Using Questions to Foster Thinking

"Education is more than filling a child with facts. It starts with posing questions." D.T. Max

Mrs. Boyer's Class

I have great enthusiasm for teaching. In my first grade classroom, I am committed to empowering my students so that they develop a life-long passion for learning and knowledge. Asking questions is an instructional strategy that lies at the heart of my teaching. By asking the right questions, I spark thought-provoking answers and engage my students in productive discussions. Rather than focusing solely on the facts, I try to ask probing and challenging questions to get them thinking—“Why is that? How did you get that answer?” These questions tap into cognitive thinking skills and encourage my students to analyze, synthesize and evaluate the information they have stored in their heads with new information they may have just learned! This method of posing questions, or “the Socratic method”, emerged from the great thinker Socrates, and has been used for more than 2000 years. Socratic questioning uses opened-ended questions to encourage my students to think about ideas, cause them to realize what is important, and prompt a range of responses. It is important to use effective questioning at all different levels of learning and with all subjects.

At DAA, our lessons enhance interactions and foster active student thinking by including Socratic discussions. When properly sequenced, instructional questions foster student involvement and the development of complex levels of thinking. Each level of thinking builds on the previous level. I use questions to elicit certain cognitive objectives and thinking skills. For example, in a math lesson, if students are adding 4 + 3 and a student tells me the answer is 7, I don't just say, “Yes, you are correct,” and move on. I ask, "How do you know?" If my student says, “Well, I counted my fingers” I then ask, “How did you count with your fingers?” and they show me. Then, I'll call on another student and ask, “How did you figure out the answer was 7?” That student will explain to me how he/she used the number line and demonstrate it to the class. Other times, I'll ask a student, “Why is 4 + 3 NOT 8?” and the student will think about why that answer isn't correct. Using probing questions, students get to see the strategies their peers are using. They listen actively and pick-up on a strategy that works for them. This engaged discussion forces my students to understand the process—critical thinking at its purest level—rather than simply reciting the facts, they understand how they solved the problem!

Another example of using questioning to help my students recognize their knowledge can be shown by a recent reading lesson. We are learning how you can gather information about a character by noticing the illustrations. I’ll ask, “How is this character feeling?” to which my students may reply, “happy or sad”.  My response will always include one of the following questions: “How do you know?” “ Can you tell me more?” “How you can look at the picture and know the character is happy?” If they suggest, “She is smiling or frowning, or crying,” I have them dig deeper—“Why is the character reacting that way?” This sequenced questioning fosters my students’ deeper understanding about what they are reading and allows them to draw connections.

Like Socrates, I believe that knowledge and awareness exist naturally in each learner. It is up to me to reach into my students’ hidden levels of knowing and realizing something in order to help them reach new levels of thinking.