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Prompting Deeper Thinking through Open Questions

Transforming questioning from a style that solicits simple answers to one that challenges students to think deeper

Overview

Cisco Junior High’s 7th grade math teacher incorporates probing questions into math instruction. These questions cannot be answered with a “yes,” “no,” or a simple solution, and require deeper thinking from students. By prompting discussion with open questions, students need to access their previous knowledge, think through the mathematical processes related to the question at hand, and use mathematical language to formulate an answer. This instructional exercise is usually conducted with the whole class about once a week, though is also incorporated into daily individual interactions with students.

This type of prompting helps students move away from simple recitation of knowledge, deepening their conceptual understanding of topics covered. Questions are created by the teacher in advance of a lesson and can also be pulled from resources that provide deeper-thinking questions. Implementing this strategy required a bit of a mindset shift within the class, as asking easy questions can be reaffirming for both students and teachers, while switching to more open-ended questions improves teaching and learning. Although it has been a challenge for students and their teachers to move away from simple questions and answers, this process provides them with more rigorous thinking and learning.