Academics, Upper School

Formulating Good Questions

Part of becoming a critical thinker is learning to formulate and ask the right questions. One effective way Northwest School students are learning to generate good questions is through the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). Humanities teacher Adina Meyer studied the technique at the Right Question Institute Conference in summer 2017, and is applying it in her Humanities classes this year.

“It really stretches the students’ brains to come up with their questions themselves (rather than waiting for the teacher to ask the questions),” says Adina. “It empowers them. It makes them into much more independent learners and thinkers.”

The five-step QFT process begins with the teacher presenting a “Question Focus” (Qfocus) to the class. Students then come up with as many questions as they can about that Qfocus, without stopping to discuss, judge, or answer the questions. Next, students categorize the questions as “closed” (answerable with a yes or no) or “open-ended” (requiring an explanation). They discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both categories and practice changing closed questions to open-ended, and vice versa. Finally, they prioritize their list of questions into the three most important ones, and then discuss how they are going to use those questions.

“QFT is so much about trusting students as learners,” says Adina. “Trusting that they have brain power and curiosity and that they will get to what you want them to learn and know.”

A recent example of QFT in action was Adina’s 10th grade ELL Humanities class. The students had been reading My Name is Seepeetza, by Shirley Sterling – a memoir of a Native American girl forced to leave her family and attend a boarding school to assimilate into white culture.

The Qfocus Adina offered the class was a large map of North America before Europeans arrived, populated with Native American tribes from coast to coast. Students had eight minutes to write down everything they wanted to know about the map.

Working in small groups, the international students generated many questions, such as:  How did the tribes trade with each other? Why are most of the tribes near rivers? Did they speak the same language? How did they keep the balance between tribes, were they at war? How did they name themselves? What do the names mean? Did the tribal chiefs have the most power?

Next, students will research and write a paper on some aspect of indigenous people they want to know more about – and one option is to answer the questions they generated themselves.

To hear Adina talk more about QFT, click here.