Take a look at the chart below that reviews the definition of basic, building, and breakthrough questions and shows an example for each core content.
We educators have a knack for asking the remembering and understanding questions (and we often let most students get away with letting only the eager beavers respond...but that’s another post for another week). It can sometimes be a struggle to incorporate breakthrough questions into instruction. Here are some ideas to help you create breakthrough questions that will really ensure students are LEARNING in your class:
Developing the Question
Pairing of process standards (which are those that address thinking and analysis skills) with content standards has the potential to elevate any standard from lower level Bloom's requirement to higher level.
For example, in the Social Studies question above, the standard at first glance appears to be a low level recall starting with “identify”. But the standard continues to ask students to understand both the contributions and the motivations of the founding fathers. Pairing a process standard, such as 5.24(B) “analyze information by... categorizing, identifying cause-and-effect relationships, comparing, contrasting, finding the main idea, summarizing, making generalizations and predictions, and drawing inferences and conclusions”, increases the rigor at which this topic is approached. No longer are students simply asked to memorize a list of names and recite them back. Now students must own the information and be able to ask questions about the founding fathers, find information about the questions they are asking, and develop a way to organize that information into their own answers. In short, students are not only answering breakthrough level questions, but ASKING breakthrough level questions. And owning the process of learning.
lead4ward has developed a great Snapshot of the TEKS for all core subjects at each grade level that includes the process and content standards. Download your grade-appropriate documents to help remind you of ways to increase the rigor (and excitement!) of your class.
Phrasing the Question
Phrasing questions is important ﹘ a slight change in how the question is asked shifts it from a question with one right answer to an open-ended question. Watch this video and listen to the teachers discuss the importance of asking, “What do you think of…?” versus asking “What does ______ mean?”
The Follow Through
So, you’ve developed the perfect breakthrough question and have it phrased precisely. And then the answer you receive falls far below your expectations. What now? And have you considered how you will honor incorrect answers? Students who have answered a question—whether they are right or wrong— have risked something. Acknowledge their efforts and ask further questions to assist them in continuing in the discussion. Try one of these:
“Hmm...let’s think about that for a minute [~pause~].”
“Talk me through how you got that answer.”
Perhaps your students do answer the question in ways you had hoped. What next? Class over? Not yet...you can build on their responses by asking questions that extend:
How? Why? What’s another way?
Tell me more. What’s another word?
How do you know? What’s the evidence?
What else can you relate this to? What have you learned that is similar, or different, and what are those connections?
What example can you give where this learning applies in another area of your experience and learning?
Remember that when students are connecting the new information they are gaining in your class to experiences outside of your class, LEARNING is happening.
You’ve reviewed and reflected. Your creative juices are flowing. Now it’s time to resolve to use breakthrough questions to develop a rigorous classroom!
As you plan questions for your class, try starting by writing the breakthrough level questions first then working backwards to write the building and basic questions. In writing breakthrough questions, reflect on:
1) what you want kids to think deeply about
2) what will require students to demonstrate mastery of knowledge by applying it to new and novel settings or content
3) what you already know about students’ interests and knowledge that will lead them to leap forward
General question stems from Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a great starting point! Look at this chart for fresh ideas on how to ask rigorous questions in your class. Don’t forget that the Remember questions applied to a new content CAN be a breakthrough question because you’re asking students to manipulate information they’ve learned and APPLY it to a new situation.
ESC Region 10 has developed STAAR Tools that lists all questions from released STAAR tests next to the SE (yes—for every content and grade level that takes the STAAR/EOC!). Why is this helpful? That exact question will never be asked again, but, it does give us a model of what TYPE of question to expect over the content. And often, these are very rigorous questions and provide great examples of breakthrough questions.
Standard: ELA 5.11E: Synthesize and make logical connections between ideas within a text and across two or three texts representing similar or different genres
Released STAAR Question: “How are the prince in the story and the speaker’s parents in the poem alike?”
This example from the STAAR test can be used to generate the question stem, “How are _______ in the story and the _________ in the [poem/story] alike [or different]?”
This question stem provides a great framework for a breakthrough question because it requires students to make connections and explain their reasoning.
Comments? Questions? Respond to this post and let’s start a discussion.
Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will take a look at how we get students to organize themselves and to think about what they think.