A Questioning Technique (QFT)

I want to write about the Right Question Institute (RQI) and their Question Formulation Technique (QFT).  I also want to write about change. It’s the big topic in education – time for change…How to Make Systematic Change…Moving the Rock…Coherence…

To me, all of these go together.  When I am standing in front of my class, what I need are tools to help me make those changes – techniques that flip the dynamic from teacher-led to student-driven.
I believe the QFT is one such technique, that, when combined with a teacher’s “with-it-ness”, can become an incredible tool for almost any subject matter.  Here’s a quick summary of this technique:
  1. The teacher gives the class some sort of focus for the questions (this can be almost anything – a picture, a quote, a primary document, a video clip). This is the Q-focus.
  2. The class breaks into small groups with a scribe for each group that records every question exactly as it is asked.
  3. The group categorizes or analyzes the questions (open vs closed type questions)
  4. The group prioritizes their questions (top 3)
  5. The group gives a rationale for why those are the most important.
  6. The teacher or group decides what they will do with these questions – could guide the plans for the unit, could become independent projects, could be list of questioned referred to as the unit progresses.

I have just begun to explore the possibilities.  We tried it with our first graders on our first dive into FABLab.  Students were shown a picture of a past student’s creation. No explanation given.  In small groups, with a teacher scribe, students called out questions. The scribe wrote every question down without clarifying or commenting on the questions.  Without guiding them. The questions became a bit silly and repetitive. “Why is it blue?” “Why is it cardboard?” “Why is it round?” and then came “What is it supposed to be?” “How did they…” “I wonder if…”

Instead of following the QFT exactly, each group categorized their questions in different manners.  For my group, after looking at the questions, we decided our second step was to label the questions with a K if we already knew the answer.  Then, with the remaining questions, we picked our top two questions. We came back as a large group and shared each group’s top two questions.  We then posted the top two questions from each group in the classroom and, without answering the questions, moved on to the activity of creation building.

Having done this activity before, with the teacher explaining the steps and purpose and then guiding the students to building, I was excited to witness a very different feel in the room.  The “teacher talk” was the bare minimum, the “student talk” was reflective and focused. As the students were building, the posted questions would pop up – “Oh, that’s why they used tape there…” “That one was round but I’m making mine flat because…”

Last time, the students talked while they built, but on pretty much any topic on their minds.  This time, the conversations were almost completely about the building, without any teacher guiding.  It was interesting. Students seemed more cognitively engaged in the task than before.

Our goal is to continue working with student questions to guide our FABLab experience this year. Our challenge will be to find the focus artifacts (Q-focus) that will elicit the type of questions we are hoping to help students develop.

We are planning on using this technique with fourth graders next week with the Q-focus being the words, “Bridging the Americas”.  Erica Roth, our PK-4 Spanish teacher, wants to let the student questions shape their understanding of what they are doing as well as highlight future topics that might get addressed in this interdisciplinary unit.  Looking for an avenue to discuss what the term American means and recognizing that she has very strong feelings about that term, we wanted a way to open the conversation with the students.  We want to see how this technique might allow students to broaden their ideas through questioning and conversations.

We are also planning on using the QFT for a faculty meeting with our Social Studies design team.  Our Q-focus will be “Social Studies Design Team”. It will be interesting to see the types of questions that arise from those four words and where we end up going with it.

I’m looking forward to reflecting back and improving this technique each and every time we use it.  Join me in trying it out – join the conversation about what was and what wasn’t successful. What does success look like with this technique?

Read Warren Berger’s post A More Beautiful Question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas.   Check out the RQI website and the resources they offer for a much more detailed description.

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