Friday, March 31, 2017

Knowledge of Questioning Strategies Promotes a Classroom That Embraces Higher Order Thinking

An engaged classroom promotes vibrant discussions and active interactions.  This setting promotes higher order thinking skills (HOTS).  The foundation for this environment is the teacher’s ability to plan and implement effective questions that lead not only to answers but to more questions. Questions can be classified by:
                                                        I.            Convergent and divergent,
                                                     II.            Effects of questions upon people,
                                                  III.            Bloom’s taxonomy,
                                                  IV.            Types of questions (Lehnert (1978), and
                                                    V.            According to the purpose of the question.
I.                 I. Convergent and divergent questions:
In theory the perfect convergent (closed-ended) question would have only one answer and the perfect divergent (open-ended) questions would have infinite answers.  However, most question will fall on a continuum between having more than one answer and a finite limit.  In most situations the better question is probably the one that will provide the most answers. For example: if I start a lesson on trees by making an overhead statement to involve the students in a visualization activity I could make the following statements: Close your eyes and imagine a silver maple tree or close your eyes and imagine a tree.  The first statement would probably have few students with mental images of a silver maple tree, but the second would probably have all students with mental images of a tree.  If I were to have them describe their tree, the information would suggest the range of understanding of trees the students have.  Open-ended or divergent questions can be used to encourage greater involvement and provide a more accurate assessment than closed-ended or convergent questions.
Convergent questions (closed) have direct answers (What is 2 + 2?). They are generally used to focus on something. For example:
  • What is your name?
  • What is in that container? 
  • What are you doing? 
  • What is three groups of four? 
  • What kind of animal has six legs?
  • What is the last book you read?

Divergent questions (open-ended) have indirect answers (How can we use this battery?).  They are generally used to try and encourage a number of answers and lead to critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving. For example:
  • What does the name Miranda make you think about? 
  • What could you put in the container? 
  • What else could you be doing? 
  • What different representations can be made for three groups of four? 
  • If we go outside and find an animal with six legs, what will it look like? 
  • How were the last two books you read different?

II.               II.  Effects a question has on the person answering the question.
Cognitive opportunity to gain information or understanding
Affective or emotional cost or benefits related to the question and attempts to answer it.
Focusing attention or expanding attention or distracting the students' attention.
Stimulating more questions or answers: A convergent question is less stimulating than a divergent question because divergent questions have many answers.
Difficulty related to the complexity of the question’s syntax, sophistication of information needed to answer the question, the difficulty of the process needed to answer it, students’ interest, and ability.
Motivation related to the need of the question to be answered by the individual. Is it their question?  Are they curious?  What is the duration of curiosity?  Curiosity increases when the individual believes they can find a solution, should know a solution, need to know a solution, and want to know a solution.
Ability of the student to process the question:  Variables which affect this are the student’s ability, interest, developmental level, background, resources available, time, and community mores.  If a question can’t be answered should it be asked?

III.              I I I. Bloom’s taxonomy:
Can be used to classify the type of question as to the level of cognition that is required to arrive at an answer (see handout) and the affective response the person may have as a result of it.  Bloom’s taxonomy can be used to guide an inductive and deductive investigation.  If students start with questions from the knowledge level, answer those questions, then ask questions from the comprehension level, answer those, and continue up the hierarchy to evaluation that would be an inductive inquiry.  Conversely if they start with an evaluation question, answer it, then ask a synthesis question, answer it, and proceed down the hierarchy it would be a deductive inquiry.  This does not mean that the hierarchy needs to be moved along in a linear fashion.  It could be used to evaluate a series of questions to see if other questions could be formulated to provide a more detailed analysis of a topic.

Knowledge questions.
  • Where are the major fishing grounds?
  • What is the quantity of fish caught?
  • Where are the major whales?
  • What do the major whales eat?

Comprehension questions.
  • What are some reasons why fish are plentiful in these regions?
  • What relationship is there to fish and whales?

Application questions.
  • If you went fishing where would you fish?
  • If you were a whale where would you fish?

Analysis questions.
  • What are the characteristics of a good fishing place?
  • What are the environmental factors for whale survival?
  • What trends are there in fish populations?
  • What trends are there in whale populations?

Synthesis questions.
  • What needs to be done to maintain the fish population?
  • What needs to be done to maintain the whale population?

Evaluation questions. Simple evaluation questions which can be answered with a yes or no need to have follow-up questions which ask the student to give reasons for their decision or consequences of the decision.  As students begin to write reasons and list consequences new questions at different levels will arise and need to be answered.  For example many students would think that all whaling should be stopped.  However, they may ask the question, "Who is whaling?" (comprehension).  The answer of Japan, Eskimo cultures, and Norwegian cities will lead to higher level questions and probably to an evaluation of should any or all of these continue?
  • Should something be done to maintain the fish population?
  • Should something be done to maintain the whale population?

IV. Types of questions have been classified by Lehnert (1978) according to the first word of the question.
A. Questions beginning with what, when, where, why, who, and which.  Most of the time these questions are divergent (open-ended).
     1. “What questions” ask for a determination of cause, judgment, and properties.  What caused something to happen (antecedent)?  What did something cause to happen (consequence)?  What enabled something to happen?  What opinion does a person have for an action (judge)?  What are the properties of an object or concept?
     2. “Why questions” ask for goals, expectations, and requests.  Why did you do that?  Why don’t you do this?
     3. “Where questions” ask for location or process.  Where is it?  Where would you begin to solve it?
     4. “Which questions” ask for identification of a person, place, event, or object.
     5. “When questions” ask for time of an event or process.  When was he born?  When do you capitalize nouns?
     6. “Who questions” ask to identify a person or group of people.  Who was the first person on the moon?  Who should be elected for class president.
B. Questions beginning with how and have.
     1. “How questions” ask for a procedure and quantity.  How would you solve this problem?  How much do you have?
     2. “Have questions” ask for yes and no responses.
C. “I questions” begin with 'is'.  They ask for verification, permission, and clarification.  Is this the answer?  Is it all right for me to go?  Is this the way to solve the problem?

V. According to the purpose of the question.
Categories such as:

  •        Factual questions: Used to get information.  Usually started with what, where, when, why, who, and how.
  •         Explanatory questions: Used to get reasons, explanations, broaden discussion, get additional information.  Such as: What other aspects are related to this issue?  Should you consider...?
  •         Justifying / Probing questions: Used to challenge old ideas, develop new ideas, and to get reasoning, and proof.  Such as: Why do you think so?  How do you know?
  •         Leading questions: to introduce new ideas, and advance ideas. Such as: Should we consider this?
  •      Hypothetical questions: Used to infer what if, and if this, then what?
  •      Decisional questions: Used to make decisions between alternatives, to get agreement, and to move the discussion along or close it.
An effective classroom that exhibits cooperative learning, high expectations, and utilization of higher order thinking skills (HOTS) does not occur by happenstance.  Effective classrooms plan for success.  A foundation of planning for academic success is having awareness of question approaches and willingness to implement diverse questioning strategies. Ideally, this article increased awareness, elevated knowledge, and promoted willingness to plan for increased academic success!   

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (March 31, 2017) Knowledge of questioning strategies promotes a classroom that embraces 
                higher order thinking[Web log post]  Retrieved from

Sweetland R, (n.d.) Ways to classify questions. Retrieved from
       Revised by Anderson (2012)