n a traditional classroom, the teacher is the center of attention, the owner of knowledge and information. Teachers often ask questions of their students to gauge comprehension, but it’s a passive model that relies on students to absorb information they need to reproduce on tests.
What would happen if the roles were flipped and students asked the questions?
That’s the premise of the Right Question Institute and a new book by its co-directors Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. The book, Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, documents a step-by-step process to help students formulate and prioritize questions about nearly everything.
Coming up with the right question involves vigorously thinking through the problem, investigating it from various angles, turning closed questions into open-ended ones and prioritizing which are the most important questions to get at the heart of the matter.
“We’ve been underestimating how well our kids can think.” Rothstein said in a recent discussion on the talk show Forum. “We see consistently that there are three outcomes. One is that students are more engaged. Second, they take more ownership, which for teachers, this is a huge thing. And the third outcome is they learn more – we see better quality work.”
On the teacher’s part, the role becomes more a facilitator than an instructor.
“What happens is the teacher plays a different role,” Santana said. “They lead students into thinking. The process of teaching students to ask their own questions allows teachers to communicate what they need to around curriculum. The difference is that the students are thinking and doing more, rather than the teacher.”
Rothstein and Santana call their method the Question Formulation Technique. The idea is that if students are engaged in deciding what question to answer they will also be invested in discoveringthe answer. Both teachers and students say the method has been both empowering and difficult. Kids who had long been struggling in school said they felt smart, the authors said.
It’s a bit like the Socratic method flipped on its head. Socrates wandered around Athens asking questions to get at a deeper truth. Since then philosophy and law teachers have used questions as a way to get students to think more deeply, rather than giving them the information directly. The Question Formulation Technique turns that dynamic around and asks the students to come up with the questions that speak to the core of a topic.
Via Nik Peachey, Bartolo Natoli