May 06, 2008

higher level learning...

Last week I wrote about one of my college professors who taught me that the purpose of going to school was to "learn how to ask the right question". Well I want to follow up with that post in how this can relate to the classroom.

After Dr. Loveland informed us about the importance of learning how to ask good questions, he then told us how his tests work. In the last 5-minutes of the class right before the test we were allowed to ask him ANY question about the test that could be answered with a "yes" or "no". So again, if you asked good questions, you would know everything that was going to be on the test.

The real kicker was the essay questions. He told us that half of the essays would be questions that we would ask ourselves the question and then answer it - he would only give us a topic. Of course there was a catch, half the points for the problem would be awarded to giving the correct answer and the other half would be based on how good the question was. If we simply asked a "define this.." or a "list the parts of that.." type of question and then got it correct, we would get full points for the answer but "0" points for the question because it was a low-level question. Now being business students we of course had to get a crash course in Blooms Taxonomy and what was the difference between a "low-level" and a "high-level" question.

When it came time for the first test and we were able to ask our yes/no questions we pretty much figured out the entire test as well as which questions we would have to ask ourselves. Well that night I ran off to the library and spent hours trying to come up with the "ultimate question" and then figure out the answer. This meant going through a lot more research and digging but I came up with a couple of awesome questions! And you know what? I actually LEARNED more studying for those tests than I had for any other test I had ever taken or for that matter any test I have taken since.

Well I have actually started doing something similar to this with my 8th grade students.

First off you need to know that all of my tests are short answer essay questions and are pretty mid to high level type of questions so my students are very familiar with Blooms. Also, occationally I will have them read a chapter in the text book and instead of having them answer the review questions at the end of the chapter I tell them they have to come up with their own "review questions" and then answer them. In my instructions I make sure to tell them the same thing that part of their points will be based on just how good their questions are.

And then towards the end of the year when they are familiar with this type of information processing, I actually will have a question on their tests where I only give them a topic and they have to come up with their own test question and then answer it. Think about it, whenever anybody studies for a test we always try and come up with possible questions in our head that we think will be on the test and then try to come up with answers for them. Well all that I am doing is giving them the opportunity to actually show me what they know from their studying. For those students who really do not know much about the topic, they are the ones who just ask the most basic of questions but again, that tells me volumes in what they know.

I have been blown away by the quality of my student's questions and how well they really do grasp even the most complex topics. To be honest, I have seen some questions that are so much harder and deeper than I would ever think of asking them on my own - from eighth graders!

You can gain so much insight into the mind of a person if you simply analyze what kind of questions they ask. I must say that I am a believer that if we can teach our students how to process information instead of just memorizing it, they are going to go so much further in life.

The purpose of school really is to learn how to ask the right questions...


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an astoundingly good idea! Listen, with all due respect to you and your professor, I hope you don't mind if I steal this idea and use it in my classes. I think it's a fantastic notion and I love the fact that it teaches independent habits of mind and the ability to do more than regurgitate. Thank you again; it's been an inspiring blog read.

Adso of Melk

Allison said...

---Think about it, whenever anybody studies for a test we always try and come up with possible questions in our head that we think will be on the test and then try to come up with answers for them.

Actually, no this is NOT WHAT ANYBODY DOES. This is HIGHLY unusual for anyone to do below college level, and even then, most college students don't know how to do it.

I didn't even learn to try and study for a test this way until college.

This point that is so obvious to you is one of the Greatest Overlooked Habits about studying and test taking. You should make it EXPLICIT to all of your students NOW so that by the time they are in college, they too know exactly how to study for a test.

Really. It's not at all how most people learned to "study". Don't take it for granted.

the teacher said...


I am sorry to hear that you feel that most people do not study like this because I have found that many - not all but a good chunk - of my 8th graders do study this way because they quickly learn this is the only way to do well on tests that are all higher level essay questions. And another part of this is that I do have extremely high expectations for my students. As most research points to, students tend to work to the expectations that they are held to so that is why I love this whole concept of teaching them to ask good questions.

I really do not look at my self as an 8th grade science teacher but rather somebody who teaches kids to be better students and how to love to learn - and I just so happen to do that with science as a backdrop. Pretty much everything I teach at the 8th grade level is going to be covered again in high school so I like to use my time to get my students to be the best high school students possible.

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