Oct 10, 2014

Turning 'Question Answerers' into 'Question Askers'

Breakout Five Trevor Bond
Changing ‘Question Answerers’ to ‘Question Askers’

Postman, Neil, and Weingartner, Charles (1969)  - “It is staggering  to consider the implications of this fact. The most important and intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions is not taught in school!  “What is more, it is not taught in the most dire way possible.  We create and foster an environment that discourages question asking.”

Our current classroom environments tend to create question answerers not question askers, this has not really changed since 1969! How soon do students become discouraged from asking questions. The following statistics are suggestive.
- Studies have found that before preschool, at home, children ask 50% of the questions. They are intrinsic learners, post language development, who ask questions to learn.
- At preschool students ask 5% of the questions (Tizard & Hughes, 1984).
- At primary school the ratio is about 1:8 (child:teacher)

This fosters a culture of regurgitation.

Trevor identifies 6 issues that impede the development of students as question askers. They are:

Issue 1: Teacher understanding of the key role questioning plays in thinking and learning.
Issue 2: Teacher understanding of the process of questioning
Issue 3: Teacher understanding of the skills of an effective questioner
Issue 4: The lack of a simple  effective tool to support students to be more effective as questioners
Issue 5: The lack of a clear set of simple classroom strategies
Issue 6: The lack of long term commitment by schools/teachers

What is thinking?
Trevor posits that it is a dialogue in our head that typically takes a question and answer form. ‘Wouldn’t it be powerful if we told our students that.’

What is learning?
David Perkins quote, ‘Learning is etc’

Questioning: Changing our students from ‘Question Answerers’ to ‘Question Askers’

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Issue 1: Teacher understanding of the key role questioning plays in thinking and learning.

What is thinking?
Your definitions...
Thinking is asking and answering questions in your head.
Thinking is  inquiring, wondering, testing, trying, finding answers, evaluating,
Thinking is processing information from my environment
Thinking is making sense of information
Thinking is the conversation that you have inside your head when you are trying to make sense of something, or trying to make a decision.
Thinking is manipulating information to combine it in new ways.
Thinking is problem solving answering a question or problem internally.
Thinking is an internalised process that is often externalised when students are given an opportunity to share, question and bounce ideas off others. If they are not given this opportunity then how far does their thinking go?...
Thinking is working through information you have and making sense of it. combining knowledge in new, creative analytical  ways
Thinking is the analysis and use of information
Thinking is evaluating a range of information to make sense of ideas and the world around us.
Thinking is processing and analysing questions and ideas that come from the world around you. Processing information and making sense of it to fit into a schema that you already have or creating new one if it does not fit.
Thinking is processing information, making connections and putting it all together to make decisions, choices etc. 
Thinking is the action of processing information and evaluating different reasons and scenarios [asking and answering questions in your head].

"Thinking is when your are talking through the issues with your mouth shut - internal dialogue. De Bono

What is Learning?
Learning is the integration of new information into existing schemas, i.e. extending understandings and skills so that new capabilities are created.
Learning is forming new understandings, behaviours and abilities - physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, etc etc,
Learning is the process by which we acquire key skills and information to enable us to move forward, grow and contribute to society.
Learning is  making connections
Learning is linking ideas ...making connections .. using thinking productively??
Learning is building your knowledge and skills
 Learning is a change in the physical structure of the brain
Learning is not repeating the same mistakes
Learning is being able to use information to benefit self and others
Learning is ‘cognitive housekeeping’ where what’s in your head gets reshaped
Learning is taking on new information 
Learning is choosing a thought and keeping it as ‘the right one’
Learning is what I discover as a result of my questions.

Trevor: To me thinking is an internal question/answer dialogue that supports me to build understanding
To me Learning is where I have a change in my world view, knowledge, understanding, skills, beliefs, opinions, values, attitudes, behaviours that is sustained and consequently applied.

The critical Thinking Community document states….
Critical Thinking Community:
“students are implicitly and deeply habituated to respond to teacher questions”
 “it is true that only students who have questions are really thinking and learning”
“Unfortunately, most students ask virtually none of these thought-stimulating types of questions. They tend to stick to dead questions ... questions that imply the desire not to think.”
“No questions equals no understanding. Superficial questions equal superficial understanding. Most students typically have no questions. They not only sit in silence, their minds are silent as well. Hence, the questions they do have tend to be superficial and ill-informed. This demonstrates that most of the time they are not thinking through the content.”
They take this out to a very interesting conclusion, an exam should require a student to answer questions, rather it should require students to outline their questions on a subject or concept as a real measure of learning.

What are your responses?
There is a 100% disconnect between kids needing to ask questions and teachers asking all the questions.
When my students begin asking questions out of left field I know they are engaged.
Some children don’t feel safe to ask questions, so they won’t ask.  We as teachers haven’t mastered how to build a learning environment that accepts questioning and teaches skills to help kids feel valued in this area.
Teaching has been about ‘filling a bucket’ for so long that it is hard for it to change to ‘lighting a fire’

If we don’t believe that questioning is a critical aspect of learning and teaching, then our classroom practice will continue to be predicated on the concept that the answer is all important. We will sustain the development of skilled question answerers rather than skilled questioners, thinkers and learners.

What is your response?
“No questions equals no understanding”  is very powerful statement to make - in some students, I think that there is (some) understanding, but have been “trained” not to voice any further questions, or interrupt.

Issue 2: Teacher understanding of the process of questioning
Questioning is a process, and in the classroom that process consists of 6 ‘moments’.
Student questions often don’t occur because that chain of moments gets broken at some point.

Moment 1: Stimulus - something creates a cognitive discomfort.
We may recognise a new idea, a conflicting opinion, something we don’t understand.
The teacher’s role is to create as many stimuli as possible.
No stimulus - the chain is broken.

Moment 2:  Cognitive response - the  learner forms a cognitive response, they intellectually react to the stimulus. Wondering, perplexity, confusion . . .
No response - the chain is broken.

Moment 3:  Negotiation - a peculiarity of  the classroom  environment.
The student has to enter into negotiation to gain the right to give voice to their question.
Many students find this daunting, many are not successful because of time and delivery restraints.
No successful negotiation - the chain is broken.

Moment 4:  The question is posed

Moment 5: Response gained.
Often, if the response gains an answer, the process of thinking ends, because students are habituated to the concept that the answer is the end goal.
Often the question is posed and it falls into a vacuum of null response or negative response which sends the message that questions are inappropriate in this environment.
Inappropriate response for that student in that context - the chain is broken

Sometimes the response gained is a stimulus to further and deeper thinking… moment 6 = moment 1

Trevor: ‘When a student makes a statement, turn it into a question. When a student asks a question, turn it into an activity.’

Issue 3: Teacher understanding of the skills of an effective questioner
Trevor: In my opinion there are 6 core skills.

1. The ability to identify the need or problem
2. The ability to identify and comprehend the relevant contextual vocabulary
Trevor: About vocab and the need to understand the vocab that relates to the area being studied. He asked us to think about the following conversation.
‘How was your day?’
‘It was ok. We spent the morning washing plastic and then after morning tea we found a meatball and then started chunking and things got going.’
Clearly this is a conversation that uses words we are familiar with but not in a way that makes sense, unless you know the area and its specialised vocabulary. [The area is game fishing. ‘Washing plastic’ is a reference to trailing plastic lures behind a boat. A ‘meatball’ is a ball of bait fish that has been herded by larger fish and which they (the larger fish) are trying to drive to the surface where they can be eaten. ‘Chunking’ is to scoop up a bucket of such bait fish (the meatball will locate itself under a floating boat to defend itself from gannets etc) and to then chop up the bait fish and drop them into the water such that as one chunk sinks and disappears the next is dropped in. After several such chunks one is threaded onto a line and hook and dropped into the ‘ladder’ that has been formed of sinking chunks and game fish feed up the ladder till they hit the hook.]

3. The ability to ask a range of relevant questions.

4. The ability to take questions to a variety of appropriate sources or carry out an appropriate process to gain the required information.
Which is the best lure to use in this area? You need to find the right person to ask to get the information you need. No good asking just anyone but better to go to the fishing club and ask the person who is up on the board for the most catches of your target fish.

5. The ability to persist, editing questions as necessary, until the needed information is acquired.
For example: What is the best speed to have your boat go at to catch yellow-fin tuna? Trevor asked lots of people and got a variety of responses. Finally he found someone who said, ‘Wrong question. It isn’t speed that is important but the vibrations the boat is sending out. Find the speed that smooths the vibrations out. The speed at which the vibrations of the entire boat harmonises. Game fish recognise smooth vibrations within a certain range as indicating bait fish, they are sensitive to the range of vibrations and any changes in vibration such that if the range is too large or changes too much they will not be attracted.’

6. The ability to use and apply that information in a way that deepens learning or solves the issue/problem.

Issue 4: The lack of a simple  effective tool to support students to be more effective as questioners.
Trevor: Ten years ago I set out on a process to answer the question… “What can we do to develop question askers instead of question answerers?”
This entailed me asking and creating answers to lots of questions, some of which we have covered today.
Trevor: Question dice are no good because they ignore one of the 7 effective question forms (Who, why, where etc) and also because they dictate which question is used when it may not be the best choice.
Open and Closed question distinction not a useful one as closed questions can be perfectly good and powerful, e.g. Am I on the right flight to Rotorua?

Description: https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/mJOW8jL55_0jWoY9UZ2tekIa5jpMjLYBS4uI0Wp85LOiRAMZGvcbqey6nE42ji5jLPXYWPLIpCtPa42L_R_ctkjVZrRAikNGfDE1JKfPGpFRf-3pu-fdw77GCTQFV758ww

As part of this search, I created the Questioning Waka.
Description: https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/rWqVgGLl8A7zNM9BE09MVrUTCzbJDZMhZ1SJEzZqBo8SgnjtwaKOfM06Y8oXsNzRQA7UdNMVb5VAUGLPNCFj8meMcTqSutShmvyo7eZY6EeYwW5Bb8LiqQF1Y-84F7q5uQ

Trevor talked us through the diagram above. The anchorstones are impediments to the waka’s progress and the waka will only make progress when they are removed. So first steps are to ensure that students are asking questions instead of making statements and to make sure that they know enough about the area and its vocab to ask relevant questions. The second step is to ensure that when asking questions, especially when searching online, that students are able to identify key words and phrases, rather than asking entire questions (as search engines will use all words supplied . . .). After this the remaining 5 steps (each of the paddles) represent increasing sophistication of questioning but Trevor stressed that this does not mean that Level 7 questions are intrinsically better than Level 3 questions. Students should use all the different levels within a search for information, or an inquiry.

Issue 5: The lack of a clear set of simple classroom strategies
these have been developed through the last 10 years of working on this with schools.
Encourage questions
Minimise negative signals to questions
Use the questioning matrix so students have a framework
Use a wondering wall: Off-task questions are still a product of thinking - have a place where they can be recorded, and then ensure you give them value by following up.
Many students (like us as adults) will think of questions later -  have systems and processes that recognises this and allows for it.
Don’t play the game of school, use real needs
Support your students to clearly identify need, this leads to good effective questioning
Answer the questions as they are asked - don’t answer questions that don’t make sense, support students to refine and rephrase their questions.
Probe into questions that may not have gained the student the answer they were looking for
Model good questions
Explain why good questions are good questions
Turn student questions into activities, be a companion learner not an encyclopaedia
Modify your documentation so it matches with practice and expectation

Issue 6: The lack of long term commitment by schools/teachers
In education when we are really serious about something we ….

1: Set goals
2: Develop strategies
3: Assess outcomes
4: Review our approaches on the basis of the assessment

Very few schools ever get serious enough about empowering thinkers, learners and questioners to do this. Even fewer are the schools who commit to this long-term, the next brilliant idea comes along, we do the next ‘in’ bit of PD and at some stage we end up saying… ‘Oh yes we did Questioning in 20XX.”

To make a difference requires real long-term commitment, constant review and maintained focus.

“The switch from answering to asking questions will not happen quickly or painlessly for most students. Creating an environment in which students freely question the subject matter, the teacher, and each other is critical for developing thinking. “
Terry M. Cunconan     http://www.stamnet.org/journal/volume32/Cunconan.pdf

But it can be done!

Readings and resources:

Critical Thinking Community: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-role-of-questions-in-teaching-thinking-and-learning/524

Postman, Neil, and Weingartner, Charles (1969): Teaching As A Subversive Activity

http://question-skills.wikispaces.com/  (Trevor Bond’s wiki)


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