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Questions, an integral part of teaching and learning, are not all are created equal.  A question requiring students to recall simple facts and figures is quite different from one promoting deep thinking.   For most people, constructing fact-based questions comes naturally, but mediative questions, those that elicit thoughtful responses, are not so intuitive to design, but with planning, can be incredibly powerful.
Characteristics of Mediative Questions 
In our Cognitive Coaching SM Foundations training, we highlight the three characteristics of mediative questions (Costa and Garmston, 2016, p. 57-59) as follows:   
  • Invitational: presented with an approachable tone of voice and word selection that express tentativeness and an invitation to think. Example – As you reflect on your group’s progress, what next steps might you take? 
  • Intentional: posed with a purpose. An example to open a responder’s thinking, might be: “What ideas are you considering for your project?”  To focus the thinking, an example might be – “How might you begin?” Starting a question with the stem of “What” or “How” increases “open-ness” and the likelihood a response will be something other than a yes/no response.
  • Engage specific cognitive operations:  invite different levels of cognition as a tool for planning your classroom questions to ensure that students are being challenged to think rigorously about concepts.

Engage Students in Formulating Questions 
According to South Carolina’s Science & Engineering Practices (SEPs) Support Guide for indicator - S.1A.1, Ask Questions, “Teachers of all grade levels should be creating an environment that increases curiosity as well as opportunities for students to brainstorm, share and answer thoughtful questions.” Use the SEPs Checklist for S.1A.1 Ask Questions.  It provides a guide for what the teacher and students should be doing in order to ask thoughtful questions.  Here are some ideas to get students involved:
  • Collaborate with students in developing a list of stems incorporating the different levels of cognition to guide their questioning.  
  • Post stems visibly in the classroom. 
  • Create Bounce Cards for students to have in their notebooks. (Check out the S2TEM Centers SC Disciplinary Literacy Strategy Warehouse to learn more about this and other resources.) 
  • Create an interactive question board.  Combine it with an approach such as the “skinny” (fact-based) vs “fat” (higher-order thinking) question strategy.  Have students write questions related to the unit being studied and place them on the board in the “skinny” or “fat” section.  Encourage students to answer each others questions and revise “skinny” questions, making them “fat.”   The teacher may add their own questions to the board and model ways to revise student created questions. Interaction with the board can be directed by the teacher or self-directed by the students. 
The level of thoughtfulness and engagement of students is a direct result of the type and manner of questions they are given to answer and the processes and opportunities provided to develop their own questions to ask.   For more information on professional development opportunities offered on this topic, contact your local S2TEM Centers SC office.
Costa, Arthur, and Robert Garmston. Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners, 3rd Edition.  Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers. 2016. Print.  
“Science & Engineering Practices Support Guide for the South Carolina Academic Standards and Performance Indicators for Science”

Disciplinary Literacy Strategies:  IQMS Virtual Library

New Classroom Questioning Techniques for the Best Year Ever
“SEP’s In Action Checklist” published by the SC SDE

Upcoming Events

February - March, 2016
SC Science Instructional Materials Adoption Workshops
Various Dates and Locations

February 6, 2016
Charleston STEM Festival
Brittlebank Park
Charleston, SC

February 22, 2016
This School's Got STEM Contest - Submit Entries

February 26, 2016 K-5 Curriculum Workshop
Spartanburg,, SC 29303

March 10, 2016 K-5 Curriculum Workshop
Rock Hill, SC

March 23, 2016
Lowcountry Regional STEM Symposium
Trident Technical College, N. Charleston, SC
April 2, 2016
iMAGINE Upstate Festival
Greenville, SC

April 9, 2016
2016 SC 4-H Engineering Challenge presented by EnlightenSC
Orangeburg-Clahoun Technical College

September 26 - 28, 2016
The Next Steps Institute:  "Next Steps for STEM Learning and Leadership In and Out of School"
Charleston Convention Center
Charleston, SC

What S2TEM Centers SC clients say about their Professional Learning Experience...

"I cannot wait to go and try some of the ideas I have learned.  I teach math and science so I can use this daily and integrate the standards in all my lessons.  Great session! Thank you! "

Kristin Kneece, Teacher
St. John's Elementary, Darlington
 Math and Science Integration
This experience helped me to understand that all subjects are tied together. It doesn't take any extra work to integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in throughout all subjects. I really enjoyed this class!

Brandy Benjamin, Teacher
Thornwell School of he Arts, Darlington County
Math & Science Integration
"It helped me get ideas of how to make my classroom more challenging and constructive.  The challenge activities were great!"
Erika LaVerdiere, Teacher
Congaree Wood Early Childhood Center, Lexington 2
STEM Forward

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