I like using the Question Formulation Technique with students. I usually introduce it in one of the first lessons of the year. By introducing it early, I’m trying to make a statement that questions are more important than answers in my class and that it is OK to ask questions that we might not know the answers to. It’s about fostering the disposition of curiosity and acknowledging that different people bring different questions to the table.
My Year 9 History class is currently commencing a unit on Australia’s involvement in World War One. I gave them the over-arching question/topic as simply ‘why was Australia involved in World War One?’ and then we jumped into the QFT.
The first step requires students to produce their own questions. They need to write down as many questions as they can in a specified time period, without pausing to discuss, judge, or answer the questions. This gets a whole bunch of ideas on the table.
The second step is to improve the questions. Instead of open and closed questions, I find it helpful to talk about fat and skinny questions, kids get this, and I always pause here to have a classroom discussion about what a good question looks like and what is involved in producing a good question. I’m continually amazed at their depth of thinking and insight.
The third step is to prioritise the questions. I ask them to choose the best two questions on their tables of four students, but before I do this I ask them to stop and consider the process of working together – ensuring that everyone contributes and nobody dominates.
Finally I get them to graffiti their best questions on the windows using liquid chalk. They love the sense of anti-authoritarianism in this. We then step back and look at the questions and talk about each of them.
Over the course of the coming term we will try to answer each of these questions in some depth. I hope that through the QFT process we have set a platform that we can keep looping back to as the year unfolds. I also hope to have the chance to work more closely with the Right Question Institute in the future.