Things You Should Know if You Go: Using QFT in the Grade 7 “Amazing Race”

Question and be CuriousThe Amazing Race is an integrated project in grade 7 which combines learning in geography, math, Language Arts, French, and physical education. It has become part of a culminating assessment project at the end of our school year. Project based learning, a teaching technique that allows students to work through a big question, happens at many grade levels in our school. In this case, the intermediate teachers worked together to develop an inquiry about travel and what it teaches us. Students conduct research about a particular country, and helps to inform their work on this project in all subject areas. For example, the information that they learn in geography helps inform the scripts they write for their French plays. It culminates in a race around the school to solve challenges related to their learning. We used the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to determine research questions.

The observations that struck me most about using the technique were:

  • Students came up with questions related to our learning this year in geography, and then some! There were more interesting conversations about what they could find out about the country than if I had assigned the questions.
  • Students really appreciate voice and choice at this age, and they felt that they could contribute their ideas without being judged; they also appreciated the ability to choose the questions that most appealed to them.
  • They were able to come up with thoughtful criteria for prioritizing the questions. I was impressed with their critical thinking at this stage.
  • They quickly learned to determine whether questions were open or closed, and tried ‘opening up’ some questions that they thought were worth exploring with more depth.
  • There was buy-in to the research that they were about to do. Since it was related to the Amazing Race, they knew that the research mattered. They were ready to jump right in and find answers to their questions.
  • Students were able to see subtopics emerge by grouping questions together.
  • There was very little ‘social loafing’. All students in the group were zoned in and came up with a long list of questions.
  • We noticed that some of the questions and subtopics related to the history themes we examined this year as well. The students noticed this before I did!

This was the first time I used QFT, but it won’t be the last. Thank you to The Right Question Institute for the guidance in a new technique that I needed to get my classes going. We’re now off and running in the Amazing Race.

Ms. Gaudet
Grade 7 Teacher and Citizenship Coordinator

It Works! (Question and Be Curious, But How? – Part II)

Question and be CuriousI thought it would!

A few months ago I wrote about the book Make Just One Change and the methodology it shared for teaching how to come up with good questions. For all the value of questioning, it seemed to me that the profession was pretty barren on direct methods for teaching this skill. Instead, some students seem to come by questioning naturally, and others pick it up as they mature, or not. Of course, students are exposed to lots of questions at school, and they’re regularly invited to come up with questions. Despite this, my gut was telling me we could accomplish more.

Then I read about the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). Immersing students in question-asking, it also offers the benefit of learning from one’s peers, it releases students from the threat of judgment, and it includes informed reflection, so students would start developing not only the habit of asking questions, but also the habit of asking increasingly effective ones. The method struck me as straightforward and destined to work. I had to try it out, and our grade 6 teachers were willing to let me. Their students were about to start their culminating social studies assignment and they needed questions to begin. Enter the QFT.

The Question Focus (or QFocus) was ‘Canadians Making the World Better’. The process began with a ‘question frenzy’, where groups of 3-4 students, one also being the ‘recorder’, came up with questions based on the QFocus. Rules of engagement were shared before the 7-minute frenzy: ask as many questions as you can; do not stop to answer, judge or discuss; write every question as it’s stated; and any statements were to be turned into questions. The recorder typed the questions in the class Edmodo newsfeed, thereby allowing all students to eventually see the questions of the whole class when the exercise was done.

The frenzy was followed by a brief exercise in open and closed-ended questions; a discussion on the students’ current purpose in asking questions (their QFocus and their assignment); and then an exercise in choosing and justifying their top three questions from the many others they came up with earlier.

The end result? Better questions than the teacher had seen students come up with in past years. They were mature questions that even caused concern in some parents who thought they were too hard (until they learned they came from their children). The students were welcome to change their questions if they felt they needed to, but instead most chose to stick with them, and by doing so ended up writing longer and better assignments than required.

Good questions are at the heart of great learning. At KCS we’ve seen over and over again that students are capable of more than most would expect, if we only persist in finding how to unlock it. We’ll be adding QFT to our list of tools for unlocking potential in students. And this will be one area of education where I no longer have that nagging feeling that we don’t do enough.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Question and Be Curious, But How? – Part I

One of the biggest challenges in education is in knowing how far you have to go to make sure all students learn what matters. Some skills are picked up by many quite readily. Other skills, not so much. For some things the profession has a wealth of precedent, other things not so much. Deciding how far you have to go is driven by experience, knowledge, assumptions, and the amount of time teachers have to think about it once all other important demands are dealt with.

Question and Be Curious is one of our KCS Habits, and all evidence says it’s a habit that matters. It’s no exaggeration to say that democracy, progress, and the understanding of all that happens are rooted in asking and seeking answers to questions, and doing both well. Learning to ask questions readily and well, however, is not easy for many. Sure, students learn the grammar behind asking questions, and goodness knows they get thorough immersion in being asked questions. But teaching the art of question-asking lies in an educational no-man’s-land. When and how are students taught to ask their own questions?

The widespread absence of an answer to that challenge occurred to me as I read the book Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, based on the work of The Right Question Institute. To be fair, most teachers try in various ways to develop this skill, and many students pick it up, either readily or over time, to at least some degree. That being said, and despite pretty significant efforts, I haven’t seen a system that can directly develop this skill in all students that is more convincing than what’s shared in this book. Called the Question Formulation Technique, it immerses all students in asking questions, directly teaches students about them, and engages them in critical analysis of their questions in order to develop awareness of the suitability and relative value of questions. According to Rothstein and Santana, students who’ve gone through this exercise have found it transformational. While I haven’t yet experienced it, I’m convinced enough of its potential that I’m borrowing a class to try it out.

Does it work? Will it work for every student? If it does, what impact will this have on their learning? These are the questions I am asking. Stay tuned for Part II of Question and Be Curious for the outcome.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.