The Role of Questioning in a World of Common Core

Question-Asking: Intentional and Powerful

When teachers carefully select and craft their questions, students respond with thinking, wondering, reflection and overall cognition – in other words, they really learn.  How do we further this important trajectory? We ask thought-provoking questions.  Even the syntax we use to structure a question with, influences how students will respond – favorably or non-favorably; with intellect or disassociation; with inquiry or at worst: a feeling of failure for lack of an answer.  But this isn’t how real questions work anymore. Real questions in the World of the Common Core seek responses that cause students to think, more than answer.

Questions That Lead Whole Class Discussion: Teacher Modeling

Teacher modeling is the use of strategies that show them how learning works, versus that it works.  When teachers model effective and thoughtful questions, they teach students to articulate their own questions while they read, write, and think to help them develop more inquiry; more questions.

Students take in information through their senses (Costa, 1991a In: Enrau, 2008), and they reconcile this information with what they already know in order to draw meaningful relationships.  It’s through this application and transfer of relationships that student leverage what they already know, with what they’ve learned or are about to learn.

Tips for Question-Asking (Unrau, 2008, p. 200):

  • Ask open-ended questions beginning with words like “why”, “how”, or “to what extent?” Use questions that lend themselves to multiple responses and points-of-view.
  • Examine the rationale behind student responses, for example: “What in the text caused you to think that?”
  • Scaffold questions to lead students to their own conclusions and answers.
  • Practice adequate wait time, allowing students to reflect and generate thoughtful responses to questions.
  • Allow students time to practice asking and answering questions among peers without the teacher mediating exchanges.  Ask students to turn to a partner to discuss periodically.
  • Engage all students equally in discussion to increase and equalize participation.  Offer participation points as an incentive.

Opening the Conversation

Scherff & Rush (2013), in Opening the Conversation (editorial) analyzed discussions about the Common Core Standards compiled from a number of academic, public and social networking sites. They focused specifically on literacy educators as agents or “sponsors” of literacy in the distribution of literacy education without regard to race, gender, and ethnicity.  In other words, they saw them as agents charged with disseminating information equitably among all stakeholders. They viewed the Common Core Standards at first with great skeptical inquiry, wondering where the “critical stance” would be placed, to what group, and to what inequitable end.  They also wanted to know what role the CCSS would play in supporting the work of literacy educators overall.  They feared that much of the standard effort might give way to a further suppression of effective literacy practice, with critical literacy and creativity taking a back seat among them.

Skepticism quickly gave way to encouragement, particularly at how easily they found that traditional literacy tasks that invoked higher-order thinking and questioning worked seamlessly within the Common Core. Examples: QAR or question-answer-detail (Raphael, 1982, 1986), self-questioning strategies (Buehl, 2011), Four Resources (Freebody & Luke), 1990) and Reading Level Inventories (Hillocks, 1980).  In all, they aligned to nine of the ELA anchor standards.

Highly Effective Questioning Approaches

QAR Question-Answer Relationships (Raphael, 1982, 1986) teach students that some answers are “right there” in the text, some are “in my head” to be thought through and sought out without as much reliance on the text.  Students monitor their thinking to determine what strategy to use to find an answer, report what strategy they used, and work intentionally to apply them as needed.  This questioning approach empowers students as readers and builds their capacity as test-takers.

Self-Questioning (Buehl, 2011) is a method students use to incorporate and assimilate independent thinking using questioning by creating questions and applying independent strategy to answer them.

Reading Level Inventories (Hillocks, 1980) state relationships among ideas; students examine and respond to implied relationships, complex relationships, author’s generalization structural relationships.

In critical Literacy students disrupt the commonplace; they question text, identify bias, evaluate and respond to information from multiple viewpoints.

Four Resources (Freebody & Luke, 1990) allows readers to take on text roles to develop literacy competencies in a postmodern approach. As code-breakers they develop coding competence; as meaning-makers semantic competence; as text-users they develop pragmatic competence; as text critics they develop critical competence.

The Questioning the Author technique, or QtA, is another way to bridge expository and narrative text while keeping students thinking on their feet.  QtA was developed by Beck et al. (1997) to aid in the thoughtful construction of text response. This approach has proven to be highly successful in promoting student engagement, and in facilitating thoughtful peer-to-peer interactions that further more questions, comments and deep discussion – all initiated by the teacher, with follow-through by students.  The goal is to build the capacity for independent meaning construction.

In Math Socratic Seminars, teachers help students discover ideas through skilled questioning and guided conversations – just like Socrates did.  Math Socratic seminars (Tanner & Casados, 1998) help students understand new, complex concepts while building their capacity to think and problem-solve independently.  These seminars are also an engaging way to motivate students to discuss, debate, further an opinion and develop persuasive technique as they engage in a mathematical discourse that moves from text to problem-solving, answering, and ultimately trial-and-error learning.

This is how a Mathematical Socratic Seminar works:  The teacher selects an alternative text to support the concept taught, along with key vocabulary, concepts and strategies to be followed-up with.  A set of questions facilitates the process initially.  Questions like: What applications can you see for…? What new ideas did you see in…? What are the steps the author recommends? Metacognitive questions include: How were the strategies useful? When might they be used, or for what situation? What was confusing? How did you resolve the confusion? Desks are arranged in a large circle in Socratic seminars.  A smaller circle inside creates a “fishbowl” effect.  The teacher initiates discussion using questions to guide students.  The aim is to reconstruct the author’s intended message to help students construct their own meaning for math task completion. At the end of the seminar, students discuss understanding, reasons for understanding, and multiple interpretations for meaning negotiation.  Debriefing questions sound like, “Did all inner-circle students participate? Was the discussion clear? How did the discussion contribute to your understanding?

Say/Mean/Matter is a carefully scaffolded questioning sequence (Gallagher, 2004).  Literal questions like What does it say? Bring students to a literal understanding, allowing them to formulate the gist of what something means before advancing to the more higher-order. From there they move to: What does it mean? a higher level of comprehension and interpretation.  Why does it matter? for reflection, relating, and evaluating.

All this, to end up at a Common Core Crossroads of language mastery, multiple text types interpretation, deep meaning, close reading, and text complexity as students read, write, speak and listen their way to mastery through questioning.

This article was compiled with permission from content in course No. 181: Common Core Questioning Strategies,

Gallagher, K. (2004). Deeper Reading. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Olson, C. B. (2011). The reading/writing connection: Strategies for teaching and learning in the secondary classroom (3rd ed.).Boston, MA: Pearson.

Scherff, L. and Rush, L. S. Opening the Conversation: The Common Core and Effective Literacy. English Education, V45 N2. January 20, 2013.

Unrau, N. (2008). Content area reading and writing: Fostering Literacies in middle and high school cultures (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merill Prentice Hall.

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7 Responses to The Role of Questioning in a World of Common Core

  1. Judy says:

    Excellent article. The other important thing that questioning teaches students is not just how to answer and think, but how to generate questions themselves.

    • Thank you, Judy. There is a HUGE body of evidence out there that attests to improved performance when students use higher-order questions that come from them. I can personally attest to how engaging it is when they challenge one another by fielding questions using Socratic seminars. Very empowering; it builds their capacity to apply critical logic, think on their feet and yes – generate questions independently.

  2. Nancy Boyles says:

    This post on questioning makes several good points, but misses the central need for questions to be aligned to the STANDARDS. We can’t forget that everything about the Common Core must ultimately revolve around the achievement of the standards themselves.I spend a lot of time with teachers showing them how basic evidence questions (CCR Reading standard 1) must lead to follow-up questions that take students deeper into the text–which will at the same time move them toward inquiry into text complexities matched to other important CCR Reading standards.

    • Ahhh, but when students respond with questions and to questions – deep questions, not surface ones – they are forced deep into the text for close reads. This is alignment in the purest, most authentic sense. Thanks for your response!

  3. Mark Condon says:

    Ultimately we want the questions to be coming from the ones who are learning, not have them solely come from the ones who are “forcing” children deep into material…material that the kids may or may not care to inquire about themselves. If all this questioning by teachers is rolled over early and often, then by the time kids get to second grade, teachers should be ready to jump in for a teachable moment, but otherwise able to watch in awe as the little guys take over the discussion and in so doing take it to the fully authentic depths of appreciative young minds.

  4. I of course, could not agree more – here, here, Mark! Thanks for responding.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Even the new ATT commercials are using this concept with the little ones, and it’s precious!

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