Starting With Questioning

Inquiry is driven by questions. And as someone that’s been looking at how to use more inquiry in the classroom this year, I’ve been focusing a lot on “wonders” and “questions.” While I encourage this of my students, I need to also remember the value in asking more questions myself and having others ask more questions of me. I was reminded of this point a couple of times this week.

Since I’m away next week and I have a student teacher that’s teaching full-time for the next couple of weeks, I wanted to make sure that we were well-planned for both weeks before I left. My student teacher, Yakira Smeltzer, and I decided to sit down yesterday at lunch and on our prep to do this planning. Yakira decided that starting on the 25th, she wants to introduce mean, median, and mode. From our diagnostic data, it’s clear that many students forget these three concepts. My initial plan was to explicitly teach each concept, and then have students practice them in different ways. As I said to Yakira, “This is kind of boring, but unfortunately, I think that it’s the only way.” That’s when Yakira challenged me (and in a great way) — “Isn’t there a way to use inquiry?!” Hmmm … I didn’t initially think that there was, but her question caused me to pause and think. That’s when I thought of a conversation I had with our instructional coach, AJ Ingrassia, not that long ago. He mentioned the idea of giving the answer, and then having students think of ways to get to that answer. Why not do that here?

That’s when we thought of the idea of making “challenge cards.” Each card will have a series of numbers along with the mean, median, or mode. Students will need to use this information to explain how to figure out the mean, median, or mode, and what these terms actually mean. They’re almost like puzzles, and the students will need to think to solve each one. After talking to one of our Grade 8 teachers, Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper, we also learned about ways to get students using real data for mean, median, and mode (such as heights of students in the class). Jo-Ann shared some fantastic thinking questions as well, that will have students looking at different “missing number activities,” and explaining their reasoning behind each one. If we just went with the traditional lesson, we would never get to this deep thinking. Thanks to Yakira for pushing me to look more closely at mean, median, and mode and finding the inquiry possibilities!

Then today I had a planning meeting with the Grade 5 team, and I was questioned again. We were talking about inquiry in Social Studies, and the concern about how long this unit could be. Would we have it finished by the Winter Break? Then came the question of a culminating task, and what that would look like using an inquiry model. That’s when I mentioned that I read a fantastic blog post last night by our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, about forgoing culminating tasks when using inquiry. So then came the question: how can you determine a mark without these tasks? I’m so glad that I asked Kristi this question before and that she further discussed it in one of the comments on her blog post. I mentioned the idea of “mini-tasks along the way,” and that’s when our Speaker’s Corner idea developed. What about giving the students a choice of questions based on what they’ve already explored in class? Let them prepare their answer one of these questions. They can use all of their notes and any other information that we’ve shared in class. Then comes the Speaker’s Corner. Set-up an iPad on a chair with the camera app open, and let students record their thinking. We can even set-up a timer to keep the process moving.

For the evaluation component, we can give the students a mini-rubric based on our Success Criteria (something that I’m hoping to discuss more soon when it comes to inquiry and Social Studies) and then students can plan accordingly. This is a one-period assessment, but one that gives us valuable data for planning and for reporting. Add in a couple more of these quick assessments, and there really is no need for a culminating task! (Now, as I write this post, I wonder about the idea of giving students a choice of ways to share — from a written component to the Speaker’s Corner — as this would align more with our school focus of “student voice and choice,” and does it really matter if it’s an audio/video recording? Maybe this is something to talk about more at our planning meeting tomorrow.)

I guess that these questions produce as many questions as they do answers, but they certainly push me to think more. Thanks to the many people that constantly ask me questions and start the thinking process. What impact do questions have to changes in your practice? How can we use questions to bring about more change? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


4 thoughts on “Starting With Questioning

  1. Great post. Makes me realize that I have to think “inquiry” at the start of every lesson/unit plan. The meaningful question is what makes the learning “sticky” and valuable. Thanks for sharing so many great questions and examples.

    • Thanks Maureen! These conversations reminded me of the same thing too. Sometimes we have inquiry in mind for certain activities and not for other ones, and we really need to be pushed to see things differently!


  2. Aviva, yet another thought provoking blog. As I have shared with you before, inquiry is such a interesting way of teaching. It brings out so much more in students, not only in skills but in learning. However it is a big shift for teaching. We are no longer the sage on the stage, the one that holds the answers but the guide on the side. This means that our questions and the type of questions that we ask affect the students learning process. The question you ask has actually been the focus of my masters thesis. It was interesting to see the impact that my questions had on student learning. As I looked through research I realized that the types of questions are so important. Often as teachers we ask questions that we know the answers too, questions that will just help us talk more and to check if students are listening. I found that in inquiry we need to be asking questions that build student learning or push them to go beyond their thinking. I was constantly pushed to think how my questions were affecting student talk. Was it pushing them to articulate or just listen to me lecture.

    As for assessment, it brought so much more rich assessment then any culminating task and yes inquiry takes time but the key is knowing your curriculum and finding the expectations. A good rich tasks covers a lot and I mean a lot of expectations. I also found that if inquiry is new to students it will take time at the beginning of the year but come January things start to fly. Now thanks for sharing your learning.

    • Thank you, Jonathan, for the comment! You’ve taught me a lot about inquiry through the information you share on Twitter and here, and I really appreciate it. As this is such a new thing for me, it’s nice to hear these success stories and also hear about people that are struggling with some of the same questions.

      I think that you make a great point here about the questions that we ask. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I find myself planning more questions to ask to ensure that I’m not just leading students to see things the way that I do. It’s the variety of thoughts that make things so interesting. I often have students uncover ideas that I would have never even considered. This is the exciting part!

      Thanks for sharing your views on the culminating tasks as well. It’s good to know that we’re on the right track. I’ve always enjoyed these smaller tasks anyway, and as I was marking my last culminating tasks, I realized that the students didn’t show me anything that they haven’t already before. How is this a useful way to spend time then? The rich discussions and interesting observations that students share in class each day tells me so much more about what they know and where they need to go next.

      I’m excited to hear more about your Masters as you continue working on it! I’ve definitely become fascinated with inquiry this year!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *