After reading The Diary of Anne Frank, a student is asked, “Who is Anne Frank?” To answer the question, the student simply recalls the information he or she memorized from the reading.
With the implementation of Common Core, students are expected to become critical thinkers instead of just recalling facts and ideas from text. In order for students to reach this potential and be prepared for success, educators must engage students during instruction by asking higher-order questions.
Higher-order Questions (HOQ)
Higher-order questions are those that the students cannot answer just by simple recollection or by reading the information “verbatim” from the text. Higher-order questions put advanced cognitive demand on students. They encourage students to think beyond literal questions.
Higher-order questions promote critical thinking skills because these types of questions expect students to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information instead of simply recalling facts. For instance, application questions require students to transfer knowledge learned in one context to another; analysis questions expect students to break the whole into component parts such as analyze mood, setting, characters, express opinions, make inferences, and draw conclusions; synthesis questions have students use old ideas to create new ones using information from a variety of sources; and evaluation questions require students to make judgments, explain reasons for judgments, compare and contrast information, and develop reasoning using evidence from the text.
Higher-order Questions Research
According to research, teachers who effectively use a variety of higher-order questions can overcome the brain’s natural tendency to develop mental routines and patterns to limit information, which is called neural pruning. As a result, student’s brains may become more open-minded, which strengthens the brain.
According to an article in Educational Leadership (March 1997), researchers Thomas Cardellichio and Wendy Field discovered that higher-order questions increase neural branching, the opposite of neural pruning. In addition, these researchers found that teachers can promote the process of neural branching through seven types of questions.
- Hypothetical thinking. This form of thinking is used to create new information. It causes a person to develop an answer based on generalizations related to that situation. These questions follow general forms such as What if this happened? What if this were not true?, etc.
- Reversal thinking. This type of thinking expects students to turn a question around and look for opposite ideas. For example, What happens if I reverse the addends in a math problem? What caused this? How does it change if I go backward?, etc.
- Application of different symbol systems. This way of thinking is to apply a symbol system to a situation for which it is not usually used, such as writing a math equation to show how animal interaction is related.
- Analogy. This process of thinking is to compare unrelated situations such as how is the Pythagorean Theorem related to cooking. These questions typically ask How is this like ___?
- Analysis of point of view. This way of thinking requires students to consider and question other people’s perspective, belief, or opinion in order to extend their minds. For instance, a teacher may ask a student, What else could account for this? or How many other ways could someone look at this?
- Completion. This form of thinking requires students to finish an incomplete project or situation that would normally be completed. For example, removing the end of a story and expecting the students to create their own ending.
- Web analysis. With web analysis, students must synthesize how events are related in complex ways instead of simply relying on the brain’s natural ability to develop a simple pattern. For example, How extensive were the effects of _____? Or Track the relationship of events following from ___ aretypes of web analysis questions.
The researchers concluded that this type of questioning can lead to better critical thinking skills. “They can analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and interpret the text they are reading at complex levels. They can process text at deep levels, make judgments, and detect shades of meaning. They can make critical interpretations and demonstrate high levels of insight and sophistication in their thinking. They are able to make inferences, draw relevant and insightful conclusions, use their knowledge in new situations, and relate their thinking to other situations and to their own background knowledge. These students fare well on standardized tests and are considered to be advanced. They will indeed be prepared to function as outstanding workers and contributors in a fast-paced workplace where the emphasis is on using information rather than just knowing facts.”
Higher-order Questions and Explicit Direct Instruction
The Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) model incorporates a variety of higher-order questions in order to encourage and increase critical thinking skills.
The LEARNING OBJECTIVE component in EDI is the only question that is at a low level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The reason for this is because the content during this portion of the lesson is not at a high level. Also, the students have not been taught the high-level content. Typically, the question asked to students is “What are we doing today? or What is our Learning Objective?”
The CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT component includes a variety of higher-order concept-related questions because the content is at a high level. Here is a list of higher-order questions that are asked during this EDI component:
- In your own words, what is (insert the concept being taught)?
- Which is an example of ________? Why?
- What is the difference between the example and the non-example?
- Why is this an example of ______?
- Give me an example of ______.
- Draw an example of ______.
- Match the examples to the definition of ______.
- Which picture/poster shows an example of _______?
The SKILL DEVELOPMENT component asks higher-level thinking-process questions after modeling the skill.
- How did I know how to (insert skill modeled)?
- How did I know that this was the correct answer?
- How did
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I use to ensure that I knew how to find the _____?
- How did I know how to interpret the answer?
The GUIDED PRACTICE asks higher-level process questions that require the students to show their thought process when performing the skill.
- How did you know how to __________?
- How did you know that this was the correct answer?
- How did you use to ensure that you knew how to find the _____?
- How did you know how to interpret the answer?
- Which steps was most difficult for you? Why?
The RELEVANCE component includes higher-level evaluation questions.
- Does anyone have any other reason as to why this is important?
- Which reason is the most relevant to you? Why?
The CLOSURE component includes high-level questions such as:
- What did you learn today?
- How did the lesson meet the Learning Objective?
- How will this lesson benefit you in the future?
If higher-order questions promote critical thinking skills, as research shows, then higher-order questions should be included throughout instruction. The EDI model offers a good way to do just that!
Educational Leadership, Seven Strategies That Encourage Neural Branching, March 1997