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QUESTIONING the QUESTIONS

By Christopher H. Tienken, Stephanie Goldberg, and Dominic DiRocco From Kappa Delta Pi Record

ISTORICAL accounts of questioning used in the education process trace back to *Socrates. One of the best examples of his use of questioning is found in Plato's The Republic. Socrates used a series of strategic questions to help his student Glaucon come to understand the concept of justice. Socrates purposefully posed a series of questions to help Glaucon reflect and think critically about the subject and eventually come to a new understanding of justice. This way of questioning became known as the Socratic Method. Today, teachers still use questions as one way to help students develop productive thinking skills and to understand concepts and topics. Ouestioning, in fact, may be

the most frequently used teacher instructional,intervention. A 1981 study reported that teachers ask as many as 300-400 questions daily. That represents thousands of opportunities to develop students' productive thinking during the school year. To what extent do teachers take advantage of this immense opportunity? And what types of questions do teachers ask most frequently? We sought to investigate the frequency that teachers used productive questions in their lessons, then synthesized questioning strategies Pre-K-12 teachers can implement consistently to provide students with opportunities for productive thinking.

Christopher H. Tienken is an assistant professor at Seton Halt University, NJ, in the Coilege of Education and Human Services, Department of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy. Stephanie Goidberg is a staff development coordinator forthe Monroe Township School District, Middlesex County, NJ. Dominic DiRocco is the director of legislative affairs for the New Jersey Association of Counties. Condensed, with permission, from Kappa Delta Pi Record, 46 (Fall 2009), 39-43. Published by Kappa Delta Pi, Internationai Honor Society in Education, www.kdp.org.

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Questioning the Questions In our study, we focused on one part of the questioning realm: the cognitive disposition of questions asked to or directed at students.. We accept that there exists a difference in cognitive processes between questions .that elicit remembering or imitative thinking on the part of students and questions that prompt creative, critical, or productive thinking. For the purpose of this study, we categorized questions as either productive (analysis, synthesis, evaluation categories, also known as higher order} or reproductive (recall, comprehension, application categories, also known as lower order). Productive questions provide students the opportunity to create, analyze, or evaluate. These questions are frequently open-ended and divergent in nature. An example from 10th grade U.S. history is: "Based on your study of the United States Constitution, hoW does the new Iraqi constitution compare in terms of comprehensiveness, and what recommendations would you recommend for its iinprovement and why?" Reproductive questions prompt students to imitate, recall, or apply knowledge and information taught by the teacher, through a mimicked process. An example from the same history class: "What right does the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protect?" Reproductive questions are typically convergent and have only one correct answer.
Literature on Questioning

Many factors influence the effectiveness of teacher questions on student learning (e.g., wait time, sociolinguistics, learning environment). Our review of the literature focused on studies that investigated the influence of questioning on student achievement, not the contextual factors involved with the process. Support for the positive influence of productive questioning on student achievement exists. Several studies and meta-analyses conducted in the 1980s and '90s reported positive influences of productive, higher-order questions on student achievement. The influences on achievement ranged from 12 to 27 percentile points gained on commercially prepared, normreferenced, standardized tests by students whose teachers consistently used productive questions compared with students whose teachers did not regularly use such questions. The literature related to the frequency with which teachers use productive and reproductive questions troubles us. It was reported that the majority of teacher questions fell into the reproductive category, 60-79% respectively. That means up to 14,400 of the 18,000 questions asked by teachers each year do not provide opportunities for productive thinking. The implication for student learning and cognitive develop-

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ment requires attention. Intuitively, providing students with frequent opportunities to think divergently and critically should have a positive influence on cognitive development and achievement. How else can students learn to attack and grapple with authentic problems and situations? Where will they learn how to think divergently and how to'strategize if educators do not facilitate that type of cognitive growth in the classroom?
The Study

During the 2001 to 2007 school years, we collected data from 98 certified teachers in grades 3-12 in. 13 schools in New York and New Jersey on the frequency with which teachers asked productive (higher order) questions and reproductive (lower order) questions. The majority of teachers observed, 60/98, had four or more years of teaching experience (experienced); and the remaining 38/98 teachers had fewer than four years of experience (novice). The total number of questions observed and categorized was 2,363. We were aware of the role that context played in ' categorizing a question as productive or reproductive and took that into account when collecting and analyzing the data.
Results

The results indicated that even 30 years after warnings by research-

ers, as well as formal coursework in teacher education programs, the majority of teacher questions, 76%, remained reproductive. The data suggested a difference between the frequency of productive questions asked by experienced teachers and novice teachers. Productive questions accounted for 32% of the total questions asked by experienced teachers and 15% of the total questions asked by novice teachers. We used the non-parametric Chi-square to measure the difference in the frequency that novice and experienced teachers asked productive and reproductive questions. 'The differences were statistically significant. Thisfindingmay seem counterintuitive to those who prepare pre-service teachers, because every teaching methods book has a section on effective questioning techniques. Nonetheless, our statistics revealed that novice teachers in our sample asked significantly fewer productive questions. Readers piay jump to the conclusion that experienced teachers do a much better job of asking productive questions. However, as educators, we must ask ourselves: Is 32% an acceptable percentage of productive questions? Readers also must be cognizant that students are highly unlikely to have all experienced teachers during their school careers. Therefore, the questioning pattei'n experienced

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Questioning the Questions

by most students reflects a mix of novice and experienced teachers.


Improving Practice

The knowledge base regarding the influence and effect of productive questions on student achievement suggests that the intervention is a positive one. Unfortunately, the results of this study and others before it suggested that teachers do not take full advantage of questioning's potential. The obvious solution to this problem is for teachers to ask more productive questions during their lessons. But how should school leaders and others who support and prepare teachers foster that practice? Perhaps educators need to look at a profession that relies on questioningthe law profession is built upon strategic questioning. Both lawyers and. teachers are more successful in their respective professions when they ask quality questions. Lawyers ask questions either to.elicit information that assists them in the representation of their clients or to prevent the revelation of information that is adverse to the interests of their clients. While lawyers ask primarily reproductive questions, the point is that they prepareprior to entering the courtroomthe questions they are going to ask. Lawyers enter the courtroom with a questioning strategy, aimed at achieving a goal. The practice of

preparation is where educators can benefit most. Let us examine the manner in which lawyers prepare to ask questions. Productive questions are more difficult to generate in the heat of the moment when teaching. Perhaps that is one explanation for the low frequency of productive questions asked in classrooms. Lawyers treat their questioning strategy as akin to cartography. Just as a cartographer plots out on a map the route to a destination, attorneys develop a sequence of questions, ahead of time, to -lead their clients to the desired point in the examination. Like lawyers and cartographers, teachers need to plan a route and strategy in order to use questions productively and develop students' thinking based on the learning objectives for their lessons. Just as a lawyer would not ask questions aimlessly or without a strategic purpose or vision of the big picture, teachers should not leave to chance the development of student critical thinking. Teachers can prepare a list of questions prior to starting a lesson. Question preparation guarantees that some questions will foster productive thinking. Teachers may ask, "What about the teachable moment?" We do not recommend scripting the entire lesson. There is a place for the teachable moment and the unplanned questions that go along with it. However, that is just a "moment," and teachers

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still must plan carefully to achieve the original goal of the lesson. We suggest that teachers script 10-15 productive questions for an average lesson. Doing so will ensure that approximately 50% or more of the questions will foster productive thoughta vast improvement over current practice.
Strategies for Improvement

After preparing productive questions and structures for their appropriate use, the next challenge is to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate. Teachers can use several strategies to increase the number of students responding to productive questions. The use of overt participation strategies likely will engage more students to think, formulate opinions, and construct new knowledge when the teacher asks a productive question. For example, signaled response is an overt participation technique in which students must communicate their answers to the teacher in a nonverbal way, A teacher poses a productive question to the class and asks a student to respond. Then, the teacher directs the rest of the class to signal if they agree with the response or disagree or have something else to offer. Students know beforehand that everyone must participate in every question. The teacher follows up with a random sample of students who signal and then

must answer orally. Another overt participation technique is the use of choral response. While some students may choose not to participate, the strength of the response can indicate accuracy and comfort with the material. In this case, the class responds together after the teacher poses a question. Another effective strategy is think-pair-share. After the teacher asks a question, students take a minute or two to think about their responses. Then they turn to a partner and share ideas with one another. After a few minutes, the teacher randomly samples the class for responses. All of the strategies just described can serve as vehicles to promote productive thought among ali students, rather than one at a time as with traditional questioning patterns.
Summary

Asking more productive questions while using overt participation strategies enhances the cognitive environment in the classroom. The stakes are too high and consequences too severe to accept reproductive questioning patterns as the norm for our teaching. Problem-solving and critical thinking are skills that need to be cultivated and nurtured. All students have a right to high-quality cognitive development, and educators have the responsibility to provide the instruction and opportunities to make that right a reality, H

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