Kendall Carter reflects upon asking good questions of young learners
Posted on 03 April 2011
In the latter portion of her practicum, I asked Kendall to reflect on the value of moving beyond traditional teaching models in an early childhood setting – something I have been trying to do for over a decade. I asked Kendall to read some relevant resources. Below, are Miss. Carter’s critical responses to two questions I asked her to consider.
- What is challenging about asking good quality questions of young children
“In the book Asking Better Questions, Norah Morgan and Juliana Saxton (1994) suggest that effective teaching is dependent on the ability of teachers to ask quality questions. The authors state that teachers must be aware of the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains when teaching and when questioning. For the cognitive domains, the authors value Bloom’s taxonomy as a formal questioning approach. This approach is quite familiar to me, but I early in my practicum, I questioned how to make the higher levels of this approach relevant and appropriate for the kindergarten age group. Although I recognize the necessity of higher-order questions (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), I am unsure how to phrase these in a developmentally appropriate way. As suggested by Piaget, these children are in the pre-operational phase of development where they are unable to take the viewpoint of others. This egocentrism could limit some of the questions that I would be inclined to ask for these higher-order questions. The lower-order questions come very naturally to me as I have begun to analyze my own teaching. I am finding it more difficult to intentionally ask higher-order questions.
Morgan and Saxton suggested that it is not enough to simply question based on knowledge; the authors also suggested that teachers must be in consideration of students’ feelings if they are to ask better questions. I have not been exposed to this taxonomy before and thus I have many questions about this taxonomy. The first level of the Taxonomy of Personal Engagement is interest. This interest and curiosity about the material is so important for students to learn, especially at a young age. I believe that inquiry allows the students to be curious and interact with the material as suggested by this level of the Taxonomy of Personal Engagement. I see the interest of young children as something that is very important. The second level of this taxonomy is engagement which the authors described as “wanting to be, and being involved in the task” (Morgan & Saxton, 1994, p. 19). Again, I see this as something that is easy to judge and something that is important in learning for young children. The third level of this taxonomy is commitment, or being responsible for the task. This personal feeling of responsibility for the task or learning I believe is important for learning, although it is at this point in the taxonomy where I begin to have difficulties. Personally I struggle to see this level of personal engagement in children. Having never personally seen this taxonomy in place, I think that one would have to intentionally create opportunities to be able to see who is and who is not feeling responsible for the task. I also struggle with understanding how one would incorporate and provoke these feelings in children through questioning. The last three levels of the Taxonomy of Personal Engagement are: internalizing, or the ownership of new ideas; interpreting, or communicating the new understanding to others; and evaluating, or putting the new understanding or knowledge to the test. For all of these levels I am struggling to understand how to implement these levels into questions and how to read which students are engaging at which level. Finally, I wonder whether or not all of these levels of personal engagement are appropriate to expect from kindergarten students, specifically understanding.
Although I strongly believe that it is important to ask good questions, I also find it quite challenging. Through the first week of my practicum while I met with students in small groups, I found it difficult to ask questions while provoked conversation. As I began to explore the multiplicity of roles for the teacher as suggested by the Reggio approach, I began to ask questions to which I did not know the answer which seemed to provoke discussion among the children. It was at this point that I discovered that I was no longer asking lower-order questions. I find it challenging to incorporate and become aware of the affective environment when questioning as this is not the classroom environment that I grew up in, but I recognize how important it is to be aware of the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains.
- Why is it essential to ask good questions during an inquiry project?
“Morgan and Saxton (1994) stated that characteristics of good questions include: demonstration of curiosity, the intent must be supported by vocal intonation and non-verbal communication, encourages reflection, challenges thinking, and has reason, focus and clarity. Based on these and other characteristics provided by the authors, I believe that questions are essential to inquiry. The teacher’s curiosity communicated through good questions often excites students and ignites their own curiosity creating the personal engagement previously discussed. Inquiry should be student lead. How is a teacher going to know how to direct the study if the students are not involved in discussion about the topic? Students’ ideas and questions often bubble up from questions from the teacher that challenge previous thinking or encourage reflection. Morgan and Saxton also suggested that a good question “can provide surprise. Students will sometimes respond to a good question by taking about things that neither they nor the teacher were aware they knew” (1994, p. 79). How are these surprises supposed to bubble up if the teacher is not engaging students through questioning? The Reggio approach to teaching suggested that teachers take on a multiplicity of roles: nurturer, co-learner, and the memory for the children among other roles. Acting in these roles requires questioning as it allows students to recall and learn through applying previously held knowledge to the current topic of study. This was seen in Mrs. Gerst’s classroom through one student suggesting that butterflies might use echolocation, previously explored in the bat and bird study, to find their way to Pismo Beach in their yearly migration.
Morgan and Saxton (1994) emphasize the need for quality thinking time. This concept was something that we have explored in our classes as a form of universal design for learning. Cognitive processing time allows students who process at a slower speed to come up with an answer, allows students who struggle with impulsivity to practice slowing down, allows faster processers to consider the question from other perspectives, and gives a chance for those who are quieter to prepare to speak to the class. The authors suggested that teachers ask too many questions and do not give enough thinking time (Morgan & Saxton, 1994). This limits creativity and deep thinking for students. The authors suggest that, at the rate that most teachers ask questions, most questions that are asked are lower order recall type questions (Morgan & Saxton, 1994). These trends do not lend themselves to deep and meaningful inquiry. On the other hand, allowing for students to process and giving all students a chance to answer allows for broader and deeper answers” Kendall Carter