Thursday, May 30, 2019

Using Question Generation as a Thinking Framework
By: Sally Del Llano

Of all Keys to Literacy Reading Comprehension and Content Writing strategies, Question Generation remains my favorite. Since becoming a KTL Coach, I have wondered if this strategy speaks to me most because of my inclination to ask too many questions (an endearing quality to some, although to my husband less so). The answer is a resounding “yes,” which I admit motivates me to use the strategy with greater frequency in my teaching practice. Earlier this fall, students in my Foundations level History class (those deemed non-college bound) unknowingly challenged my penchant for the question generation technique, and forced me to take a step back to examine my bias.

Whether it be the small group nature of the class, or the variety of abilities they bring with them, a skill these students consistently exercise is that of asking questions, often moments before the answer is set to be revealed. While some of these questions are logical and would easily fit into the Remembering and Understanding levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, many are abstract, adjacent to the topic, or global in their application (e.g. “Why was there ever a need for slavery to exist in the first place?” and “How would my life be different if there were never any slaves?”) In the midst of a lesson on slavery in the colonies, these questions can seem counter to the focus of the day’s learning objective and have the potential to veer the conversation off track. When I take a step back to process what’s underneath these exploratory questions, though, I realize the necessity of allowing space for such existential questions in our curriculum. What my students were lacking was a framework for posing these questions, regardless of the answers.

To facilitate this process, my History co-teacher and I began with reviewing each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a whole class discussion, and asked students to generate questions for each level using the object of a smartphone. Students were then encouraged to share their questions. This process took several tries, but was ultimately very beneficial, as it preempted students to examine how and why questions fit a particular level. At first students pushed back against the work of categorizing their content-related questions, as they felt it took the authenticity out of their curiosity; it placed them in the uncomfortable position of needing to critically analyze an organic process. For students with learning disabilities, this type of metacognition can be especially difficult as it requires great patience and practice. To maintain enthusiasm and motivation, It was imperative that we the teachers provide the appropriate scaffolds and encouragement.

With each lesson, we drew six squares on the whiteboard, one labeled with each Bloom’s level. Students were instructed to generate questions about the topic, write their questions on sticky notes, and post them according to their corresponding level on the whiteboard. To ensure quality and relevance, teachers provided guidance with phrasing and grammar during the generating process. Students were also given question generation cue words and sentence starters for scaffolding. As students categorized their questions, they verbalized their reasoning, and asked other students for feedback. This process took several rounds, and a few heated debates, to become fluid; however, it taught our students many valuable lessons. They developed questioning techniques with purpose and intention, they practiced verbalizing their thinking in front of peers, and we built a supportive class culture around giving and receiving feedback.

Although there were a few very trying moments, it ultimately brought fun and lively discussion to our class environment.

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