By Dutchess Maye
In our work with thousands of K–12 educators, eduConsulting Firm documented that teachers ask an average of 50 questions during a 55-minute period—equating to almost a question a minute. When considering these numbers, it is safe to conclude that students may not have sufficient time to process the questions asked. However, the typical questions teachers are asking require very little response time, as they only warrant one-word or yes-or-no responses. To increase student engagement and promote high levels of academic rigor, we encourage both teachers and students to use the PLAN 5 strategy—that is, to generate five rigorous, highly cognitive, open-ended questions per class period!
Teachers who plan carefully crafted questions get deeper, more thoughtful responses. For example, when teachers revise closed questions such as What is the setting of the novel? and What is the Quartering Act? to much more open-ended versions like How does the setting of the novel impact the character’s mood? and Why did the Quartering Act make the colonists so angry?, student engagement increases significantly, resulting in more in-depth discussions laced with content-specific examples and improved textual support. Additionally, the phrasing of the latter questions lends itself to greater student competency by implying that students already understand such concepts as setting, mood, characterization, the Quartering Act, and the political context of the American Revolution. The following graphic can help teachers determine if their questions are, indeed, open ended.
Three additional methods for planning five rigorous, highly cognitive, open-ended questions include the following:
- Posing the answer and asking students to justify it with proof from a supporting text, class notes, and prior knowledge varies learning outcomes. For example, the closed question Is honey a liquid? could easily be revised to How do we know that honey is a viscous liquid? This revision not only promotes student competence by giving them the answer but also requires a higher cognitive process to prove the question’s inherent validity.
- Focusing on the processes required for obtaining the answer rather than simply focusing on the answer itself is an effective means of assessing student understanding. For example, the question Can 4/8 be reduced? could be revised to promote higher critical thinking: We know 4/8 can be simplified. What do we need to do? More important than the answer is ensuring that students know how to obtain it.
- Presenting questions that explore opposites, differences, and exceptions requires students to demonstrate sophisticated understanding of learned concepts. For example, the question What makes a good story? is a great open-ended question but could be revised for maximum impact by focusing on differences. A possible revision for the question could be Which of these two story openings do you prefer and why? This version remains open ended, requires students to employ the evaluative cognitive domain, and embeds opportunities to compare and contrast texts.
The entire intent of the PLAN 5 strategy rests in the planning. Teachers are encouraged to ask a thousand questions but plan five rigorous, highly cognitive, open-ended questions that facilitate student thinking beyond one-word or yes-or-no responses.
Through eduCoaching, we have observed countless teachers who are posing all of the questions and, thus, doing all of the thinking. Generating thoughtful questions that facilitate high levels of thinking and foster engaging discussions is an intensely creative process, ranking as one of the highest skills on the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students can benefit from the range of cognitive engagement that is cultivated by generating questions of their own. Questions require the inquirer to demonstrate complex levels of conceptual understanding about the content. The more thoughtful and intentional the question, the more the individual exhibits his attentiveness to and participation in learning new content.
Students can use the PLAN 5 strategy to evaluate the effectiveness of their own open-ended questions. Introducing students to different types of questions not only prepares them to generate more powerful questions but also preps them to answer questions purposefully, increases intentional responses on assessments, and facilitates college and career readiness. Providing students with tools such as Bloom’s Question Stems will equip them to formulate questions intentionally and deliberately. Asking students to generate questions using stems from specific categories (e.g., comprehend, analyze, and evaluate) will scaffold learning, require thoughtfulness about the inquiry intentions, and add personalized depth to content acquisition. Opportunities that allow students to plan, ask, and answer five questions with their peers create collaborative learning environments in which students are active and accountable participants in their learning.
Dutchess Maye, a former high school English teacher and instructional designer for the North Carolina Teacher Academy, is the founder and current executive director of eduConsulting Firm. A certified instructional specialist and teacher advocate, Maye has spent almost two decades researching, designing, and delivering professional development for thousands of K–12 educators. PLAN 5 is derived from Maye’s research article “Hitting the Mark: Strategic Planning for Academic Rigor.”