During my Greenstone speech I introduced the Question Formulation Technique, created by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana from the Right Question Institute. This is a 30 minute exercise for children to help them produce, improve, and prioritize their questions within any class. It can be used at the beginning of any unit, project, experiment, even our daily lives.
I explained that I used this formula during my workshop sessions with middle school students where I introduced my Greenstone topic, and informed students about the importance of their own questions.
Due to a time limit, I could not go into the description of what the QFT looked like in my my speech, so I decided to write a short blog post that sums it up:
The Question Formulation Technique starts by putting students into groups of 4-5, you then introduce the rules to the exercise, these are:
– Ask as many questions as you can
– Do not stop to judge discuss or answer any question
– Write down every question exactly as it is stated
– Change any statement into a question.
I then hold a discussion where we talk about whether students find the rules to the exercise easy or difficult- note this is an example of the metacognitive thinking I spoke about in my Greenstone.
The next stage of the QFT is to introduce the Question Focus (QFocus). This is a short statement that provokes thought, it can be anything, it is supposed to be something that is related to the unit or project you are starting. The QFocus I chose for the workshop was: A good question is more important than a good answer. Once you show the Focus, you tell the groups of students to fire away, to ask as many questions as they can pertaining to the focus, minding the rules- an example of divergent thinking.
Once the students have written down their questions, you teach students the difference between close and open ended questions. In short, a close-ended question can be answered “yes” or “no,” (“Is this going to be on the test?”) and an open-ended question required more of an explanation (“What will be on the test?”). Students then go on to define each of the questions they created, marking them closed or open ended. When they are done we discuss the pros and cons to each kind of question. For instance, close-ended questions can be useful when you need a short answer, but on the other hand they limit the information you receive. After that step, I have the students change one close ended question to an open and one, and vice versa- an example of convergent thinking. The most important part of this is to have the students notice the value each kind of question, realize that there are times when one is more helpful than another, and finally become conscious that the way you phrase a question changes the information you can expect to receive.
When this is done I tell the students to prioritize their questions, I told them to prioritize by choosing what they thought were the 3 most important questions, but you can really do anything. The lesson then comes to a close when we share the question we chose, and do a little reflection.
I am very excited that the Question Formulation Technique will be used as the basis for Green School’s middle school thematic units starting next year. This exercise is the perfect way to incorporate teaching good questions in any standard classroom setting.
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