Twitter is a great resource for sharing resources and getting new ideas for instruction. In one of the chats, a teacher recommended the book "Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions." As I reflected on last year, I knew that I wanted students to ask more questions and push each other's thinking. I decided to go on Amazon and order the book. Once it arrived, I started to read it and knew that it was something that I had to try out in my classroom. I'll admit that sometimes I jump the gun and try things out right away just to see how they work and with this book, I'm so glad that I did.
This book lays out the process for the Question Formulation Technique, or also known as QFT. It starts out with divergent thinking and the follows up with convergent thinking, and ends with reflection. As a school that does PBL, it was something that was similar, as students created a list of Essential Questions with PBL, but different because instead of a driving question, students are given a statement and they develop questions and then decide what will guide their thinking.
While the book stated that it can be used K-12, almost all of the examples were middle and high school. I wanted to share my experience with each of the different phases in a first-grade classroom. I'm a firm believer that primary-aged students can do things intended for older grades if you just make a few modifications and extra support.
Developing a QFocus The first part of the book discusses how to develop a Question Focus, referred to commonly as the QFocus. The QFocus is the statement that starts off the process. A good QFocus will allow for their to be a lot of discussion. A QFocus has:
A clear focus
Is not a question
Provokes and stimulates new lines of thinking
Does not reveal teacher preferences or biases
The QFocus that I first used my students was "Leaders Create Change." It was to prepare for a unit that talks about rules and responsibilities, as well as introduce the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Kids.
Produce Your Own Questions When you begin this phase, you need to introduce the four rules to students. They are:
Write as many questions as you can.
Do not discuss, judge or answer any questions.
Write down every question exactly as stated.
Once all questions are written, change any statements to questions.
Typically you have students created questions in small groups, but since it was first grade and their first experience with QFT, I wanted to do it whole group. This process allows for divergent thinking since there are so many different types of questions being brought up to the group.
Students were slow to state questions, but as to not guide them in any direction, I had simply kept on repeating the rules and the QFocus. Once they got going, it just had a nice flow.
Following all the rules was the one of the hardest things for me. Rule 2 of no discussing or responding to questions was difficult. A few students were trying to be funny by asking "What is a marker?" and "What is an apple?" and similar questions. As frustrating as it was to try and stop this, I had to catch myself a few times and repeat Rule 2 aloud a few times.
Improve Questions In this session, I talked with students about the differences between open and closed questions. I started off with the introductions mentioned in the book, as well as the difference in question starters.
To see if students understood the difference, I did a few questions before they went off into groups. I asked a question and if they thought it was a closed question, they kept their hands close together, but if they thought it was an open question, they separated their hands. Once most of the students seemed to understand and gave me the thumbs up, I knew it was time to put them into groups and have them categorize the questions they produced the previous day as C or O for closed or open.
When they finished categorizing them, we then moved the Post-Its from yesterday to show off how all of our questions were written. As you can see, all of them were open questions.
Following categorizing the questions, we had a group discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of open and closed questions. You can see their responses and I'll admit, I was blown away. Those answers come from the mouths of my first graders and no prompting from me.
Once you talk about the advantages of open and closed questions, you try and write some open questions as closed, and then some closed questions as open. This was a challenge for my class and will be something we will explore more later.
Prioritizing Questions This was one of most interesting parts of the process. Now students are started to change their mindset of questions and instead of divergent thinking, it was not convergent since we were prioritizing the questions. Students in small groups were to pick out the top three questions that would help drive our exploration of the topic. They not only had to figure out the top three questions, but then also justify why they selected those questions.
To do this, I had them use the same papers that had from the day before and had a marker. They either circled questions as a potential top 3 or put a big "X" through the question.
Once each group had their top 3 questions, we came back together as a group. We displayed every groups' top three questions and then had a class discussion which would be our three that we use as a class. Students began to defend their questions and we even had some debates. It was great to see students defend their responses and share how it and how it would guide their learning.
Students finally decided upon three questions:
What do leaders create?
What do they change?
What do leaders create to make change?
Next Steps To wrap up our QFT process, I had students reflect on the process and let me know what they thought about it and if it was something we should continue to do in class. The response was overly positive. It was a different mindset for each of us because it was a different way of launching a unit.
We then started our unit on Leadership. Whenever we completed an activity, we tied it back to those three questions that the students decided were the best.
So far the results have been great in my first grade class and I look forward to trying it more in the future.