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Chapter 7: A-3. Critical Thinking and Questioning Patterns


April 19, 2005

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One of the major responsibilities of the teacher in an inclusive setting is regularly to demand higher level thinking, that is, thinking that reflects cognitive processes at the middle and upper ends of Bloom's (1956) Taxonomy, from all students. Higher level or critical thinking involves conceptual understanding and implies the ability to identify data needed to clarify a topic. Students need to be able to analyze data by manipulating, abstracting and categorizing information, and then to make relationships by seeing connections, similarities and differences. Finally, students need to be able to predict, hypothesize, apply and create new visions. Because critical thinking must be embedded in content and is reliant upon conceptual understanding, it is inherently more interesting than rote recall of facts or skills acquisition. While learning facts and acquiring skills are important for all students, it is conceptual understanding that is going to maintain student interest and excitement for learning. Caine and Caine (1997) refer to this conceptual understanding as "deep" and "felt" meaning, the initial source of energy that spurs inquiry and creates a disposition for life-long learning.

Questioning is the vehicle through which we encourage student thinking.

One remarkable feature of questions framed at higher levels is that suddenly there is more scope within the class for all students to engage in thinking. A greater number of entry levels and access points into the discussion becomes immediately available, and the potential for participation increases dramatically. Too often, exceptional children are denied access to higher level questions because they still have difficulties with skills. This questioning paradox is worth reiterating: often higher level questions will be easier for an exceptional child to respond to than questions that have only one answer, because open ended questions have more entry points and require more "think time" by the rest of the class. Too often, when a class is heavily focused on recall questions, the participation of exceptional children will be limited by their need for processing time.

Questions asked at the knowledge level, that is, with the possibility of a single right answer, favor students who learn auditorily and who have high verbal facility. Children with auditory processing or word retrieval difficulties, or who are just beginning to learn English as a second language will not be able to compete in the rapid fire atmosphere of "mental math" drills or teacher driven quizzes that check only for recall. While they may know the facts, the teacher's presentation style may prevent such children from actively participating.

For example, the question "Who was the first man to land on the moon?" requires a student to analyze for a specific male person in a specific ordinal position, who went to the moon. There is only one correct response which may take an exceptional child some time to retrieve from memory, particularly if the question has not been embedded in context. And, once the question is swiftly answered by some other student in the class, everyone else will stop thinking.

Questions on the same topic of exploration, but asked at higher levels might be: "If you were to be the first person to land on the moon, how would you have planned for your trip?" (Medium Level), or "How will continued space exploration affect life for people on earth?" (High Level). Responses to such questions require reflection and the application of considerable content knowledge and cannot be answered with single words. And when students have such discussions in small groups, everyone has a chance to participate.

Another example of questioning at different levels follows, this time from Psychology:

Low Level: What is the Freudian perception of the nature of man?
(Cognitive process required: Recall)

Medium Compare Freud's and Jung's concepts of the unconscious.
Level: (Cognitive processes required: Restate, Analyze, Compare)

High Level: Comment on whether a Freudian psychosexual perspective is applicable outside
of western culture.
(Cognitive processes required: Application, Evaluation)

Teacher questioning forms a critical dimension for the inclusive classroom because higher level thinking does not often develop by itself, and must be trained in students. Teachers may find the list of corresponding verbs and cognitive processes helpful (see below) as a resource for drafting questions at higher levels.

LEVELS OF QUESTIONING

INPUT OF DATA THROUGH THE SENSES OR FROM MEMORY

PROCESSING THOSE DATA INTO MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS

OUTPUT: APPLICATION OF THOSE RELATIONSHIPS IN NEW OR NOVEL SITUATIONS

From A. Costa, (1991) The School as a Home for the Mind

KNOWLEDGE

COMPREHENSION

ANALYSIS

SYNTHESIS

APPLICATION

EVALUATION

From B. Bloom, et al., (1956), Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

LOW LEVEL QUESTIONING

MEDIUM LEVEL QUESTIONING

HIGH LEVEL QUESTIONING

Recall

Define

Recognize

Identify

Describe

Name

Match

Count

Select

Complete

List

Find

label

Interpret

Translate

Explain

Clarify

Transform

Represent

Rephrase

Restate

Support

Justify

Conclude

Fill in

Estimate

Analyze

Compare

Contrast

Sequence

Arrange

Classify

Categorize

Group

Sort

Criticize

Defend

Differentiate

Discriminate

Organize

Present

Support

Summarize

Plan

Propose

Integrate

Formulate

Simplify

Alter

Change

Design

Develop

Discover

Generate

Modify

Rearrange

Combine

Reconstruct

Apply

Employ

Illustrate

Hypothesize

Construct

Make

Draw

Demonstrate

Indicate

Judge

Assess

Evaluate

Predict

Argue


Costa (1991) discusses a framework to encourage student thinking, which includes developing conditions to promote student thinking, teaching thinking processes explicitly, and making students aware of their thinking, that is, of their metacognition.

  • Developing conditions to promote student thinking: This refers to developing a school climate that will be conducive to student thinking. Teachers and administrators need to show that thinking is valued: pose problems and ask questions, listen to student questions, and take time to answer them. Adults need to model the kind of thinking behavior they wish to see in their students.

  • Teaching thinking processes explicitly: Some students will learn intuitively the cognitive demands of analysis, synthesis, application and evaluation, but for many others, learning what is required for each of these processes will remain a mystery unless taught explicitly.

    • Use advance organizers: Note-taking organizers and other graphic representations presented ahead of the lesson cue students as to what to expect and how to organize the new information. Questions and agendas can also be used to help students anticipate what to look for in the coming lesson.
    • We have also successfully used the approach of Conceptual Mapping with Cognitive Mediation (Wiig & Kusuma-Powell, in press) to provide students with a framework for visualizing thinking, for learning the underlying structure of each of the cognitive processes, and "seeing" what may be missing in their thinking.
    • Conceptual maps are visual representations that reflect underlying mental models, dimensions of concepts, or cognitive strategies such as thinking by analysis, categorization and synthesis. The map formats are designed to match the cognitive processes involved in developing meaning and deep understanding. Unlike worksheets or graphic organizers, conceptual maps are evolving in nature and can be revised as thinking changes or content requirements become more complex. The maps are developed in team or individual bases and allow for sharing.
    • Cognitive mediation is a structured questioning and guiding process which elicits thinking at different stages (e.g. analysis, synthesis or evaluation) and levels (e.g. concrete, abstract, analogical or metaphoric). The mediation process models critical thinking and fosters metacognition because it is structured, interactive and explicit.

      The following is an example of a specific conceptual map to help students analyze the major features of an abstract word:
  • Meaning Features of Abstract Words (from Wiig & Wilson, 1998): This conceptual map takes advantage of student prior knowledge in coming to understand a new or complex term (for example, "racial prejudice," or Darwinian "Natural Selection"). Enter the word in the center, name its category, and give examples. Discuss each dimension (i.e. Driving Forces, Actions, Characteristics, Outcomes) as it relates to the word in the center, in a recursive, multidirectional process. 

    Diagram of Meaning Features of Abstract Words



  • Teaching students about thinking: Costa (1991) describes three components of teaching about thinking. In the first instance, students need to learn how the brain functions and how it relates to learning. Secondly, students need to become aware of their own metacognition, or "academic" inner voice that monitors how they work, whether they are on the right track, or whether their answers make sense. Helping students to understand their own processing will help them become better learners. Finally, Costa argues for the teaching of epistemic knowledge, or ways of knowing how scientific knowledge may be different from knowledge gained in art, etc.

    The explicit teaching of thinking through teacher questioning will ensure that meaning, or conceptual learning, drives all the learning within the class. Specific activities that encourage student metacognitive development follow. Readers will notice that the activities mentioned here require written responses from students. While metacognition can be developed using oral prompts and responses, we have found written expression to be extremely useful in helping students clarify their thoughts:

    • Learning Inventory[1] : Using a matrix grid, ask students to record their own insights, new learnings, connections to prior knowledge and questions they might wish to ask. Then ask students to circulate, as if in a cocktail party, to gather information from others in the class to fill in the rest of the matrix. This activity is useful in helping students to consolidate large amounts of information or for reminding them of the previous day's learnings. It also takes constructive advantage of the student's need to socialize.

YOURSELF

OTHERS

OTHERS

An Insight

("Aha!")

A New Learning

(Fact)

A Connection to Prior Knowledge

A Question You Would Like Answered


  • Thinking About What I Do (from Winebrenner, 1996, p. 63): This activity sheet prompts student thinking about learning by asking specific questions that have to be answered in writing, such as: "What am I supposed to do?," "What is my plan for doing it today?," "Have I closed my eyes to visualize the task I'm supposed to do?"
    • Journal Entries: Written responses to question prompts framed by the teacher often help students to monitor their thinking and learning. Teachers need to be conscious of phrasing deliberately open-ended questions, such as, "How does this topic relate to me?" or "What do I think about the topic that has just been presented?" and encourage students afterwards to share their journal entries. Usually 15 to 20 minutes of writing is sufficient to become conscious of their inner thoughts.
    • Metacognitive Process for Planning Text Generation (from Wiig & Kusuma-Powell, in press): This process helps students to internalize the process of essay writing, and has been particularly successful in preparing students to sit timed written examinations such as International Baccalaureate exams. Starting the process individually and then in small groups, and then sharing examples at each stage with the entire class models analytical thought explicitly for all students.

COGNITIVE PROCESS &

MEDIATION SCRIPT

Question analysis: What is the question asking? Restate the question and explain what is being asked. What is my position?

Content analysis & selection: What information do I need to answer this question? What information is relevant?

Determine structure, sequence: How will I organize my information? What order is best? What is a logical presentation for this information?

Evaluation: Have I stated my case? Are there problems or issues with my argument? What is my conclusion?

Write a draft introductory paragraph including elements from each step of the process.

 

 

 


    • Exam Reflections: This is a very useful metacognitive tool for helping students analyze their study patterns leading up to an examination, and helping them to plan for the future. Compose several open-ended questions that provide students with a structure for written reflections, and ask them to respond before returning their teacher-graded test papers! Responding to the questions before seeing the corrected test papers allows students the chance to assess their own preparation and performance and have it confirmed or put into question by the subsequent test paper itself. Teachers will also find it useful to review these written reflections, as teachers can then help students plan for specific improvements in their study habits.

EXAM REFLECTIONS


1. How did you find your experience on the last examination? What was difficult and what was easy?

  _____________________________________________________________________________________________

2. How did you study for the exam?___________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

3. How did you feel as you walked into the examination room?______________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

4. What grade do you think you achieved?______________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

5. What, if anything, would you have done differently in your preparations?_____________________________________

6. What will you change in your work habits to prepare for the next exam?______________________________________

7. How can I help you achieve your grade?_____________________________________________________________





[1] Adapted from work in Cognitive Coaching (1994) by Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston.



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