Question-Asking: A few experiences

People will tell you that you have to know math to be a scientist, or physics or chemistry. They’re wrong…Sure, it helps, but there will be a time for that. What comes first is a question, and you are already there. It’s not nearly as involved as people make it out to be. -- Hope Jahren, “Lab Girl”

 I am a question-asker. All you have to do is ask family members about my “warm and friendly” ways of asking them questions and my shock, at times, about their answers.

Those I have worked with over the years will tell you the same thing. Last month, while lunching with two colleagues, they both recalled my habit of saying, "Look, don’t just bring me the problems and questions. Also bring me some answers and solutions.”                                                                                                                                          

I have three opinions about question asking. One I call the “ownership” -- what you ask, you own. The second is the “knowledge expansion” -- the more you know, the better the questions; the better the questions, the more you will learn about something (including behavior and emotions). The third is my “partnership opinion” -- the more you engage others in asking questions and seeking solutions, the better the results; team questions lead to varying viewpoints and wide-ranging responses.                   

One of the strategies I have taught is called: “Give It Five.” When you have a problem, an issue, a dilemma, a crisis, a conflict or something that requires analysis -- lay your hand on it and GIF!

I used this strategy when I was a teacher and principal. When a conflict or some other issue occurred between or among students, I would sit them down (now called a “time-out”) and ask them to GIF. I did this by having the involved students write about it and share what they wrote. This improved their thinking and writing skills.        

Many times, I suggested that they talk to one another (no cell phones or texting opportunities in those days.) They had to look at one another eye-to-eye and discuss the incident in a kind and respectful way to promote character development, using the fingers on one of their hands to guide the conversation of a GIF sheet I gave each of them.

  • What happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen?
  • Who was involved? Why did it happen?
  • The palm: How? How are we/you going to solve this problem so that it doesn’t happen again?

I think you can see in this and similar strategies that the  exercise helps students develop their empathic and social skills -- active listening, compromise and self-control -- as they deal with everyday life in and out of school.

I used GIF many times as a social studies (i.e., civics, current events, citizenship) teacher. To keep my students interested, motivated and informed, my textbook was the daily newspaper. I liked using newspapers so much, I wrote a book about it:  “Project Update: The Newspaper in the Elementary and Junior High School Classroom.”

Generally, we would find articles, editorials, feature stories and “give them five.” After discussion, students would, in their own words, write a summary using the 5 W’s and the H -- Who? What? When? Where? Why? And how?

One more strategy involves using the “hand” for teaching your students the character trait of caring. Give each student a handout with a copy of a hand on it. Or give them a blank sheet of paper and have them trace their own hand. Ask them: Think of five ways you could be more helpful to one another. Write out one suggestion on each finger of the hand on your paper using no more than two to three words per finger. Next, draw a symbol that is an example of caring on the palm of the hand.  Have the students share their work and discuss their symbols. Create a bulletin board labeled CARING HANDS.

I need to make a comment here so that you will understand and appreciate that there is much more to questions asking then I have written about in this blog.  You have heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy and his work on levels of questions: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Anthony D. Fredericks writes:

The six levels of questions are appropriate for all grade levels…Perhaps most important, students tend to read and think based on the types of questions they anticipate receiving from the teacher. In other words, students will tend to approach any subject as a knowledge-based subject if they are presented with an overabundance of knowledge-level questions throughout a lesson. On the other hand, students will tend to approach a topic at higher levels of thinking if they are presented with an abundance of questions at higher levels of thinking. 

-- Anthony D. Fredericks, “The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher”

Ed DeRoche is a former teacher, administrator, school board member and dean. He has written several books and articles on character education. Currently he is the director of the Character Education Resource Center at the University of San Diego and teaches in-class and online courses on instructional strategies, curriculum and programs, and character-based classroom management.

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