Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present these instructional strategy recommendations from Teaching Critical Thinking, by Terry Roberts and Laura Billings.
The authors convened a panel of educators to discuss the importance of bringing students deeper into a text, as emphasized by the Common Core State Standards. Teachers can show students how to think critically about what they are reading by posing better questions. Roberts and Billings suggest that teachers ask questions that 1) are text-based, 2) are open-ended, 3) don’t have a pre-determined answer, and 4) encourage multiple perspectives.
Specifically, panel members responded to the following question:
Please describe how you have designed questions that encourage thinking on a higher level. How have you taught students to respond to such questions?
Suggestions from James Davis
Principal, Knox Middle School, Salisbury, NC
At our middle school, we create questions that are tailored specifically to the higher levels of thinking. We address all "who, what, when, and where" responses in the first question and then try to never return to those lower-level tiers. We then focus on rich descriptions, application, predictions, and inferences. Once that has occurred, we go back and work with teachers to incorporate a component of dialogue into their plans for questioning. By dialogue, we mean that students are not only reading and being questioned by the teacher, but are also reading, conversing with a partner or team, and asking one another questions based upon higher-level question stems that are provided. We want students thinking on a higher level, but we also want them collaborating with one another, sharing their responses, and justifying their answers and feelings.
When teaching students to respond to questions, we feel as though three things have to happen:
Teachers planning activities that are built around higher-level questions and activities, combined with students who are successfully completing the task, leads to a win-win situation!
Suggestions from Jeanne Tribuzzi
Director of English Language Arts, West Seneca Central District, West Seneca, NY
One way to move students toward critical thought is to have them read often, in text that they can read accurately, fluently, and with full comprehension. When students are in text that is beyond their comprehension ability, they will work to comprehend, but may not think deeply or critically about the themes or ideas in the text. On the other hand, students who are given plenty of time to read text that they can read accurately and fluently will grow as readers, and make continued progress in becoming proficient at reading higher-level text.
Another way to build thoughtful readers is to give students choice over some of the material they read in school. When they choose what they read, based on interest and recommendation, they tend to read more, thus improving their comprehension. Finding the balance between self-selected reading, and close, teacher-directed reading of complex text is critical to increased reading achievement.
When teachers organize their instruction around a specific genre, and students have choices within that genre, students will be able to respond to open-ended questions that speak to big ideas. Teachers should use mentor texts as a read-aloud to model deep thinking within that genre; students can then practice comprehension and analysis when they are reading their own books.
For example, if teaching about social justice and empathy in historical fiction, I could use many titles such as the novel Mississippi Bridge, by Mildred Taylor, to make my thinking visible for my students. By sharing my thinking about a character, I can help students see how I find ways the character shows empathy in certain situations. Then I ask students to find similar examples in their own books, and jot down ideas to react to later in writing. They are transferring and “owning” the skills of reading critically, and expanding their thinking in writing. Teachers talk less, and students read more. They can confer with students quietly to check for understanding, monitor, and “check in” with students.
This pedagogical method will allow for class discussions that are more student-directed and differentiated, and that include deep reading in text that students can comprehend, ultimately helping them progress along a continuum of successfully reading increasingly more complex text.
Suggestions from Patricia Conner
District Test Coordinator, Berryville Public School District, Berryville, AR
In our district, we are experimenting with two fourth grade classes. These teachers wanted their students to be able to ask higher-level questions in literacy circles.
To practice the levels of Bloom’s (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), the literacy coach began with a modeled read-aloud, where the class re-read “The Three Little Pigs.” This well-known text was chosen to keep students’ focus away from the story’s content so they would concentrate more on the levels of questioning instead of on the events of the story.
The first focus was on knowledge-based questions. Using PowerPoint, the literacy coach defined knowledge-level questions, explaining these were the easier, “right there” questions which required basic recall of facts. These were referred to as "skinny questions." (For example, “What did the second little pig use to build his house?”) The class discussed key words they might see in these types of questions, such as List..., Define..., Label..., Memorize..., What did.....? The literacy coach then modeled by asking knowledge-level questions using question stems from the story, allowing students to find answers from the text. Students created an anchor chart with the definition of knowledge-level questions, key words to look for, and sample question stems.
The next day, students worked in groups to create their own knowledge-level questions based on “Little Red Riding Hood.” This routine was followed to introduce comprehension-level questioning and so on, up Bloom’s Taxonomy. Here are some examples (key words are in italics):
The goal of this exercise is to have students recognize the various levels of questioning and apply their own understanding to ask each other higher-level questions in literacy circles.
As an assessment, students were asked to identify the level of question, answer the question, and highlight answers in a text which allows for a focus on close reading—a skill identified in the Common Core. It has been very eye opening for these students, and they now ask one another much higher-level questions in their collaborative work. This understanding of question design has translated into deeper, more meaningful responses.
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