Five ways to frame a question
As you’ll know from my previous post, I’ve been on a bit of a mission to improve the questioning that goes on in my classroom. I set out to ensure what I was looking for and what I was developing in my practice wasn’t gimmicky and faddish. I wanted to find principles for better questioning and then from this develop strategies. I came across this strategy and thought I’d share it with others.
Shirley Clarke’s Active Learning Through Formative Assessment suggests five ways to ‘frame’ questions that are instantly deeper than a question from teacher, answer from student, feedback from teacher sequence. Here’s five ways I’m framing my questions…with practical examples.
- Ask one question and expect many answers
This question frame is about choosing a question that might elicit a whole host of answers. This is a deeper question for a number of reasons. First, it means that more students can give answers that might all equally be right. Next, it demonstrates that the teacher isn’t just looking for one answer. In addition, it leads to more questions and deeper discussions. Here’s a few examples:
When would you see ‘grams’ or ‘kilograms’ being used in real life?
To measure loads of different food….too many to put here. I’ve found that children have often come up with some really good answers to this that I’d not thought of.
Extension questions and discussion: naturally, this leads us to further questions such as ‘what objects are not measured in grams and kilograms’? Why do we still have pounds and ounces? Would you measure a teabag in kilograms? Why or why not? In addition to this, there are probably a few children who might say that orange juice is measured in grams. This then leads to a discussion about why liquid is measured in millilitres and litres not grams and kilograms, even though both are measuring weight.
How would you describe the personality of this character in the last three chapters?
Strange, happy, creepy, weird, peculiar, unusual, schizophrenic, misunderstood, abandoned, lonely
Extension questions and discussion: this sort of question, which obviously has a variety of answers, leads to another deeper discussion that hangs around the question: ‘using evidence from the text, which personality traits are most true?’. Children can then rank these questions and discuss as a group why they’ve have ranked them in a particular way. This is deeper and more rigorous than a think, pair, share in this situation. Children are having to evaluate their understanding of a text and try to explain their thinking.
- Turn questions into statements
This is similar to the principle that I discussed in my last post about taking simpler recall questions and making them more academically demanding. Instead of a question aimed at getting the right answer, the question can be turned into a statement and then the following question can be used as a discussion. Here’s how it works.
What is a perpendicular line?
Changed into a statement for discussion:
Ben says that perpendicular lines are two lines that run side by side to each other. They are a bit like train tracks.
Q1: Why is Ben wrong?
Q2: What are the lines called that Ben is describing?
Answers: in this situation, as a teacher, you are not only teaching more deeply but assessing whether children can see the mistake that Ben has made. For those who don’t know what mistake Ben has made, this is a perfect opportunity either for theem to be taught by a peer (which ought to be carefully monitored) or re-taught by the teacher.
Extensions: beyond this, children might be asked a further question about what features do a perpendicular line have and how they might teach someone else in a clearer way.
(Based on Kensuke’s Kingdom) Why did Michael fall into the sea?
Changed into a statement for discussion:
Michael fell into the sea because he was being silly.
Q1: True or false? Explain your answer
Q2: Think of at least one alternative view and explanation.
Answers: in this lesson, children need to be sure of the facts first. Like the Maths lesson, if children are not sure, they need to either be taught by a peer or re-taught by the teacher to ensure that their answers are text focussed and accurate.
- Begin with right and wrong answers
This is simple and works well when revising things like grammar and spelling rules. Show a sentence that is not grammatically correct and one that is and then get children to discuss why the first one is wrong and why the second one is right. Then, going beyond this, get them to rectify the mistake and explain how they’ve done this.
Science studies which ,often include stats, always provide us with very useful information.
Scientific studies, which often include statistics, always provide us with very useful information.
Which sentence is grammatically incorrect? Explain why.
Answers: children will probably very quickly pick up what’s wrong with the first sentence related to the punctuation but they might not pick up that ‘science’ doesn’t quite fit or that ‘stats’ is too informal a word to use in this sentence. This sort of question draws out the depth of children’s understanding of how to use relative clauses and other grammar features, helping teachers assess understanding.
- Make questions controversial
I’ve not quite figured out how this works in Maths but in subjects like English, History, R.E, PSHE and others this works great. The idea of this is to ask a good first question, then follow it up with an interesting example that might either ensure heated debate, or, give an opposing view. So, in a History topic on the Blitz, this is how it might work.
What are the reasons for the government wanting to send children to rural areas during World War Two?
Was this the right thing to do?
Controversial Scenario 1: Let’s imagine a single mother with one child. She has to send her son away to the countryside while she stays along in the city. Is it right that she sends her child away?
Controversial Scenario 2: Let’s imagine that a child is sent from a loving home in the city to a really nasty family in the country. Is it right that they should remain there? Surely its better they are with someone loving in an unsafe place than somewhere safe and not being loved?
- Begin a lesson with a question and come back to it at the end
This final one is helping us as a school frame our Humanities curriculum lessons. By beginning each lesson with an enquiry question that is aimed at conceptual understanding, it provides the opportunity for pupils to learn the concepts, knowledge and skills of that lesson within sequence. For example, when teaching a topic on the Romans, teachers could start lessons with:
Why did the Romans invade Britain?
What do we know about the Romans in Britain?
The first question is aiming at understanding the causes of thee invasion, a key historical concept. The second however, is merely aimed at facts that might not mean much within a more coherent scheme of work. Another example, from Geography could be:
How do humans use rivers?
What do we know about rivers?
The first question looks at the human geographical features of rivers and considers their links with settlements and people more generally, rather than a question that is just aiming at pupils understanding the features of a river. Questions like this open up the discussion and exploration of conceptual understanding in lessons far more than a learning objective or a WALT.
What’s even better about this sort of question is that it’s easier to assess at the end of the lesson. Teachers simply need to either design a task that answers the question in a meaningful way or, ask the question at the end and get children to discuss in detail what their answers might be. Because it is an open-ended question with multiple answers, there is a range of responses that can be given with a whole host of variety and depth. Therefore, these sorts of questions have natural, inbuilt differentiation.
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