Monday, May 5, 2014

Questioning is Essential - Planning

What did I do?
This year, I planned to have kids sort questions for their ants inquiry circle differently, using questioning guidelines from Making Thinking Visible, into "Definition" (What is happening?) or "Consequence," (Why does it matter?).  (The Action questions are addressed at the end of the unit.)

Kids worked with an adult in their small group to sort questions into "Definition" or "Consequence."  Very soon they identified the magic words for each:  'What' for "Definition," and 'Why' for "Consequence.  I changed the layout of their group research charts based on sorting:

What am I working on?  My one theme this year has been to s-l-o-w  d-o-w-n with everything:  planning, materials, modeling, instructions, interventions ... 

Why is this important to me?  I remain very curious, and I want my kids to always be curious!  I am focused on guiding them to deeper, more enduring understandings:  more depth in the process than product.  Inquiry Circles are so complex because of the behavioral dynamic kids are working through in a small group setting.  AND, the bulk of the work is accessed through reading and research -- and a few kids are still not fluent readers at this point. 

What did I learn?  In previous years their group research charts were created with question webs, but the kids often didn't make connections between the questions.  I, too, found them hard to follow.  With the sorting of questions by "Definition" and "Consequence," kids were quickly making connections between the two:  (Definition:  What do ants do in tunnels?  Consequence:  I wonder why ants dig in tunnels?) and encouraged to bridge the two with a line connecting similar questions.

Also, another key change this year in my planning was to use adult guidance with all groups throughout the research process.

How did this experience impact my work?  It gave me better clarity with the questioning process, both whole group and small.  We have two overarching questions for our animal unit:  

How do animals impact people?  

How do people impact animals?  

It helped me to keep these questions in mind as I began thinking about the end of the unit synthesizing we will do comparing ants to humans, and ants to other animals.

How did this experience impact my students?  They discovered that more knowledge = more schema = more questions!

How will I use my new learning in future practice?  This year I did a better job of guiding them to ask important v. less important questions.  This gave them a more meaningful bank of questions to work with when it came time to sort them into categories (Food, Body, Habitat, Life Cycle, Activities), then further sort into "Definition" and "Consequence."  I will continue to strive for fewer, more appropriate questions per group, while making sure they are asking a consequence question for each (or several) definition questions. 


  1. I loved this when you shared at PLC, especially the types of questions- definition, consequence, and action. I ran back to my Comprehension and Collaboration book and dug a little deeper, taking these question labels to our lesson the next day. We moved from thin to thick questions, to looking at our thin questions as definition questions, knowing we may need to ask these questions in order to move our thinking forward. What a difference it made! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Deb, you made the process of asking questions-and going deeper! I just read Phyliss' post on questioning and have been thinking about my dear teammates back at school going through the same process. We could use this same thing to scaffold students' thinking from thin questions to thick-validating them all along the way! I agree with everything Caitlin just said above. We can use this next year to help support students in the process. Over the years I've had troubles scaffolding a process that seems pretty natural to me. I also find it interesting in that so many people posted about the same topic. There are so many amazing things going on at Roberts!