why?" When students respond with irrelevant facts first, either have the student justify their answer or acknowledge it and ask for something more important. "Was the dog important to the story?"
- Step 2 - "How do these things fit together?" Verbs: compare, contrast, connect, analogize, infer, relate, distinguish
. "Content is organized on a web of connections" (p 113)
- Step 3 - "What's going on overall?" Verbs: sequence, order, classify, integrate, synthesize
- Step 4 - "What did the question ask you to do?" Verbs: decode, interpret
. If the student interprets a question incorrectly, do not tell her to read it again "because it (1) communicates to the student that his or her initial interpretation is in some way flawed and thus inhibits the teacher from learning the source of miscomprehension; (2) suggests the teacher's own frustration to the student, which encourages trial and error behavior; and (3) rarely results in improved comprehension through additional reading" (p 126)
. Follow a Read-Interpret-Justify pattern when a written question is presented, then loop back to Steps 1-3 if needed.
- Step 5 - "What is your answer and why?" Verbs: encode, answer
. Do not lead students to eliminate incorrect answers. They should have an answer and be able to justify it before reading the multiple choices on a test.
. Remember not to validate any answer before a justification is given for it.
. Do not go back and rephrase the question for the child if their answer is incorrect. Ask for justification and go from there. Besides, if the question needs to be rephrased, the student should be the one to do it.
- Step 6 - "What else can you do with what you know?" Verbs: apply, predict, hypothesize, infer
- Step 7 - "What did you learn today? Verbs: summarize, conclude

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