In many classrooms today, students are asked to take in knowledge and information and answer assessment questions on it later. This is normal practice. Yet, how often – early on – do we ask students to formulate their own questions to target the how and why of subjects in the classroom? While teaching how to ask questions appears to be an obvious learning technique, it’s one that could use more attention.
Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, which was published this September by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, articulates a Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to promote a classroom full of dialogue and a lifetime of learning. The book shifts the makeup of the classroom to flip the questions to the students to help them better explore their world.
Make Just One Change makes two key arguments:
- “All students should learn how to formulate their own questions,” and
- “All teachers can easily teach this skill as a part of their regular practice” (1).
Rothstein and Santana take us through stories of educators who realized after running an exercise with their students on the principles of question formulation that they had not developed the skill earlier on. In one story, a group of ninth graders struggled to formulate questions and “found it taxing” (3). This points to the need for more educators to implement a formal method of teaching how to ask questions.
Learning to ask questions is vital to learning and success across every field of life, be it education, business, health care, personal life or more. Leaders of educational institutions say that in order to go out into the world, students need to know how to ask effective questions.
“The primary skills should be analytical skills of interpretation and inquiry. In other words, to know how to frame a question,” said Leon Bostein, the president of Bard College (12).
One of the first principles of the book is that there are no “wrong questions.” Yet, the QFT has six core components in its step-by-step process to teach “divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and metacognition” (15). These components include:
- Question focus
- Closed- and open-ended questions
- Priority selection
- Next step plan, and
- Reflection (4).
The book walks educators through the instructions that they should give students while covering the art and science of asking questions. The authors warn that while the concept appears simple, it’s actually a process that does not come naturally to students. They state that it’s an acquired skill that fundamentally changes the classroom.
Make Just One Change is a book that formulates a key idea to the success of lifelong learning in education and careers. An increased understanding of how to ask questions helps students to fill in the gaps of their knowledge, explore countless angles and become more versed in a wide variety of subjects. In fact, the book proves this.
In several case studies, the authors point out that the QFT improves students comprehension, confidence and independence in learning (137). What’s more, the method improves learning engagement and thought processes (138). The book also suggests that the QFT is effective in working with at-risk students (143).
If there’s one skill that you want to instill in students’ minds for the success of their futures, it’s learning how to learn. Asking effective questions is the first place to start.