To introduce students to different kinds of questions they can ask themselves and others – whether in class, with friends and family, or in different conversation settings. And to give them practice in using different kinds of questions.
Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics was once asked, ''Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other kids in your neighborhood?'' Dr. Rabi's answer, so the story goes, was ''My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: 'So? Did you learn anything today?' But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. 'Izzy,' she would say, 'did you ask a good question today?' That difference - asking good questions -made me become a scientist!”
There are times in the classroom when we want our questions to be invitations for mutual engagement – to engage the students and each other in ways that foster everyone’s understanding of what’s being discussed. Such questions are in an approachable voice, plurals, with tentativeness and use invitational stems and contain positive presuppositions. Here are some tips:
Differences between “a credible voice” and “an approachable voice”
Plurals. Making it a plural means there’s less of a risk, more than one possibility. For example:
There are four main question-asking “moves” that move beyond factual recall:
See attached sheet for a few examples of each kind of question.
After introducing the students to the different kinds of questions, and sharing the example sheet, put them in groups of four or five.
Tell them you would like them to have a discussion about one of three issues:
Now tell students you would like them to practice the questions in the following way:
When all come back together the teacher repeats the summary discussion, but in a modified way.
Start with “How did it go?” and get an answer from one group. After that group responds, the teacher asks if anyone in any other group had a similar experience. Generate a conversation of sharing from group to group.
After a few comments or short discussion across groups ask: Were some questions more productive than others? If so, which ones and why?
After that group responds, the teacher asks if anyone in any other group had a similar experience. Generate a conversation of sharing from group to group.
Over the coming few days, when you are sitting talking about something with friends, try asking one or more of these kinds of questions as part of the conversation, and see how that goes.