“Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more and become more.” (John Maxwell)
This quote epitomizes my campus’s point of view about the power of questioning. While Maxwell emphasizes the role of the leader, at Molina High School we believe that students should be the ones questioning. Dr. Jackie Walsh’s work on Empowering Students as Questioners has given us the tools to make this vision a reality.
I often characterize student questioning as a low lift, high leverage practice that leads to drastic gains in student agency. Our student Brandon perfectly explained why we are passionate about this practice. “In all my middle school years I never got to have a chance to ask my own questions. I just always had to answer teachers’ questions. Now I get to ask the questions and that helps me understand. Not that many people have the ability to ask their own questions.” We often talk about wanting students to “drive” or “own” their learning and what we’ve found at Molina is that through student questioning we are able to see these goals come to life.
Leading Empowering Students as Questioners
When I dove into Empowering Students as Questioners earlier this year, I knew I had to share it with our faculty. As a history teacher, I knew that a great question was powerful, but I longed to give this power over to my students. What I found when I delivered professional development sessions on Empowering Students as Questioners is that many teachers had similar goals. Even before we explored the framework that would allow us to empower our students as questioners teachers were buzzing with excitement on the possibilities this would open up:
- “Student questioning will equal real learning—not distractions.”
- “Having the ability to question is a critical step in students self-managing their learning.”
- “Learning how to ask questions will help students be more engaged.”
- “Questioning is so important and it will help students in the real world.”
The scope and speed of implementation of these practices was atypical. Within the next week, teachers had turned around their learning & were engaging their students as questioners and collaborating with other teachers to deepen these practices. These PD sessions stood out in their impact due to the alignment between student questioning & teachers’ aspirational visions of what learning should be. For as much as our hopes & goals for students might be tampered by school mandates and the stress of summative assessments, all teachers want to empower their learners.
Implementing Student Questioning
We first focused on academic and self questions. These question types fit with our desire to have all students comprehend the content and with our work around teacher clarity.
Figure 1: Questioning Skills for Self-Regulation
Figure 2: Skills and Stems to Support Surface Learning
Source: Empowering Students as Questioners, Corwin (2021)
Teachers made time and space for student questioning by integrating them into gallery walks, jigsaws and exit tickets. Ms. Salazar, a US History teacher, found that by using these practices “Students were ready to talk. They also had great questions that we could use to guide their learning. Students kept mentioning how they’d be more excited to learn if they had more say in what they were learning.”
Using Questioning to Make Learning Visible
John Hattie’s Visible Learning research has given our school invaluable information on which practices most benefit student learning. One such strategy that has considerable potential to accelerate student learning is practice testing. Practice testing has been exalted for how it supports effective learning and feedback. Though as Visible Learning experts are quick to clarify, effect sizes are not guarantees, and the impact of a practice is determined by the context of its application. By combining practice testing (effect size=0.46) with self-questioning (effect size=0.59) we have been able to realize the potential of these practices on student learning.
Practice Testing Reflection Lesson
Through our implementation we have seen changes in students content knowledge and their conceptions of how to learn:
- “It (questioning) shows that you are able to understand and comprehend your learning.” (Lorenzo)
- “When we talk about our questions as a class, there might be questions that we have that others didn’t have and there might even be questions that our teacher didn’t think of when planning the lesson so it helps us take the lesson in a new direction.” (Victoria)
- “Ms. Salazar listens to us. We feel more free and you don’t have to be quiet, our learning is interactive.” (Kimberly)
- “She explains the material and then if we don’t understand it we ask our questions. Then she will explain it and we will also go searching for the answer in our own way. She shows us resources we can use to discover the answers to our questions.” (Kayla)
As we move forward with Empowering Students as Questioners we want to amplify and scale our results. Our next focus is to introduce exploratory and dialogic questions as tools to deepen learning. We want to explore how questioning can be used to engage students at all levels. As our students have shared, these practices have power and impact their learning so our driving question at Molina has now become:
How can all students experience the power of questioning?
“Being able to frame your own question prepares you for any type of situation.” (Milton, 11th Grade)
Hattie, John. “Corwin Visible Learning Meta X.” Visible Learning – Home, Corwin Visible Learning Plus, August 2021, https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com. Accessed 20 March 2023.
Walsh, Jackie A. Empowering Students As Questioners. 1st ed., Corwin, 2021.