Strategies for Engaging All Learners
Incorporating Focus Questions into the curriculum is an effective way to promote learner inquiry and target higher-order thinking, but it takes more than a few good questions to truly transform a classroom and engage all learners in learning.
Research and development specialists, Jackie Walsh and Beth Sattes (2005), authors of Quality Questioning: Research-Based Practice to Engage Every Learner, claim that knowing how to formulate quality questions is only the first step in the process of transforming classrooms. They argue that if educators wish to engage all learners in answering the questions, they must also teach new questioning behaviours to learners and adopt classroom norms that support them.
To begin the process of transforming your classroom, establish a risk-free setting where learners feel comfortable asking and answering questions. Make sure that everyone understands that no question is a bad question, and always allow plenty of time for learners to formulate, process, and answer the questions.
Next, assign projects that require learners to answer the “big questions” and back them up with evidence. Present learners with scenarios or problems where they must derive the solutions themselves. In the beginning, learners that are unfamiliar with open-ended questioning, most likely will need guidance as well as assurance that there may be many right answers. Provide learners with appropriate scaffolds that will ensure success and frequently monitor their work. Remind learners to provide rationale for their opinions and to formulate hypotheses, based on facts.
Make time for questions. Use probing techniques to urge learners to clarify their ideas and explain their reasoning. Then, challenge them with even more complex questions. Help learners to understand that in order to answer the big questions, they may need to address the smaller questions first.
Once learners are accustomed to exploring and answering open-ended questions supported by evidence, take a step back and assume the role of facilitator. Teach learners how to generate their own questions and encourage them to elaborate and build on each other's ideas.
Finally, as you begin to assess learner work, consider the effectiveness of your own questioning practices. If learners are unable to adequately answer the Focus Questions and support their answers with evidence, is it because you need to modify the questions? Do you need to utilize more effective probing techniques to urge learners to clarify their ideas and explain their reasoning? Or do you need to provide more scaffolds to ensure project goals are met? If all learners are not engaged in the learning, do you need to reinforce classroom practices so that all learners feel free to share their ideas or state their opinions? If learner work does not demonstrate higher-order thinking and include unique responses or creative approaches, do you need to modify your project requirements or assessment tools to target these skills? Or do you need to provide more practice and guidance in how to address open-ended questions?
Transforming your classroom into a place where all learners are engaged and interested in asking and answering the big questions will require time and work, and monitoring and adjusting, but the rewards of learners engaged in thinking and learning are worth the effort.
Walsh, J. A. and Sattes, B. D. (2005). Quality questioning: Research-based practice to engage every learner. Thousand Oaks, CA: AEL and Corwin Press.
Classroom Assessment. Questioning strategies. Pinellas School District and Florida Center for Instructional Technology.
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