The essential mission of any classroom teacher involves the dissemination of knowledge. Whatever the subject matter, the teacher serves as a guide to the development of cognition, or the process of thinking. The key word in that definition is “process.” True learning involves understanding. In fact, the ultimate goal of education is to lead the learner on a journey of inquiry. As such, it employs higher order thinking skills. It results in much more than a simple regurgitation of facts about a particular subject. It includes examining one’s own thinking or “metacognition:” Teachers can help students to embark on their crucial discovery by asking the “right” questions.
Detail questions( who, what, when, where) demonstrate that students can refer to a text, story, or process to find the answers. These types of factual questions do not necessarily involve understanding. On the other hand, “how” and “why” questions encourage learners to analyze and reflect.
In his book, Now That’s a Good Question, Eric Francis provides a variety of questions for a range of academic subjects that lead to higher thinking processes. For example, he provides contrasts between a number factual questions and analytical ones. Notice the different phrasing.
“What is Poe’s philosophy of composition?” vs. “How does (the author) convey his philosophy of composition in his own works?’
What is the date of the Declaration of Independence vs. “How and why is the Declaration of Independence written like a formal legal document?”
“What are the properties of of equality?’ vs. “How do the properties of equality determine the equivalence of equations?” (58)
Reflective questions . . . “teach students to analyze why and encourage them to be evaluative as they do the following: inquire and investigate.”(73)
Once students become familiar with the different questioning techniques and their purposes, they can devise their own questions, thus becoming more interactive in class and more responsible for their learning. Developing these types of questions is simple but can to lead significant changes in learning.