From 2012 To 2020: Exploring Questioning Options As Distance Learning Becomes A Reality

This is a post in three parts — Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, and Board Supported Tools — as Aaron Puley, a current vice principal for our Board, and I (Aviva Dunsiger), a kindergarten educator, explore our journey with questioning and the role that it can play in our current educational reality. This post tells a story of our journey while also sharing resources and suggestions for home learning.  

Where We’ve Been

Aviva — My parent engagement journey started back in 2011. This was when I was teaching a Grade 1/2 class and started to use social media to share photographs and videos with parents. A class blog and Twitter account slowly extended to student blogs. It was then that I connected with Aaron Puley, the Student and Parent Engagement Consultant for our Board. We started presenting on parent engagement. I will never forget being in the midst of a presentation with him and having my own aha moment. Aaron shares how just because we show what’s happening in a classroom doesn’t mean that parents know how to extend this learning at home. The addition of a single question or prompt at the end of a blog post can change this home/school connection and future learning opportunities for the child. 

Aaron – In 2011, I was the Student and Parent Engagement Consultant for our school board. In my Parent Engagement role specifically, I worked centrally and with school administrators to establish strategies to reach out to diverse family groups and engage them in the learning of their children and with the school itself. Traditionally, ”parent engagement” in schools has included informing parents of upcoming dates and events, invitations into the school, phone call updates and reports. While in this role I worked extensively with families from a variety of diverse backgrounds and experiences. I also supported the Board level Parent Involvement Committee. One thing that I heard from parents and families consistently is that they wanted to be more engaged in the learning of their children. They didn’t necessarily want to, or have time to, come to the school, but they wanted to better understand how you support learning in the home. They wanted and needed the language and they wanted and needed the support. Doing some research I became inspired by the research of Debbie Pushor RE: Parent Invovement vs Parent Engagement – The focus on the term ”Engagement” is the key. How do we, as educators, engage parents and families in a reciprocal partnership that is two-way back and forth vs. the traditional uni-directional delivery of information from educator to parent? Within this context it is also important to be cognizant of the work of Ken Leithwood, who stresses that a large portion of learning happens in the home vs. in the school. If this is the case, then we must support educators to facilitate that learning beyond their class and into the home.


When I reflected on this, and while supporting teachers and educators, I wondered about the power of technology, and websites in particular, to engage parents. Many educators, especially those of younger children, were sharing pictures of what was occurring in classrooms. This was a fantastic first step. It provided windows into the classroom.

Parents and families could see what was happening in class or on field trips, but did they actually understand what learning was occurring? Did they really understand how to continue that learning in the home? Did they have the specific language to use to support this learning? Parents and families overwhelmingly told me ”No” they didn’t, but they’d really like to have it.

In order to make this happen I explored the idea of providing parents with the context of what they were seeing on websites, such as Aviva’s, and how to extend that learning at home. In discussion with Aviva, we wondered about providing them with questions to ask their children that would elicit conversations that would continue to support learning in the home.

Aviva – Back in 2014, I started adding these question prompts based on our learning from the day, and through three other schools and four other grades, I never looked back. Questions and activity suggestions to bridge this home/school connection is something that I remain passionate about today.

Reflecting on the different questions that I’ve asked over the years, those questions that allow children to create something at home — versus just discuss it — seem to result in the most responses from parents

  • I’ve found that if parents can see examples of this learning in the classroom, coupled by a specific follow-up activity, they find it easier to replicate similar learning opportunities at home. 
  • Open-ended activity suggestions, including possibly a list of a few materials to use, also make a difference. Then there are multiple entry points for learning along with something concrete to produce.

Here are just a couple of examples of the creations that have been spurred by questions and sharing on a class blog.

After making some boats in class, we asked students if they could use materials at home to create a boat. Would it float or sink? What if they added items to the boat? What makes it work best?

A group of children have been working on creating doll clothes at school. The After Care Program noticed what we were doing, and discussed some of the designs with the children. Seeing what they created and hearing some of the questions that we asked about the clothes in class, inspired them to extend this learning with a very interested student. She made clothes for herself. Parent engagement then also extends to the engagement that takes place when all people that support student learning (including After Care educators) connect and work together.

Parents have also shared some of their thoughts that come from providing learning and activity ideas on a class blog. Here are a couple of examples, which Aaron and I have included in a few of our presentations from the past. 

This mom emailed me a reflection on the power of using technology to communicate with families. I’ve taught at many different schools, including some in inner-city Hamilton. Usually the assumption is that parents from inner-city schools will not have access to technology and/or not connect with educators using these tools. This message came from a parent at one of these inner-city schools. It’s a good reminder about the value in opening up these lines of communication between home and school.

This post came from the mom of one of my Grade 5 students (many years ago now). We shared our learning on our class blog, and this blog post was a reflection on the No Talking Day that we had in follow up to a read aloud book. I love how the mom used some of the ideas and questions in the post to continue the conversation through the comments. A good reminder on how the Comment section in a blog post allows for parent, student, and educator engagement combined.

Where We’re Going

Fast forward 8 years, and we have a new and unexpected reality due to COVID-19. Now, starting on Monday, we will be teaching from home. Parent engagement is going to matter more than ever before. It’s here that this blog post actually begins, for as we were connecting on Twitter on Friday night, we realized something. As much as we’ve talked about the importance of questions, we’ve never shared a blog post on what these questions might look and sound like. Questions that spur engagement could make a worksheet more than just a piece of paper, an activity more than a one-off experience, and play so much richer. What are some possible question options?


This chart helps with the formulation of questions. The idea is that you use a question word from the left-hand side of the chart coupled with a word on top to start your question formulation (e.g., Why might the dog be feeling so sad?).

The following image of the Q-Chart shows the different types of questions that come from each quadrant of the chart.

Asking a variety of different types of questions can get children thinking differently and exploring other things in follow-up to what they’ve shared. Last year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I used the Q-Chart as part of our VIP (Very Important Person) sharing time. The Instagram post below shows how children read and accessed the chart through our sharing time. The same thing could be done at home as kids discuss what matters to them, the work that they’ve done, or a creation that they’ve made. Parents could ask questions of children or siblings could use this chart to think of questions to ask each other. 


Paula has taught and continues to teach me a lot about this strategy. It works really well in play, as you recall aloud what the child has said. Adding in a pause at the end can give a child the time needed to extend on his/her thinking. These conversations often result in identifying possible extension options and/or where to go next. The questions stem from the discussion that follows the paraphrasing. Parents or siblings could even use the Q-Chart later to ask questions connected to the conversation.

In this outdoor example, Paula facilitated a conversation around the water level in the sewer. As she asked questions to kids to get them to think and talk more about the water, she also paraphrased the ideas shared by many of the children. It’s a combination of paraphrasing and questioning that helps with extending the discussion. Something similar can be done at home as students comment on their environment, their creations, and their learning.

Open Versus Closed Questions

Open and closed questions were a big topic of discussion during our NTIP (New Teacher Induction Program) sessions. While they can be beneficial when speaking with adults, they are also great to consider when talking with kids. The idea is that open questions keep the conversation going, while closed questions stop the discussion. At times, it might be necessary to ask some closed questions (even just to solidify details), but the richer discussions come from the open ones. This professional blog post from last year looks at the value of open-ended questions.

If you or your child tend to ask more closed questions, you could even look at a game to change questions together. For example, if your child says, “Did it hurt?,” you could introduce a more open question, such as, “How did it make you feel?” Providing examples of different open questions might help kids formulate more on their own.

“I Wonder …”

Statements can also be questions, especially the statement, “I wonder.” It gets kids thinking about different things to do or how to extend their current learning in new ways. We use this prompt a lot in class, and it didn’t take long for children to start using it with each other. Below, through two Instagram posts, is an example of one of these “I wonder” times.

It’s sometimes a simple question prompt like the “wonder” one, which gets children to test and develop more theories on their own.

Extend the “I Wonder” with “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?”

These two questions together can often lead to further investigations. Our vice principal, Moojean Seo, introduced noticing and wondering to us as part of a Staff Meeting activity. She showed an image on the SMART Board, and had us share some of our notices and wonders with her. This led to her asking a more specific question that stemmed from one of the wonders, and us sharing how we worked at solving the problem. Noticing and wondering could be done at home based on images shared with parents (that they reflect on with kids), creations made by families, or even pictures in books.

The Instagram post above is an example of some unexpected noticing that allowed us to engage in some math talk as we shared a provocation for the day. Similar conversations could definitely occur during or after building. Parents could then extend them by talking about “wonders.”

Three Big Questions

There are three big questions that we often use in class to extend conversations and expand on learning. These three are …

Why …?

How …?

What happens if …?

Sometimes it’s just the multiple uses of these questions that get kids thinking more or thinking differently. If at home, parents aren’t sure what questions to ask, choosing any of these three might be a good place to start.

A child started to throw items into a puddle outside. Which ones float? Which sink? Why? What happens if he puts other items in the puddle? A few questions during this play got him to think and articulate more about what he was doing and why.

A Challenge Game

My vice principal from many years ago, Kristi Keery-Bishop, introduced me to Challenge when I was teaching Grade 5. The game totally changed our class and had children “challenging” everything. This professional blog post, written by one of my previous Grade 5 students, sums up Challenge best.

Challenging You To Try Out “Challenge”

It’s a game though that can be used with students of all ages. Many years ago now, a Grade 1 conversation about birthday parties (from a read aloud) led to me introducing The Challenge Game to another one of my classes.

Try playing it together at home. It’s sure to get both adults and kids thinking more critically and deeply about their learning. If your child struggles with asking questions, you can start by playing a game where kids need to turn statements into questions. See how you can work together to do this, and in time, children will be doing it on their own. Thanks to Kristi for this great game suggestion, which worked wonders when I taught Grade 1.

Board Supported Tools

Now that we’re moving to a home instruction model, we’re all using various Board supported tools as part of the teaching and learning process. Questioning can be used with these tools by parents, kids, educators, and all three together. Here are examples of what this might look and sound like.

Microsoft Teams or Google Hangout – While there are other elements of Microsoft Teams, for the purpose of this post, we are looking more at the virtual meeting component. Through these online discussions, educators can …

    • Model the use of questions when conversing with kids.
    • Give kids and/or families a chance to discuss or share the questions that they’ve used at home. You can then talk together about next steps for learning.
    • Leave kids with a question to extend the learning beyond the virtual conversation. They can then speak more about this in a follow-up discussion with the class and/or the teacher.
    • Model the use of a tool, such as a Q-Chart, and then provide the tool for kids to use at home with their parents.

These virtual meetings could also be done in small groups or 1:1, and then families and educators could dig deeper into more specific examples. For instance, you could look at a photograph of a child’s play together (maybe a block structure that he/she made), and then use questioning to determine where the play can go next (looking at other possible structures to create or maybe moving from some oral storytelling about the creation to a written story).

The chat function of these tools could also allow families to formulate questions together during the meetings. They could discuss possible answers with us and with other families (orally or through the chat), which might also lead to more questions, conversations, and learning.

Commons Blog – The Commons is our Board platform for blogging. Here are some ways that questioning can be used through blogging:

    • Leaving a question for discussion at the end of a class blog post with an activity idea for the day. 
    • Uploading a video to model the use of some questioning at your house and then encouraging parents and students to try something similar at home. 
    • Uploading a video or writing a description to show how to use the Q-Chart, and then giving some suggestions on when and how to try this at home. 
    • Creating individual student blogs or making students authors on a class blog, where they could upload a video or share a photograph along with some questions used at home (written down by them or their parents).
    • Using the comment function to add follow-up questions. This could spark a back-and-forth discussion that also helps model the use of different questions. Even if students uploaded a video or shared a photograph that doesn’t include the use of questions, asking your own ones in the comments could still allow for this back-and-forth conversation and deeper thinking around what the children did and why.

We use these written conversations in class as seen in the example above. This could easily be done through a typed discussion instead of a hand-written one. Children could also write down their responses on paper. Uploading a photograph of the written work could still inspire these question/answer conversations.

FlipGrid – This is a Microsoft product that easily allows students to respond to a prompt with the use of a video. Here are suggestions of how this tool could be used for questioning opportunities:

    • Having students and/or families use the notice/wonder question idea to share their thinking around a posted image. 
    • Posting a Q-Chart and having families generate and record questions together here. These questions might also be ones that other families could use when working together at home. Families could even be encouraged to pick a question and explore it with their child. 
    • Being more specific on the use of Q-Chart questions to help support an inquiry or current unit of study (e.g., make these questions only about the environment since we’re studying the environment in class).
    • Posting an image or inviting families to send you an image to share with the class (e.g., a photograph of something that a child built at home). Other families could then record questions based on this image. The family that posted it could follow up by answering a couple of the questions, which might even allow for more questions.

In some of these examples, FlipGrid could be used in conjunction with a blog, where students could select a particular question or idea and explore it more on their own or with their parents. Also, educators could use some of these questions to post new activity suggestions on the class blog.

The Hub (D2L) or Google Classroom – In many ways, these could be used like the Commons Blog. In addition, here are some other ways that these two tools could be used to support questioning at home.

  • The Portfolio app in D2L could allow children to post photographs of work, and maybe include both a reflection as well as a question. The question could then be explored in the next piece of work that children upload, creating a link between home activities. 
  • Students could use the Question Ideas shared under “Where We’re Going” to help formulate a question to include. Parents could also chime in with a question of their own that would help stem where the children go next.
  • Feedback on assignments in both platforms could allow children to reconsider or extend on their initial thinking. Offering feedback in the form of questions is a great way to do this. These questions might also act as a model for questioning that happens at home. 
  • Assignments could also include the use of some reflective questions. A teacher friend of mine always has children include a couple of “deep thinking questions” at the end of their projects. (The Q-Chart could be great for these.) They then need to answer at least one of these questions. Families could help formulate some of these deep thinking questions together. These questions could also be shared, and students could select one written by their peers to answer. Another way to keep playing with questioning.
  • There is also the possibility of submitting conversations. Have students record a discussion with a parent about the work that they did. Upload this. This provides an opportunity to explore questioning more at home and look at how questioning can get students and families more engaged with the learning process. Then if your feedback to them is offered in the form of questions, these queries could extend the learning in new ways.

In Conclusion …

We know that there is a lot of information here, and it might seem overwhelming for both parents and educators. We wanted to make it comprehensive while also providing choices. What works for one family, one grade, or one educator team, might not work as well for another. Ideas in this post could be slowly shared with families, and then based on parental and student feedback, more ideas could be shared.

As Aaron’s discussed at just about all of our presentations together, it’s also important to consider these ideas through an equity lens. All children might benefit from questioning, but the questions we ask or how we ask them might vary.

  • Adding visuals to accompany question words might help some students understand the key words better.
  • Asking questions in your child’s first language is another important consideration for home, and very valuable when looking at how to best continue the conversation from these questions.
  • Linking questions with concrete activities and examples may also be key for some children.

Just as educators need to know their learners when planning for school, educators and parents might need to consider different learner needs when planning and questioning at home. 

While we’ve tried to provide as many options as possible here, we also know that there are always different ideas than what we’ve included. What are some of the questioning approaches that you’ve tried with families before? What other options are you considering? Do you have any additional resources to share? Leave a comment and add your ideas below, and we can use this post as a way to crowdsource ideas for everyone to use as distance learning becomes our new school reality.

Aviva and Aaron

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