Using Questions to promote thinking

Frame for this Workshop
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the
complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity
Teach Less Learn More?
To be playful and serious at the same time is possible,
in fact it defines the ideal mental condition.
(John Dewey, How We Think, p. 218)
Importance of Good Questioning on
Student Learning
From Marzano’s Meta-analysis
• Relevant recall questions (Average effect size 0.93)
• ‘Same and different’: (Average effect size 1.32)
– Tasks that require the learner to identify similarities and differences
between two or more topics or concepts, often one they are familiar with,
and one they are presently studying. The best strategies involve students
developing analogies that link new content with old. This is sometimes
called ‘compare and contrast’.
From Hattie’s Meta-analysis
• Generating and testing hypotheses (Average effect size 0.79)
• These all require the students to use high order reasoning on
material that has been presented to them. Essentially they are all
evaluative thinking. They work best with ‘assertive questioning’.
(Summary by Geoff Petty)
Hattie’s effect sizes
• As a baseline an effective size of 1.0 standard
deviation is massive and is typically
– Advancing the learner’s achievement by
one year
– Improving the rate of learning by 50%
– A two grade leap in GCSE grades
Session Objectives
• Identify the role of thinking in learning
• Analyse a model of good thinking
• Explain how the use of specific questions
structure the building of understanding
• Use questions to enhance students thinking
Thinking: A Key Process for effective learning
“The best thing we can do, from the point of view of the brain and learning,
is to teach our learners how to think”
(Jenson, 1996, p.163)
“Thought is the key to knowledge. Knowledge is
discovered by thinking, analyzed by thinking,
organized by thinking, transformed by thinking,
assessed by thinking, and, most importantly,
acquired by thinking”
(Paul, 1993 vii)
Thinking is the cognitive process that builds
Problems of Definition
“In schools, critical thinking has long been a buzz phrase. Educators pay lip
service to its Importance, but few can tell me what they mean by the phrase
or how they teach and test it...” (p.16)
“For the most part, teachers haven’t been trained to teach students how to think.”
(Wagner, T., 2010, The Global Achievement Gap)
“...the heart of this problem is our failure to define such terms
as critical thinking, problem solving, metacognition, reasoning,
and abstract thinking. Without adequate definition and training,
teachers lack the knowledge and skills to teach and test for these
desirable but elusive human qualities”
(Haladyna, T., 1997, Writing Test Items to Evaluate Higher Order Thinking, p.97)
This involves Critical
Thinking – have I seen
this problem before, what
are the likely causes,
what information do I
need to clearly interpret
what’s occurring....?
Good thinking,
what’s that?
I want good
Thinking on
So if we really want to develop students ability to
think well, we must firstly be able to…
A Big Question is similar to an “Essential Question”
– a term used by Wiggins & McTighe
What is thinking?
Thinking is goal-directed mental activity
(conscious and subconscious) we do in order to
solve problems
Good Thinking requires a particular skill set and
related ‘habits of mind’ that need cultivation and
practice over time - but it is achievable and will
result in better learning – as I will
A Model of Thinking
& Contrast
Inference &
Generating Possibilities
Generating Possibilities
What do we do when we
generate possibilities?
• Generate many possibilities
• Generate different types of possibilities
• Generate novel possibilities
& Contrast
All creative products involve the
combining of old ideas or elements
in new ways
Inference &
Generating Possibilities
& Contrast
What do we do
when we analyse?
Inference &
Generating Possibilities
• Identify relationship of the parts to a whole in system /structure/model
• Identify functions of each part
• Identify consequences to the whole, if a part was missing
• Identify what collections of parts form important sub-systems of the whole
• Identify if and how certain parts have a synergetic effect
Comparison and Contrast
What do we do when we
compare and contrast?
& Contrast
Inference &
Generating Possibilities
• Identify what is similar between things objects/options/ideas, etc.
• Identify what is different between things
• Identify and consider what is important about both the
similarities and differences
• Identify a range of situations when the different features
are applicable
Inference and Interpretation
What do we do when we make inferences
and interpretations?
Identify intentions and assumptions in
& Contrast
Separate fact from opinion in data
Identify key points, connections, and
contradictions in data
Make meaning of the
data/information available
Establish a best picture to make
Inference &
Generating Possibilities
What do we do
when we evaluate?
Decide on what is to be
Identify appropriate criteria
from which evaluation can be
Prioritize the importance of the
Apply the criteria and make
& Contrast
Inference &
Generating Possibilities
What are we doing when we are metacognitive?
& Contrast
Inference &
Generating Possibilities
• Aware that we can think in an organized
manner (and the barriers to it)
• Actively thinking about the ways in which we
are thinking
• Monitoring and evaluating how effective we
are thinking (including how our emotions and
beliefs may be impacting the thinking process)
• Seeking to make more effective use of the
different ways of thinking as well as any useful
learning strategies, tools and resources
Metacognition plays a central role in learning by monitoring the quality of the
overall (and specific aspects) of the thinking process, our emotional
dispositions, as well as the choice and application of learning strategies and skills
It operates at both conscious
and sub/unconscious levels.
The Model of Thinking outlined here is most recently published in Chapter 2
Making Good Thinking Visible
“...teachers have to make their own intellectual processes (their performances)
visible. This means that the teacher-expert has to make visible to learners
the otherwise invisible processes of thinking that underlie complex cognitive
operations ...
Teachers have to articulate and demonstrate rather than assume the
thought processes they want students to learn”
(Sheppard et al, 2009, p.188)
Another Big Question - How do we do this?
Making Students Thinking Visible
“We need to make thinking visible because it provides us with the information
we as teachers need to plan opportunities that will take students’ learning
to the next level and enable continued engagement with the ideas being explored.
It is only when we understand what our students are thinking, feeling, and
attending to that we can use that knowledge to further engage and support them
in the process of understanding. Thus making students’ thinking visible becomes
an ongoing component of effective teaching”
(Ritchhart, Church & Morrison, 2011, p.27)
Another Big Question - How do we do this?
The Power of Questions
in Promoting Thinking
“Questions are the primary way we learn virtually everything”
“Thinking itself is nothing but the process of asking and
answering questions”
(Anthony Robbins, 2001, pp.179-8)
“All answers come out of the question. If we pay attention to
our questions, we increase the power of meaningful learning”
Ellen Langer
Remember, thinking is always thinking in relation to a
topic area
• Be clear about the key concepts and principles that you want
students to learn in a teaching session/segment
• Use questions to cue students thinking through the specific types
of thinking that will help them to connect subject knowledge and
build understanding
• Use an appropriate instructional strategy to fill in knowledge gaps
as the learning process unfolds – this will be iterative until
understanding is achieved
Example for YOU
Learning outcome:
Understand how major learning theories influence teaching practices
• Compare and contrast behaviourist and constructivist approaches
to learning:
– What is similar between these two theories/perspectives?
– What is different between them?
– What is significant about the similarities and differences in terms of how
students learn?
• Make inferences & interpretations from information on selected
learning theories:
How might this influence teaching approaches and practices?
What assumptions underpin these predictions?
What are possible impacts on student learning?
Which approaches/practices are most appropriate for the students you
teach and on what basis. What specific examples illustrate how this
• Select a topic area and a specific learning outcome(s) you intend
to teach:
– Identify the key concepts and principles that are fundamental to
understanding the structure of the topic area and meeting the specific
learning outcome(s)
• Identify the main types of thinking involved in building
understanding for the topic area and learning outcome(s)
– Analysis, comparison & contrast, inference and interpretation, evaluation,
generating possibilities, metacognition
• Produce a question sequence that will structure the learning
process for meeting the learning outcome(s)
– Note, you will need to identify appropriate instructional activities to
build knowledge gaps
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