This is a flexible activity that can be used to help students to more effectively learn about any text or topic. It leads students through a set of steps through which they ask, improve, and prioritize their questions, and then plan next steps. This activity fosters self-directed learning and metacognition.
Identify a target text or topic, and consider the types of information that are most critical for students to learn about this text or topic, and the types of questions that will lead students towards this information. This activity can be used to enhance learning for any text or topic, and is useful both before initially engaging in the text or topic, and after reading and studying for a while. Create a “Question Focus,” or “QFocus.” This is a statement or image that is designed to stimulate thought and curiosity about the core ideas of the text or topic. The QFocus is not a question itself, but a focus through which students can generate and explore a wide range of ideas on their own.
- Teacher reviews steps of the QFT, modeling each step with an abbreviated set of questions.
When this activity is first introduced students will need at least a class or two with extended modeling and scaffolding for them to gain facility in this strategy. They may benefit from initially completing the activity as a whole group. After this initial instruction students should be able to participate with a relatively brief review.
- Question Focus: The teacher presents the QFocus to the students.
Depending on the format of the QFocus, it may make sense to display it on the board or a projector, or to distribute a copy to each student.
- Produce Questions: Teacher reminds students of the four rules of this step. Alone or in pairs or groups, students brainstorm a list of questions that arise from the QFocus, and record the questions without any filter or judgment.
Teach students these four rules about this stage of the QFT: 1. Ask as many questions as you can. 2. Don’t stop to judge, discuss, or answer questions. 3. Write down every question exactly as stated. 4. Change any statements into questions. Some students are better able to brainstorm when they have a scribe. Students can take turns acting as scribes in their groups, or students may use speech-to-text software if available and appropriate. This step is meant to be completed without assistance from the teacher, but you could circulate to clarify the process (not content), or just to listen to students. You could also use this time to model the task, completing it yourself.
- Improve Questions: Teacher introduces or reviews the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions, presenting a definition of each question type. Students categorize each question as either closed-ended (C) or open-ended (O).
Students can categorize questions by sorting them into two columns or piles. The sorting process is easier if the questions are either typed or written on individual index cards, but students can also rewrite them into categories. Students can also sort by writing either an “O” or “C” next to each question, or using color-coded highlighters.
- Teacher leads students in a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each question type.
This step can be abbreviated or modified if the students have completed this activity multiple times before. In the discussion, consider the type, depth, quantity, and quality of information that each type of question is likely to evoke.
- Students change at least one open-ended question into a closed-ended question, and vice versa, and are invited to change more if doing so will improve the depth, quality, or quantity of information they will obtain through answering the question.
Help students to consider which types of information are most useful to them, and when each question type may be most appropriate.
- Prioritize Questions: The teacher offers criteria or guidelines for the selection of high-priority questions. Students select approximately three top-priority questions.
The criteria or guidelines you offer should be based on your curricular and learning goals. At the beginning of a research project, you might ask students to prioritize the questions that they most want to explore further. While planning a science experiment, you might ask students to prioritize the most interesting and testable hypotheses.
- Plan Next Steps: Teacher and students work together to decide how to use their top-priority questions most effectively.
There are many possible formats for this step. You could lead a whole-class discussion, have individual conferences, or ask students to consider the question in a do-now or journal entry. The goal is to arrive at a mutual decision about how these questions can be used most effectively to further learning: As topics for a research project? As topics for a Socratic seminar? As questions to answer through designing experiments?
- Reflect on Learning: The teacher reviews the steps of the QFT and asks students to think about their learning process. Students reflect on their learning process, considering how the QFT can contribute to their thinking and learning.
Students may reflect individually or in groups, in writing or orally. They should respond to questions such as: · How did each step of the QFT affect your thinking? How did it affect your learning? · How is learning through the QFT different from learning through answering a teacher’s questions? · In what other context might this strategy be useful?