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 information 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:
- Teacher generates a Question Focus (QFocus)
- Students are given the Rules for Producing Questions
- Students engage in Producing Questions
- Students engage in Categorizing Questions
- Students engage in Prioritizing Questions
- Teacher and students discuss How the Questions will be Used
- Students Reflect on the process
The Right Question site provides numerous resources to help 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 at 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.
“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