Sunday, March 16, 2014

What do you think of open ended questions?

Reading through the assigned materials, I found several statements that resonated with me. I would like to share some of them. 

Ben Johnson stated, "The fallacy with this thinking is that sometimes the students do not understand that they do not understand, and if they do not know what they do not know, there is no way that they can ask a question about it." It sounds like something you might hear Dr. Seuss say, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. You have to have some understanding before you can ask questions. I have found myself in this dilemma several times this semester, and this will definitely affect my questioning strategy as a teacher in the future. Being the student for a while causes one to reflect on one's own teaching style. 

"Show that you are interested in students’ answers, whether right or wrong. Encourage students when they are offering answers by nodding, looking at them, and using facial expressions that show you are listening and engaged. Do not look down at your notes while they are speaking." This statement is from the article, "Asking Questions to Improve Learning." I believe this is key in getting students to engage in answering the open ended questions that are presented. No one wants to respond to a question when they think what they are saying isn't important to the person asking the question. It's important to show respect for students and a genuine interest in their responses. 

Perhaps the statement that resonated most with me was this by Maryellen Weimer, "1. Prepare Questions – For most of my teaching career, I never planned the questions I would ask. I spent lots of time preparing the content; making sure it was current, getting it organized, finding examples, working through explanations, relating what I shared in class to content in the book, but I never prepared questions. I just asked whatever came to me at the moment." 

This is a very accurate description of how I handled questioning. Sadly, the only time I put real thought into what questions I would ask was when constructing a test.

Dr. Weimer also points out that getting students to ask better questions should be a goal, and when they ask questions that we, the teacher, can't answer, then we have achieved success! At this point, we become actively engaged learners alongside our students!  

While watching the video, "Questioning Styles and Strategies," I cringed several times. I felt a lot of empathy for the students. The instructor was clearly not interested in the response of the students, and it was obvious that they could tell he wasn't interested. It was also apparent that he was looking for a particular answer which was making students apprehensive to offer their answers. I did not find that he was really engaging the students. He was drawing attention to them in negative, uncomfortable ways. This was apparent in their body language and timid responses. Responses to good open ended questions would be more enthusiastic. Enthusiastic students equal engaged students.

After reading and viewing the assigned materials, I did some searching and found a great website that I would like to share. Paula Denton wrote "Open Ended Questions." In this article she discusses, "What Makes Open Ended Questions So Powerful?" Here is what she wrote:

"Children’s learning naturally loops through a cycle of wonder, exploration, discovery, reflection, and more wonder, leading them on to increasingly complex knowledge and sophisticated thinking. The power of open-ended questions comes from the way these questions tap into that natural cycle, inviting children to pursue their own curiosity about how the world works.
Open-ended questions show children that their teachers trust them to have good ideas, think for themselves, and contribute in valuable ways. The resulting sense of autonomy, belonging, and competence leads to engagement and deep investment in classroom activities."
Paula's article is on the Responsive Classroom website. Because I was so impressed with her article about open ended questions, I did a little more investigating to find more information. Here is a wonderful video about the responsive classroom. 

I would like to suggest that it is not only important to ask open ended questions, but to also think about the wording we use, provide a positive response environment, listen with the enthusiasm in which we want our students to answer, and encourage students to ask their own open ended questions. What do you think?  


  1. What do I think? As the EDM mottos says, I think questions are more important than the answers. Especially open ended questions!

  2. I like that motto! I think it eliminates the fear of being wrong all together and allows students the freedom to explore and search for the answers to their own questions without fear.