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Big Questions & Good Questions

posted Aug 27, 2018, 4:36 AM by HSD Principal
Along with asking students about retreat learning and how they plan to apply that learning, this blog post (by a guy named Jai!) titled Listening to Learners gives suggestions on other questions that can be asked of high school students to help them think about their learning. The four big questions he suggests are:
  • Can you name two people in this school who believe that you will be a success in life? How do they let you know?
  • What are you learning? Why is it important? How does this learning connect to your life outside of school?
  • How are you doing with your learning? 
  • What are your next steps?
The process of having students answer those questions - and listening to their answers - helps them take ownership of their learning, and helps us ensure they are getting the direction they need to make their learning real.

But Craig Barton argues that the more ordinary and regular questions asked in classes and on assessments can be made better as well. His article On Formative Assessment in Math makes the case that not all questions are equal when it comes to determining student knowledge. His article focuses on math, but his ideas can be applied to any subject. 

Barton says that teachers should have diagnostic questions that are designed to help determine student understanding. Specifically, he says questions:
  • It should test a single skill or concept. This is not the time for interleaving, says Barton: “The purpose of a diagnostic question is to home in on the precise area that a student is struggling with and provide information about the precise nature of that struggle.”
  • It should be clear and unambiguous. The teacher should be able to accurately infer students’ understanding from their answers.
  • Students should be able to answer it in less than 10 seconds.
  • The teacher should learn something from each incorrect response without further explanation from the student (that’s because the teacher has chosen the incorrect answers very carefully).
  • It cannot be answered correctly while still holding a key misconception. This is the most important characteristic, and the one that makes formulating questions so difficult.
And, as a bonus, Barton has created thousands of "diagnostic questions" and made them available on his site