If you are someone who follows me you know I am always excited about something. Well, the thing I am excited about this month in the Question Formulation Technique, or QFT. This is a strategy that walks students through an experience where they create their own questions using a stimulus or question focus called a Qfocus. This is the brain child of the Right Question Institute. You can go to their website to learn more about the technique and why it was created. The “‘why” is actually a really interesting story. It was created because educators asked parents of low income students why they didn’t come to school and participate. They knew it wasn’t because they weren’t interested or because they didn’t love their children or care about education. When they asked the parents what was keeping them from coming to school and asking questions about their children’s education the parents said it was because they didn’t even know what questions to ask. The Right Questions Institute then created the QFT as a way to allow more people to participate in micro-democracy. Basically to increase the voices in the conversation about any topic. This technique brings more stakeholders to the table.
The same is true in the classroom and so this translates pretty seamlessly. We all want our students to participate in the democratic classroom. We want them to be curious about the topics we are covering in our classes. We want to tap into the natural curiosity of youth. When applied in the classroom this technique is simple to use, powerful, and purposeful. In this strategy the teacher guides the students through an experience working in small groups or partners to first produce questions, improve their questions, prioritize their questions, and then identify the next steps in the lesson or unit. During the process the students are doing a lot of the driving and decision making. They are talking to one another and they are being very metacognitive about their own process. They are asked to look at their work, discuss and change their questions as well as provide rational for choices as a group on top of helping to guide the instruction and drive the direction of the next steps. To see a quick video of the technique in action you can click here. You may have to create an account but it’s free then, just go to resources and you can see “QFT in Action”.
I titled this post “Why You Should Use QFT for Your Next Observation” because as I become more experienced in the technique I think this lesson design has some unique qualities that for me under the Danielson framework are the most challenging to guarantee. I can really only use Danielson here because that is the one my district uses but I am sure you could find the aligning element in whatever framework you use. I am not sure if everyone else saw the post going around on Facebook about the Danielson Thanksgiving where you get a four because the turkey put itself in the oven. There are parts of the rubric that absolutely feel like that is true. The only way to get a four is to have the dream students who have been raised by the dream parents and who are only in school to learn. We all know that’s not exactly what we are dealing with. What I have learned through QFT and some other great resources and advice from strong teachers that there are ways to teach and engage students to such high standards. Some of the components for me that this strategy would be a slam dunk for and that were previously elusive are 2b establishing a culture for learning, 3b using questioning and discussion techniques, 3c engaging students in learning and 3d using assessment in instruction.
When looking at 2b, the distinguished rubric reads, “students assume responsibility for high quality by initiating improvements, making revisions, adding detail, and/or assisting peers in their precise use of language.” During the QFT experience the students work in groups to improve their questions. They must choose the questions to improve, they revise them and they re-write them. They are doing all of those things just by the nature of the process.
For component 3b the distinguished rubric reads, “The teacher uses a variety or series of questions or prompts to challenge students cognitively, advance high-level thinking and discourse, and promote metacognition. Students formulate many questions, initiate topics, challenge one another’s thinking, and make unsolicited contributions.” This seems just what the QFT is designed for. The students are the ones who formulate the questions. The teacher voice is minimal and the students must be doing the thinking. The students also must include rational as well as look at the pattern of their questions when they choose their priority questions. They take a look at where those questions lie in the order and how their thinking changed or grew through the process.
The rubric for distinguished in component 3c reads, “Virtually all students are intellectually engaged in challenging content through well-designed learning tasks and activities that require complex thinking by students. There is evidence of some student initiation of inquiry and student contributions to the exploration of important content; students may serve as resources for one another.” I have found that done right there is no way for students to not be engaged. Even my toughest students if carefully partnered will be fully into this process. They will help, they will challenge one another, and they will contribute.
Lastly the rubric for 3d reads, “A variety of forms of feedback, from both teacher and peers is accurate and specific and advances learning.” During the revision and improving process the students are offering feedback to one another about the type of questions asked and how to make them better. They are advancing their learning together through the entire process.
This strategy is not the magic pill. I can not guarantee that anyone using it will just score as distinguished in all four of these components on the first try. I can say however that I have used this strategy for about four years now and it works. Outside of the want to score highly on observations it is a great strategy to get students involved and engaged. With this strategy students take ownership of their thinking. They are highly engaged in learning, questioning, and thinking.
All of this leaves me with a few questions for you. Please post any questions you have for me about the process. I would also like to know if anyone else has used this and how it would fit into Marzano or CEL 5D+ frameworks. Have you ever used it and had it not go well? What do you think the problems can be and how can we solve them?
Mentor Teacher at Sumner School District
I taught high school social studies and ELA for thirteen years.This is my first year as a full time release district mentor teacher at the high school level and I have an insatiable desire to help students and teachers and to grow as an educator myself through this work. This all leads me to strive to participate in and share many growth opportunities in this honorable profession.