in middle school differed from those they were experiencing in high school: In middle school, the students said,
teachers ask you to tell what you have learned. In high
school, they ask you what new questions arise as a result of
your learning. These students had realized that the end of
the unit is not the end of wondering.
Many teachers ask broad, universal questions as a larger
umbrella for a semester or year’s work. Those questions are
so large that they have not yet been answered. They foster
the realization that the puzzles and mysteries of life remain
open to continual learning. Such questions include
n What is the nature of virtue? (fairness?) (equity?)
n What is truth, and how do we know it?
n Is there such a thing as a good war?
n What is the real problem in this situation?
These questions are so universal that they can capture the
imaginations and philosophic inclinations of students of all
ages and across all subjects. So, for example, if the guiding
question is about the nature of fairness, young students
might explore whether it is fair to say that some people can
play in games and others cannot (Paley, 1993), whereas
high school students might consider the issue of privilege
and ultimately produce a capstone project exporing the
meaning of privilege from a global perspective.
From Teachers to Students
It’s important to note that questioning and posing problems
is one of the 16 habits of mind that help students succeed
in all academic areas. So even though this article discusses
how teachers can become more purposeful in their own use
of questions, the ultimate goal is to help students get into
the habit of asking purposeful questions as well.
Because imitation is one of the most powerful forms of
learning, much of what students learn about questioning
and problem-posing is a result of the teacher’s modeling. By
asking questions strategically with specific goals in mind,
teachers can lead students to deeper levels of learning. EL
Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, the
classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain.
New York: McKay.
Costa, A. (n.d.). Arthur Costa’s levels of questions [online].
Retrieved from Springfield Public Schools at www.sps186.org/
Costa, A., & Kallick. B. (2008). Learning and leading with habits of
mind: 16 characteristics for success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Feuerstein, R., Falik, L., & Feuerstein, R. (2015). Changing minds
and brains: Insights on 60 years of mediated learning experience.
New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Marzano, R. (2001). Designing a new taxonomy of educational
objectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Paley, V. G. (1993). You can’t say you can’t play. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press
Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2004). Making classrooms better: 50 prac-
tical applications of mind, brain and education science. New York:
Arthur L. Costa ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is professor emeritus,
California State University, Sacramento. Bena Kallick (kallick
. Bena@gmail.com) is an education consultant in Westport,
Connecticut. They are cofounders of the Institute for Habits of
Mind ( www.habitsofmindinstitute.org). They are the authors of
Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum (ASCD, 2009).
Questioning sequences in the classroom offer
an opportunity for success and failure. Too
frequently teachers set students up for failure
by jumping right to asking, “Why?” without
any preparation. Instead, question purposefully
to lead toward higher-order thinking. Begin by
asking about basic facts that require recognition
and recollection, then follow with descriptions
as well as comparisons. Next, follow up
by challenging students to justify
their response and position.
Students should then make
claims and be asked to justify
their viewpoint with evidence
in addition to considering other
viewpoints. Doing this routinely
in the classroom allows students to
internalize the process and to make these
transitions on their own. For example, ask students
to recall words related to the U.S. Civil War, then
ask for a basic description of the Civil War. Ask
them to describe each side involved in the conflict.
Follow up with questions on predictions and
explanations of cause and effect. Students should
then be well prepared with evidence and ready to
find errors in their reasoning. Focus on this routine
to build the capacity for reasoning and great
conversations in the classroom.
—John Mason, teacher of social studies, William Davies
Middle School, Mays Landing, New Jersey
For more great questions suggested by our readers,
see our “Tell Me About” column on p. 90.
NOW THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION!