Asking the Right Questions



Systems and structures abound for the categorization of questions; Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) is a popular framework in ELA teacher preparation programs.  Yet, I love the simplicity and implicit logic in looking at questions through the lens of Google.  In a BYOD environment, why would we spend time teaching to the googleable questions when the answers are a few keystrokes away?  I am tempted to say that we are living in an era of information overload, but really, we are fortunate to live in an era in which information abounds and is readily available to us.  We must teach ourselves and our students how to manage and evaluate this proliferation of information.

Key Concepts:

  • Class time should be reserved for tackling the non-googleable questions–in other words, the higher order thinking, messy, memorable terrain.
  • Some googleable questions are important, of course.  They provide opportunities to differentiate instruction (DI), personalize learning, and flip the learning.

DI Examples When the Googleable Questions are Still Important:

  • Allow student choice as to which questions to explore.  For example, in a US History class, while studying the women’s rights movement some googleable questions would be:  Who is Margaret Sanger? What did she do? And, who wrote the Comstock Law of 1873?  To begin, students could quickly google the answer and share with their peers.  Then, students could explore more in-depth; using the teacher’s essential questions as a backdrop, students could write a non-googleable question related to their choice and analyze the information.  Students could tweet out links to their blog posts or Prezis–then, you have your students flipping the learning too!
  • Personalize learning.  In an introductory Spanish class, the teacher needs to teach some of the basic vocabulary needed for travel.  Example of a googleable question:  How do I ask where there is a nearby bathroom in Spanish?  Yes, the students could use Google translator, but that isn’t going to develop proficiency in the language.  Mix things up with technology and allow students to use Instagram to post pictures of their (fictional) travels along with captions utilizing the (googleable) vocabulary they must learn.  Or, via their blogs, have them write a travelogue entry complete with pictures of their destination!  (I guess we could call this example destination learning.)
  • Flip the learning.  In the ELA classroom, we teach and reteach the art of creating strong thesis statements.  We can google:  what makes a strong thesis statement?  When it comes to teaching the art of writing a strong thesis statement, this is a great time to flip the learning.  An hour or so up front to create a flipped video about thesis writing is a great investment on the teacher’s part.  Why?  The information presented is consistent across all the teacher’s classes, and perhaps even across the entire grade level or school, depending on how you go about production and distribution.  Also, students can view the video at their own pace, perhaps pausing after replaying certain examples for clarification, and they can view the video anytime.  Many students would benefit from a “refresher” as they approach each new essay.  Most importantly, this frees up class time for the teacher to help students (in class!) to revise weaker thesis statements.  Often, the feedback on thesis statements takes place outside of class because the teacher takes the drafts home and writes feedback (read: stress because they are traveling in your book bag and on the “to do” list) or because the teacher asks the student to come after school for extra help on the thesis.  Now, looking back on the one hour investment, it seems like a win-win!

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