I recently saw a photo posted on twitter by John Golden. The photo showed the question prompts "What makes a good question?" and "What makes a question good?" on a white board. John said that this was an intro activity to a discussion on questions. These questions really got me thinking and reflecting on my own practice.
There seems to be a lot of discussion about "what makes a good question." There are entire books filled with examples of rich question and engaging problems. Two of my favourites are Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction by Marian Small and Good Questions for Math Teaching: Why Ask Them and What to Ask, Grades 5-8 by Lainie Schuster and Nancy L. Anderson. I've seen much less discussion about "what makes a question good." I think it's harder to define the effective teaching practices and routines for asking questions in a manner that makes them effective.
What are the characteristics of a good question? I recently read a post from Geoff Krall in which he wrote about teachers adapting questions they had found to make them even better. He said that to do this, "You start to turn from 'I like this task' to 'What do you like about it?'" I think that this is an important question to ask yourself. Teachers need to think about their students and the context in which they teach to determine what questions are going to best facilitate effective student learning in their classroom. Here are some possible characteristics of good questions that you might consider:
Jennifer Piggott in an article on NRICH wrote, "In essence, rich tasks encourage children to think creatively, work logically, communicate ideas, synthesise their results, analyse different viewpoints, look for commonalities and evaluate findings. However, what we really need are rich classrooms: communities of enquiry and collaboration, promoting communication and imagination." This really resonated with me. It is not enough to have a great problem. As teachers we need to know how to effectively present and lead the exploration of a problem in order to reap its benefits.
There are a number of strategies you might consider when exploring a question:
You Need Both to Succeed
My grandmother was a big fan of the card game pinochle and she taught me to play at an early age. It's a trick taking card game where players work in pairs to score points. I learned early that even the best hand of cards can be beaten by someone who knows how to play well. My grandmother played to win and she would often remind us to "mind your p's and q's" while playing to pay attention and play carefully. I learned a lot of math counting up tricks and keeping score. The important lesson here is that to be successful at pinochle, you have to have both a good hand of cards to meld and play those cards correctly to maximize your score. Just like pinochle, when planning a lesson, you need to consider two important and complementary components. Both finding good questions and using them effectively are equally important to the success of your problem solving lesson.