Planting Questions

By Nell Ishee

"A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea."

-- John Ciardi, author

All words related to questioning-question, quest, query, inquiry-come from ancient roots meaning "to go in search." Teachers question to search for students' existing knowledge, to encourage students to stretch their thinking and responses, to model problem-solving thinking processes, and to help students clarify their ideas. It becomes a cooperative relationship when a teacher dignifies an answer and deepens it, leading the student to further questing.

GrowLab classrooms are fertile ground for planting and exploring questions. Through each phase of the teaching cycle in GrowLab: Activities for Growing Minds, open-ended questions create a positive atmosphere for thinking and learning by encouraging students to hypothesize, give and justify opinions, express feelings, and share ideas. The reproducibles, such as "Plant a Question," page 282, and "Problem Solving for Growing Minds," page 283, guide students as they explore their own questions. Also consider using some of the strategies below with your growing explorations to help expand and refine your students' questioning and response skills.

We'd also like to hear about strategies you use to encourage students to plant questions, to evoke thoughtful student responses, and to respond to student questions.

Questioning Quickies to Stretch Thinking

  • Wait Time: Try waiting 3 - 5 seconds between posing a question and asking for a response. Researchers have shown that this will dramatically improve the length, variety, and number of student responses.
  • Think-Pair-Share: Pose a question, (e.g., In what ways do people's activities affect plants?) then wait while students think, write, or draw a response. Have pairs of students discuss their responses, then share them with the class.
  • Class Quest List: Keep a chart for recording ongoing questions that emerge spontaneously during gardening activities. Students can use the questions to get ideas for future investigations.
  • Focus Interview: Give each four-member team one to three questions about a particular concept (e.g., the greenhouse effect). Have students discuss the questions and share opinions, then record responses to share with the class.
  • Cooperty: (played like Jeopardy) Provide a list of answers (e.g., plant, seed, true leaves, etc.) and have teams of students brainstorm possible questions for each. Then have them choose their "best" questions and share them with the class on large charts. This is a great review activity.
  • Fat and Skinny Questions: Give teams of students plant materials (or pictures of plant materials) and have them generate lists of questions they'd like to have answered. Have teams classify the questions into "FAT" (those questions requiring more in-depth responses or investigations) or "SKINNY" (those questions that can be answered in a few words, on the spot). Later, fat questions can be used to shape investigations.
  • KWL: Create and divide a chart into three parts: Things We Know, Things We Want to Know, and What We've Learned. You can do this for individual journal pages, as a team assignment, or as a class.

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