122: Characteristics of Quality Questions





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  1. Quality questions promote 1 or more carefully defined instructional purposes
    • When teachers are very deliberate and clear about the purposes of their questions, they can better assess student performance.
    • When students are aware of the purposes of questions, they can better monitor and modify their responses.
    • Two types of question styles
      1. Recitation:
        • teacher involved in each exchange
        • students tend to answer in short factual answers
        • usually low-level questions involving recall
        • Purposes:
          • review for test
          • check for completion of assignments
          • assess what students know about topics
          • cue students to important content
          • drill and practice
          • get students to talk
          • model good questioning
      2. Discussion:
        • typically more rare
        • teacher acts as facilitator who ensures full participation for all
        • students don’t wait for teacher’s permission to speak
        • students engage in dialogue with one another
        • students make own evaluations
        • teacher poses 1-2 provocative, open questions that start a discussion
        • Purposes:
          • student practice thinking aloud
          • encourage listening and sharing different perspectives
          • improve listening skills
          • students work out own understanding of a topic
  2. Quality questions focus on important content
    • Frameworks can help prioritize content:
      • Wiggins & Tighe Schema:
        • divide up content into 3 areas:
          • primary – big ideas, enduring understandings
          • secondary – important skills to know and do
          • tertiary – worth being familiar with
        • Good questions:
          • relate to a big idea worthy of discussion
          • aligned to standards
          • tie to needs and interests of students
      • Christenbury & Kelly Framework:
        • Model is a Venn diagram of 3 knowledge domains:
          • content knowledge
          • student prior knowledge
          • outside knowledge
        • Use questions that form a variety of 3 types:
          • Single domain questions deal with one domain
          • Overlap questions deal with 2 domains
          • Dense questions deal with 3 domains
  3. Quality questions facilitate thinking at a stipulated cognitive level
    • questions are tools for information seeking AND information processing
    • when formulating questions, need to communicate to students the types of thinking needed to generate appropriate responses
    • Bloom’s Taxonomy:
      • New 2-D Schema:
        • Cognitive Process Dimension
          • Remember
            • recognize, identify, recall
            • lower level, but essential – students need to be able to retrieve info from memory before they can use it
          •  Understand
            • interpret, exemplify, classify, summarize, infer, compare, explain
            • connect new knowledge to prior knowledge
            • beyond remembering – must involve information not included in initial instruction of content
          •  Apply
            • execute – apply procedure to familiar task
            • implement – apply procedure to unfamiliar task
          •  Analyze
            • differentiate, analyze, attribute
            • examples:
              • separate fact from fiction
              • back conclusions with evidence
              • separate relevant and extraneous info
              • identify unstated assumptions
              • identify primary and secondary themes
          •  Evaluate
            • check – looking for internal consistency
            • critique – comparing things to external criteria
          •  Create
            • generate, plan, produce
            • draw upon many elements and integrate them into a novel structure relative to one’s prior knowledg
        • Question Planning Tool related to 6 Cognitive Level – Q-Card
        • Knowledge Dimension
          • Factual knowledge – knowledge of discrete packets of info
          • Conceptual knowledge – knowledge of more complex bodies of info
          • Procedural knowledge – knowledge of skills
          • Metacognitive knowledge – knowledge of one’s own cognition and about cognition in general
      • Marzano’s Taxonomy
        • Recitation questions
          • retrieve previously learned info
        • Construction questions
          • construct new knowledge not previously learned
      • Gallagher & Aschner’s Taxonomy
        • Recall
          • Remember level in Bloom’s
        • Convergent
          • lead to one correct response
        • Divergent
          • allow for several correct responses
      • Reading Teacher’s Taxonomy
        • Reading the lines
          • answer is right there in the text
        • Reading in between the lines
          • think about what text is saying
        • Reading beyond the lines
          • bring own perspectives to the text
      • Walsh & Satte’s Taxonomy
        • Recall
          • Remember level of Bloom’s
          • recall what was learned
        • Use
          • Understand, Apply, Analyze levels of Bloom’s
          • use what was learned
        • Create
          • Create and Evaluate levels of Bloom’s
          • use imagination to go beyond what was learned
    • Choosing a taxonomy
      • select one that is age appropriate, aligns to content, etc
      • recommend school wide use of the same framework
    • Caveats
      • Actual cognitive level of response is dependent on context and student’s prior knowledge
      • On average – 50% of student responses do not match the cognitive level of question
        • teach students the cognitive levels to help them perform at the right level
        • follow-up incorrect responses with probing questions
      • Most textbook questions are at lowest level because textbook organizes info in such a way (compared to primary sources) that answers to questions can be found in book (recall)
      • False assumption = lower level students can’t answer high cognitive level questions
        • all levels of students can answer high cognitive level questions with the right scaffolding
  4. Good questions communicate clearly what is being asked. 
    • Be clear and concise
    • Use student friendly language
    • Sound right when spoken aloud
  5. Good questions are seldom asked by chance
    • Crafting good questions can be time consuming
    • It only takes a handful of good  pivotal questions to drive a lesson


Knowing the characteristics and frameworks that support quality question design can help teachers plan and implement questions that create an engaging culture of inquiry that supports students actively processing new and old knowledge at deeper levels.


Preparation Steps
  • Create a laminated quality question framework map.  Example: could be a matrix with
    • columns being Bloom’s Cognitive levels and
    • rows could be Bloom’s Knowledge dimensions or rows for 3 standards
    • grids squares are large enough to hole small post-its and contain notes and examples
  • Analyze standards in upcoming project and determine
    • enduring understandings, skils, good-to-knows
    • academic and character (long term & supporting) learning targets
  • On placement – circle the most useful types of questions
  • Use post-its to brainstorm high quality questions that fit with circled questions
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use completed quality question map to ask students questions that get them to actively process key information.
  • Use methods for calling on students that provide opportunities for ALL students to participate
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students the types of thinking in your questioning framework – teach them the question types and responses that go with each type of thinking
  • Model for students how to classify the question type and model how to think aloud in the correct cognitive level. Then give them time to process the question with that lens of thinking before calling on them
  • Continue modeling question classifying and processing (using think aloud) until students are able to this independently



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