Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Question Quadrant - ideas into practice

Last year I blogged about the Question Quadrant as a way to develop the inquiry skills of my students. The aim was to make them better problem posers and this will have an obvious impact on their inquiries. Having read Phil Cam's book - 20 Thinking Tools - I decided that the Question Quadrant really was something that I wanted to have a go at in my classroom.

Last week I introduced it to my students and we explored what each section of the quadrant meant. I explained that we would use this tools to help us become better inquirers. We used the book 'Me and You', by Anthony Brown, as a way of introducing the tool. This fantastic book also served as a way to elaborate on one of our key concepts for this UOI - Perspective. I had previously developed some questions:

  • Who is dressed more colourfully?
  • Who wrote the story?
  • What is the main colour of the bear's furniture?
  • What are the names of the characters?
  • Where are the bears going on their walk?
  • Why isn't the girl dressed in more pretty clothes?
  • Is it ever ok to use someone else's things without their permission?
After first describing each of the sections, we discussed each question one by one and decided where they should be placed. 

I was happy to see that the students were able to recognise where each closed question should fit. The difficulties came for the students when they had to consider that there might be more than one answer. Open, textual questions took a little while to flesh out, but we arrived at a conclusion for where it should be placed reasonably quickly. The open, intellectual question took a lot longer to discuss. The majority of the children thought that there was a black and white answer to this and it took the opinions of two students in order to let the rest of the class see that there might be other possibilities - 'What if you're being chased by something dangerous and you need to use something that belongs to someone else to defend yourself?'

We got there in the end and then it was time for the big understanding to be revealed. What sorts of questions should we be asking if we want to be good inquirers? 

Their answer? Closed, intellectual questions.

After I picked myself up from the floor from the shock of their answer, I tried to regain my composure. After such a lively discussion I was sure that the students had realised that open, intellectual questions were best suited to inquiry. There were obvious lessons for me out of this experience. First and foremost is the fact that this tool needs to be built upon and revisited throughout the year in order for my students to develop their understanding and skills in questioning. Secondly, I found it very interesting to see that nearly all of the students think that knowing clear cut answers is the best indicator of successful inquiry. The uncomfortable feeling of being in the 'area of unknown' when investigating something clearly doesn't sit well with them yet and they prefer to be able to reach the end point of something efficiently and accurately and then be done with it.

So I see my role now as being one of helping the students to feel safe and comfortable in the murky waters of not having quite reached an indisputable answer. I need to help them be risk-takers to explore new and unknown things and also develop persistence so when they do reach an answer they can consider alternatives and dig deeper. These are broad habits that will apply across the entire curriculum.  In terms of the Question Quadrant, we'll be relating our thinking back to this whenever we get the opportunity and use the chart to refine our questions as we come up with them.

As is usually the case with anything worth doing - there's no quick fix.

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