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3 types of questions to boost higher-order thinking

By Julie Randles
March 10, 2017
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In Julie Jaeger’s experience, enhancing students’ creativity and critical thinking doesn’t come from having all the right answers. It comes from asking more questions.

Jaeger, a gifted education teacher for Minot Public Schools in North Dakota, finds that when you create an environment where students have time to ponder and ask deep questions, it encourages them to think more creatively and more critically. And that’s the kind of thinking that brings students to the highest levels of learning.

“During my master’s program, I was introduced to Costa and Kallick’s 16 Habits of Mind for self-directed learners and realized this was a framework and foundation for much of what I believed should happen for students. The questioning strategy they designed fell right in line with how I wanted my students to think.”

In fact, Jaeger uses questioning strategies with both young and adult learners to elevate thinking and creativity. It’s an approach that should be a natural part of what teachers do.

In addition to Costa and Kallick’s work, she points to Blooms Taxonomy, a framework teachers can use to focus on higher-order thinking. By providing a hierarchy of levels, it assists teachers in designing performance tasks, crafting questions for conferring with students and providing feedback on student work.

While Bloom’s points to six levels of questioning, Jaeger’s a fan of a three-story house model that connects to both the Habit’s of Mind and Bloom’s Taxonomy. “There are images of the three-story model that are posted in many classrooms to inspire students to think beyond the ‘ground floor’ and shoot for the ‘attic’ or ‘rooftop’ with their questioning and thinking,” Jaeger says.

First floor questions. Students use questions to gather information: What is ___? When did___? Which one ___? How would you show ___?

Second-floor questions. Students tackle questions that help them process information: How would you categorize ___? What can we infer from ___? How would you summarize ___? What is the function of ___? What conclusions can you draw?

Third floor or attic questions. Students ask questions that require them to apply the information they’ve learned: What would you predict if ___? How would you prioritize ___? How could you prove or disprove __? What evidence supports ___?

Jaeger admits that posing lots of questions can be uncomfortable for students at first, but when teachers ask higher-level questions, students deepen their knowledge and create connections to the material being presented.

She also encourages teachers to leave time for “creative pauses” after posing questions to give students think time and to prevent them from raising their hands before you’ve even finished asking the question. Then seek many, varied and unusual responses.

Educators looking for more tips to help students become critical thinkers can watch a recording of the ISTE Professional Learning Series webinar “Elevate Critical Thinking and Creativity With Technology” Viewers will:

  • Get tips for elevating students’ critical thinking skills with help from the latest tech tools.
  • Learn how to create a classroom environment where students are comfortable with pondering, thinking and guessing.
  • Get resources and tools you can use to help students practice critical thinking.

ISTE members can sign up now for the ISTE Professional Learning Series that includes the recorded webinar “Elevate Critical Thinking and Creativity With Technology.” Not a member? Join ISTE today.