How would you explain the difference? What is your vision for your classroom when considering that difference? What does that vision mean in terms of classroom discussion and questioning?
One of the tools we’ve been using in classroom observations is Jim Knight’s Question Chart. It breaks questions into Open and Closed questions, as well as the level of thinking required (knowledge, skills, big ideas). Questioning is just one means at deepening engagement, but a useful one.
Both Closed and Open questions have their place and open questions are not always superior to closed questions. And, closed ended questions seem to come quite naturally to us.
What did you get for #1?
How old are you?
What is the setting of the story?
Which word in the sentence is an adverb?
What is the Pythagorean theorem?
What would be the five albums you’d take to a desert island?
Which is great because closed questions are a great tool to confirm and check student understanding. It also offers verbal practice.
The limitation comes if we rely on them for goals they’re not designed to meet.
Open questions (with an unlimited number of answers, often opinion questions) are personal, catalysts for conversation, remove the fear of giving a “wrong” answer. They invite student engagement.
What would you do if you were the president when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
How does Neruda use images to move his reader?
What is an example of a system at work in nature?
How would you solve this problem?
How do people act when they treat each other with respect?
These open ended questions give more space for formative assessment, and low-risk student input.
Knight writes “In a classroom where low-level questions are being asked, there can be a palpable lack of engagement, thinking and learning…when classroom conversation is dull and lacks energy, it is often because the teacher is trying to move conversation forward with closed questions when open questions would be more likely to provoke real thinking.”
Why does this matter with Equity in Mind?
Eric Jensen speaks on how this relates to underserved students. When teachers “often assume that they need to ‘’dumb down’ the learning and accordingly end up teaching only surface understandings of labels instead of going for deeper learning. They are operating under the false assumption that [underserved] students are either unable or unwilling to engage in deeper, more complex learning. Yet highly effective teachers demonstrate repeatedly that [underserved] students not only can engage in complex learning but also prefer it.”