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Archive for the ‘essential questions’ Category

Asking Good Questions – 2

In a previous post about ‘Asking Good Questions’ I highlighted the work of the Right Question Institute  which is dedicated to making it possible for all people to learn to ask better questions and participate more effectively in key decisions. I want to follow up in this post by pointing to an example of how their Question Formulation Technique (QFT) can be used to engage students in topics related to African American History Month.

“Black history month is a great opportunity to celebrate the many accomplishments of Black Americans. It is also important to closely examine these accomplishments and their surrounding context.”

History Detectives: Voting Rights in Mississippi, 1964 is a lesson that incorporates QFT as a part of a lesson on voting rights in the 60’s. The lesson is framed by:march-on-washington-1963-300x200

Enduring Understandings

Democracy demands that all voices be heard.

People in Missisisippi have risked everything for the right to vote.

Essential Questions

  1. Was Freedom Summer necessary to secure voting rights?
  2. Why hasn’t suffrage been universal throughout U.S. history?
  3. How do you fit into the story of maintaining voting rights for all in the United States?

As part of setting the context, students were asked to generate every possible question they could imagine in response to the Question FocusPeople in Mississippi have risked everything for the right to vote. The instructions for this section of the lesson:voting

Have students, working in small groups, generate every possible question they can imagine related to this statement. There are no wrong questions. They should not discuss the questions — simply list as many as possible. For example, “Why did the risk everything?” “What did they risk?”

Once the groups have at least 15 questions each, have students review their lists and pick the three questions that are most important to them. Explain that these are some of the questions they can explore as they engage in this lesson.

The lesson ends with a performance task that asks them to travel to the future, to the year 2060 to work as historians researching the history of Mississippi. You can see the whole lesson here.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

You can find teacher resources here.


Asking Good Questions

If we know how to ask good questions we are in a better position to advocate for ourselves and others. We are also equipped to distinguish credible inquestioning-helps-in-life-blackbg1-300x260formation from inaccurate or false statements, to participate in decision-making and holding decision-makers accountable, and to contribute to solving problems and building a shared pool of knowledge and understanding. Learning and practicing the skill of asking good questions should be an essential component of a good education.

And yet, The Right Question Institute maintains that:

“The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school. . . .

The ability to produce questions, improve questions and prioritize questions may be one of the most important—yet too often overlooked—skills that a student can acquire in their formal education. Strong critical thinking is often grounded in the questions we ask. By deliberately teaching questioning skills, we will be facilitating a process that will help students develop a mental muscle necessary for deeper learning, creativity and innovation, analysis, and problem solving.”

To help address this need, the Institute has developed a simple, but profound tool to help students formulate their own questions to guide or reflect on their learning. Steps in the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) consist of:

  1. Teacher generates a Question Focus (QFocus)
  2. Students are given the Rules for Producing Questions
  3. Students engage in Producing Questions
  4. Students engage in Categorizing Questions
  5. Students engage in Prioritizing Questions
  6. Teacher and students discuss How the Questions will be Used
  7. Students Reflect on the process

The Right Question site provides numerous resources to asking-good-questionshelp teachers introduce this process to their students, including text, PowerPoints, video, and discussion forums. You do have to register (free) to access the tools, but the materials are offered through a Creative Commons License that allows you to make use of and/or share resources. The authors just ask the users to reference the Right Question Institute as the source on any materials used.

This question formulation strategy is potentially a powerful tool for student engagement and critical thinking that can be used at any level in every area of study. Workshops that have introduced the QFT at our last few Teachers’ Conventions have been very popular. Watch for a repeat amake-just-one-change-smt next year’s convention. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore this site and give the process a try with your students. You might consider using this process at the beginning of unit planning in lieu of writing your own Essential Questions.

Related resources:

From Edutopia:

“The humble question is an indispensable tool: the spade that helps us dig for truth, or the flashlight that illuminates surrounding darkness. Questioning helps us learn, explore the unknown, and adapt to change.

That makes it a most precious “app” today, in a world where everything is changing and so much is unknown. And yet, we don’t seem to value questioning as much as we should. For the most part, in our workplaces as well as our classrooms, it is the answers we reward — while the questions are barely tolerated.”    Read more.

From ASCD’s Educational Leadership

“We first became interested in the potential of questions two decades ago, when we heard from parents in a low-income community in Massachusetts that they were not participating in their children’s education because they “didn’t even know what to ask.” This insight—that the inability to formulate questions can be a significant obstacle to effective participation—has guided our work ever since.” Read more.

elaine brouwer, Alta Vista

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