Improving Questioning in Your Classroom: Supporting AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work), Disciplined Inquiry

A common misnomer in teacher preparation is the assumption and overestimation of  ability to formulate questions that demand student thinking at higher-levels. Many educators unknowingly pepper their assignments and classroom discussions with low-level questions requiring little analysis or support when answering.

Likewise, when applying the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) frame to instruction or tasks, teachers who refine their questioning skills are more likely to reach higher scores in the Disciplined Inquiry Standard. Coupled with students constructing their own knowledge and transforming it to demonstrate understanding at deep levels, communicating their knowledge through a variety of tools linked explicitly to correct and coherent support is the ultimate goal.

Whether through elaborative communication or substantive conversation within the classroom, care when constructing questions aids in guided inquiry.

Kenneth Chuska, author of Improving Classroom Questions, recommends teachers start with the “Big Four” when beginning a unit:

1. What do you already know about the new topic?

2. What do you think you know?

3. What do you want to know?

4. What do you feel or believe about an issue or problem?

These four questions align with AIW framework in that they build upon the students’ prior knowledge; creating anchors to help students identify commonalities in vocabulary, content or processes. My personal lens is based in literacy in which I approach much of what I read and reflect upon. In this reasoning, my personal anchors are connected to theorists in English Literature; Rosenblatt’s Reader Response Theory, for instance, echoes the same need for connecting to prior knowledge. The markings on a page are merely that, until the reader uniquely connects to the text.

While I like the four questions listed above, I feel the need to add a fifth to the list.

5. How?

When students reflect on How they know something, a greater understanding of themselves as learners emerge, which loops back to inquiry based instruction.

I also thought the checklist in the appendices was useful:

  • Has no one “right” answer.
  • Is open-ended.
  • Calls for reflection.
  • Is interesting to students.
  • Motivates or stimulates thinking.
  • Allows for individual input based on prior knowledge.
  • Provokes more questions.
  • Promotes discussion.
  • Raises students’ curiosity.
  • Challenges preconceptions.

Finally, many teachers struggle with finding the right wording to target specific learning levels or feel they have a few staple verbs that are overused and would like a variety. This chart from Clemson is a great starting point.

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