10 January 2013

Asking Questions

In my quest to explore ways to teach thinking I've been canvassing a variety of theories and practical applications. I recently finished reading Make Just One Change by Rothstein and Santana which offers a unique classroom strategy: teaching students to ask questions. 

This very clear text explains the process of teaching students how to formulate their own questions about any subject or topic being covered. It sounds incredibly simple but it is rarely done in schools. The authors offer a detailed procedure for embedding this strategy in regular classes (but not everyday), and show how the strategy serves a variety of purposes.

I have experimented with a similar notion of questions as students are reading their novels. I have discussed this strategy, which I picked up from Cris Tovani, in an earlier post. However, I believe that the question strategy offered in Make Just One Change shows how students can be led to a deeper level of thinking. By insisting that teachers refrain from giving examples as students formulate their questions, it means that the ideas must come from the students' minds. It also means that a more personal engagement with the concept or material at hand is achieved as students are formulating their own questions, and working towards answering them. 

Cognitive Load Theory suggests that people are more likely to retain information when they have an interest in it. Apparently the more interest in a subject, the more likely the new information will be able to attach to existing information. I know from personal experience that devising my own questions for essays during my MA changed the learning immensely. Learning how to ask your own questions creates autonomy and a greater connection with the work is made in the process of mastering that material.  

One last point about this strategy is its potential for use in teacher/staff development. Aside  from using this with students, I will employ this strategy when presenting my research findings to adults, which I will need to do several times this year. I hope to generate interest at different points of the presentation so that my audience cannot sit passively through the educational 'show and tell'.