Oxford High School (OHS) has an enrollment of 1223 students grades 9-12. OHS students are 60% white, 27% Black, 12% Hispanic, 1% Asian. Half of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
In Fall 2019, OHS teachers began a district-wide learning journey focused on classroom questioning. Using Walsh and Sattes’ Quality Questioning, 2nd Edition, as a guide, we undertook job-embedded learning and planning situated in collaborative team meetings. The focus was on new questioning practices and corresponding roles and responsibilities for both students and teachers.
In recent years, our schoolwide focus at OHS has been on making three fundamental shifts: from an emphasis on what is being taught to what is being learned; from awareness of effective teaching practices to actions that change practice; and from student compliance to ownership of learning. To promote these, we had adopted student-engaged assessment practices (Berger); focused on powerful task design (Antonetti & Stice); developed and used proficiency scales; and engaged in collaborative planning using DuFour’s PLC model.
Planning and working to implement these new practices was overwhelming for teachers. Time was the ever-present barrier. What was needed was a framework that connects all initiatives and enables higher quality and more efficient work. Quality Questioning is serving as a powerful connector and multiplier to help our faculty relate the different initiatives and move to implement them in a more intentional and consistent manner.
Quality questioning practices express themselves in daily lesson design, student engagement strategies, and expectations for student ownership.
Quality Questioning Multiplier = Effective Lesson Design
Quality questioning multiplies our efforts by connecting DuFour’s 4 PLC questions to lesson design.
The formulation of 2-4 quality questions engages teachers in dialogue that begins with daily learning targets (DLTs). These make clear shared expectations for student learning in which questions can be anchored.
Strategic selection of response structures promotes responding by all students during class. Planning for the use of think times contributes to more intentional and routine use of pauses that afford all the opportunity to use questions to connect with current understandings.
Anticipation of student responses and generation of possible follow-up questions ready teachers to react to all answers—incorrect and correct—and scaffold each learner to more correct and complete understandings.
|PLC Question||QQ Practice|
1. What do we expect our students to learn?
|Prioritize and unpack standards
Formulate learning targets
Prepare quality questions
|2. How will we know they are learning?||Select and use response structures that engage all
Provide think time 1 and think time 2 to allow time for processing and recalling
Use follow-up questions to get behind student thinking
3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
|Use student responses as feedback to determine next steps in learning
Pose follow-up questions to get behind and scaffold student thinking
Provide feedback to assist them in identifying and correcting errors
4. How will we respond if they already know it?
|Pose follow-up questions to take their learning deeper
Engage students in enrichment tasks to deepen or extend learning
Provide opportunities for these students to engage in peer tutoring
Quality Questioning Multiplier = Active Engagement
Quality questioning multiplies our efforts by increasing student interaction, generating opportunities for reciprocal feedback, and promoting social and emotional learning.
Thoughtfully prepared questions are catalysts for student thinking and speaking. Collaborative response structures scaffold peer-to-peer talk. Expectations related to use of pauses for thinking and participation by all create the conditions for productive peer interactions.
Formative feedback is a key lever for increasing active cognitive engagement. This supports the shift from an emphasis on what is being taught to what is being learned. Instead of documenting deficiencies we are moving students forward in their learning journey.
Increased student speaking through productive dialogue is an important source of feedback to teachers. These two signal practices in Hattie’s Visible Learning research (2012) are important touchstones in our instructional improvement efforts. Prior to our work with questioning, we talked about their value. Now we are taking action to bring these to life in daily lessons.
Use of core quality questioning practices is also contributing to psychological safety in our classrooms by promoting agency and self-efficacy. Moving from a right-answer oriented environment to a learning culture is foundational. Think times and follow-up questions support learner construction of new understandings and lead to increased student confidence. When students generate and use feedback to master learning targets, they realize the relationship between effort and achievement.
Quality Questioning Multiplier = Student Ownership
Quality questioning multiplies our efforts by focusing on student mindframes and dispositions that build ownership.
Quality questioning supports our efforts to develop students who lead their own learning. Through quality questioning, we partner with learners to develop these mindsets:
- The purpose of questions is to support learning—not just to generate “right answers.”
- All are accountable for responding, not just the volunteers who raise their hands.
- Think times afford an opportunity for everyone to reflect on and develop a response to all questions.
These mindsets contribute to classroom learning communities where members know the value of asking their own questions, seeking and using feedback, and engaging in dialogue with their peers. Quality questioning helps us move from the historical dependency on hand-raising to a commitment to equitable response patterns which build classroom cultures where students assume individual and collective responsibility.
Berger, R. (2014). Leaders of their own learning: Transforming schools through student-engaged assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
DuFour, R. & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.