How do you analyse student questions?

We’ve had several posts recently at Inquire Within about ways to encourage students to ask questions, by Naini, Malyn and Alfonso.

I’m a great fan of the Project Zero Visible Thinking program and its ‘thinking routines‘ which provide simple structures to support student thinking and questioning. If you start a unit of inquiry with a powerful provocation that hooks students into the big ideas, followed by an appropriate thinking routine, like ‘See Think, Wonder’ or ‘Connect, Extend, Challenge’, or ‘Question Starts‘ you’ll have kids asking great questions right from the start.

What do you do with student questions?

If you’re an inquiry teacher, you’ll know it’s not just about providing answers! We’ve spent some time recently exploring ways of analysing students’ questions. Here are some approaches that we have tried:

A range of student questions were gathered, printed off and cut into strips, one question on each. The ‘central idea‘ (enduring understanding), lines of inquiry and key concepts were printed on another sheet. In pairs, the teachers sorted the questions in any way they chose. Some assessed the questions’ relevance to the central idea. Others grouped them by concepts. Another group sorted them into deep and shallow questions, ones you could ‘google’ for a quick answer and ones that would lead to deeper inquiry. Irrespective, there was careful consideration of the questions and great conversation ensued as a result.

In another session, a group consisting of teachers from different grade levels analysed a set of questions from a Year 1 class, using the LAST protocol from Project Zero, which includes these steps: explaining the task,  describing the work,  speculating about students’ thinking, asking questions about the work and  discussing implications for teaching and learning. The Year 1 teacher (who didn’t participate till the fourth stage, as per the protocol guidelines) found the suggested directions and strategies for future teaching and learning really valuable.

In both sessions, the questions revealed where learners were in terms of their understanding, misconceptions which needed to be corrected and areas of interest, which could guide where the teacher might take the inquiry next… or where students might go with their own inquiries.

We’re planing on developing the process further next year. Really ‘listening to’ and analysing students’ thinking reveals a great deal about both the learners and the learning process. Documenting and tracking students’ thinking and questions over time would reveal even more about individual learners… but that’s another story for a future post.

Flickr image by Dom Dada.

About whatedsaid

Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I'm a teacher, a learner, an inquirer...
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7 Responses to How do you analyse student questions?

  1. Thanks for the mention and pingback. That post on Questioning Facts gained me new followers and, more importantly, some really interesting conversations on Twitter…fancy that!

    What I like about Inquire Within, as exemplified by this post, is that it is a community of thinkers. Inquiry is explored in many different ways, expressed in different voices. It is a kind of harmonious blogging. I love the emphasis on thinking as a process and the links to all the ways of teaching it. Thinking can be taught and learned….in many ways.

    Edna, you know one of my favourite questions is “what if?” Time to reveal another one. It’s “why do you ask?”- which is helpful with students too.

    Great post, Edna!


  2. whatedsaid says:

    Me too! That’s what I love 🙂
    As for ‘Why do you ask..?’ Sounds similar to another of the PZ thinking routines… ‘What makes you say that’? Once you establish a thinking culture, even the youngest kids start using that language.. to their peers!


  3. Tasha Cowdy says:

    Over the last year, ELC teachers have been exploring how they can use LAST protocol to help them gain insight into student thinking. Recently presented to rest of Elementary school. Have hopefully inspired some teachers of older student to think about how they could use LAST protocol to help them see where students are in their thinking.


  4. Pingback: How do you analyse student questions? | Inquire Within | Love to read, love to learn!

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  7. Nellie Vele says:

    This was an awesome item to come across .I read it for hours trying to figure out my introduction on the next unit on machines.However it unfolded very interestingly and the students came up with a lot of wonder by wandering……….


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