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Beyond “What’s the Answer?”: How Questioning Sparks Student Critical Thinking

Case Study on Questioning Strategies 900 x 460 image by Mafost Marketing

( words) minutes to read 

Critical thinking isn’t just about finding the right answer – it’s about digging deeper, analyzing, and building upon information. So, how can teachers encourage this skill in their classrooms? This case study explores the power of questioning as a tool to ignite student critical thinking, showcasing the impact of question type on student engagement and cognitive development.

Real-Life Case Study

This study focuses on a dedicated teacher who actively uses questioning in their reading comprehension lessons. To understand the effectiveness of their approach, researchers observed the classroom and interviewed 17 students about their learning experiences.

Source: Internation Journal of English Linguistics

What the Data Revealed About Questioning Strategies

Surprisingly, the observations showed that the teacher primarily used lower-cognitive questions (79.2%) – those prompting recall or simple comprehension. Higher-cognitive questions, requiring analysis, evaluation, or application, made up only 20.8%.

Questions play a central role in the processes of teaching and learning because students’ learning, thinking, participation and their level of engagement depend on the kind of questions teachers formulate and use in the classroom.

Patrícia Albergaria-Almeida

Using questions to help guide students into deeper levels of thinking and analysis is the core of high-quality teaching. We’ve discovered this from recent research in the science of reading.

Understanding the Impact on Student Critical Thinking

Based on established learning theories, the study concludes that a reliance on lower-cognitive questions limits the potential for developing critical thinking. While these questions serve a purpose, they typically involve surface-level engagement and don’t push students to manipulate or apply their knowledge in new ways.

Questioning to Unlock Deeper Levels of Learning

This case study isn’t a condemnation of questions, but a reminder of their potential. By strategically weaving in more higher-cognitive questions, teachers can unlock a deeper level of learning in their students.

Examples of such questions include:

  • “How does this text connect to what we learned yesterday?”
  • “Can you think of another scenario where this information might apply?”
  • “Based on the evidence, which character’s perspective seems most reliable?”

Find more questions > 32 Open-Ended Comprehension Questions

Going Beyond the Case Study

This case study serves as a springboard for further exploration. Teachers can consider reflecting on their questioning practices, incorporating more open-ended and analytical questions, and observing the impact on student engagement and critical thinking skills.

Really, it’s a focus on those thinking skills that will build maths and reading skills for the digital age.

Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate lower-cognitive questions entirely but to strike a balance that fosters both comprehension and critical thinking. By asking the right questions, teachers can transform classrooms into spaces where students actively engage with knowledge, challenge assumptions, and become confident critical thinkers.

About the Author

Matt is a learner, creator, and educator with k-12 teaching, administrative, and research experience. He tracks trends in education, travels the oceans, and fails at fishing.

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