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Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions
Author: Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana , Co-Directors of the Right Question Institute | November 9th, 2011

RIQ LogoImagine a classroom where students are more engaged, take greater ownership of their learning, and learn more as a result. Now think about the changes that would be required to make this happen. It’s seems like an immensely complex – and perhaps even impossible – task. Our work has shown that these powerful changes can be achieved, however, using a simple strategy – teach students to ask their own questions.

Through an organic process – learning from students and teachers – we developed the Question Formulation Technique™ (QFT). It is considered by many people in communities around the country as the simplest, most powerful way to learn to think for oneself. In a very short period of time, the QFT helps students develop three sophisticated thinking abilities: divergent thinking, convergent thinking and metacognition. Students are excited and stimulated by learning to ask their own questions. One sixth-grade observed: “Just when you think you know all you need to know, you ask another question and discover how much more there is to learn.”

The QFT consists of six distinct steps that include a rigorous process for developing questions, for improving them and then for strategizing how to use them. Teachers can decide when and for what purpose to use the QFT, including ways for students to prepare to; begin exploring key themes in a new unit, design an experiment, research a paper, or discuss and assess student knowledge.

“I was skeptical about using [the QFT] in my classroom because I thought it might take too much time away from ‘more important things’”, said Ling-Se Peet, a teacher in the Boston (MA) Public Schools system. “But now that I look back at my initial reaction, I realize that I was wrong…I always compare teaching the QFT to a proverb about fishing – proving students with good questions is like giving them fish, which will feed them for a day, while teaching them how to ask good questions is like teaching them how to fish, which will feed them for a lifetime.”

The Right Question Institute recently released a book entitled Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Published by Harvard Education Press, it vividly illustrates the power of the QFT for both students and teachers. The book is one resource. Soon we will have resources that will be offered online, including webinars, teaching and coaching materials, and access to peer experience and knowledge. For more information check out our website: rightquestion.org.

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