A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a unique PD session. For two days, a group of middle and high school teachers listened to the Question Structure strategies for student success presented by Michael Hardt. Following the PD I was quite excited to try this out with my students. However, from the outset I had several serious concerns about what was presented.
Hardt’s background is in the US as a designer of standardized tests, and QS is billed as a surefire way to improve scores. He made any number of provocative statements, all with a disarming “aw shucks” demeanor. Nevertheless, I was not convinced.
Here is a sample. In addition to promoting his own ideas, he downplayed a number of educational and pedagogical theories. The reason? No data.
Differentiation is a waste of time. There is no data to support this approach.
There is no such thing as synthesizing or inferencing.
He never reads fiction, it is also a waste of time, because it contains no information; he only reads non-fiction.
There is no data to support the idea of multiple intelligences proposed by Gardner.
Reading for pleasure is a waste of time. It only stimulates the pleasure sensors in the brain and does not lead to learning.
I simply don’t believe any of this. Instead, I believe that somewhere, there is data supporting all of the above approaches. It is also ironic that the semester 2 literacy focus for our whole board is inferencing…
I set out to teach my students the QS approach, and made two SmartNotebook presentations (my first!) to use on my brand new SmartBoard. It was very interactive and contained lots of practice, and went well. But then when I started thinking about how to incorporate QS into my units, it was a big problem.
I discovered that in following the precepts of differentiating, I had virtually eliminated the opportunity for intensive use of QS. With every student reading a different non-fiction book, no chance for teacher-led questioning. In math, an enrichment group is across the hall and the others need individual help, not a Q and A lecture. In history, they are reading small sections of the text independently and summarizing, and then writing a script. My action research of the past 4-5 years had focused primarily on extended reading for pleasure, with brief responses. The boys improved their reading, CASI scores for participating classes were statistically higher, and 100% of my Grade 6s passed the reading portion of EQAO.
I had no idea what to do about QS in a meaningful way in my classes, without changing my whole approach.
Should I go back to more direct instruction? Everyone on the same novel? Eliminate choice in books and projects? This was a very stressful period of time. I felt obligated to implement QS, having spent two days learning about it. But it really went against everything I have tried to do to improve my teaching practice for about 7 years.
I was still on the fence about QS when I had the chance to attend the ECOO 2010 conference. It was like traveling to a different planet, one where creativity flourished and technology was promoted as a tool for student success, engagement and innovation.
As you might have guessed, QS is not going to be a priority for me. I want more for my students than the ability to snap questions and I am not going to throw my differentiated program away and redesign my units to force standardization.
However, I will say that I have re-examined my lack of formal questioning and will definitely be incorporating more into my teaching. The students in one History class really enjoyed the use of SmartNotebook to present the text followed by questions that they could answer as a group, so I will follow up in a similar manner in the future. I suspect that some are coasting during the full group lessons, and will have to devise a way to track them, but all in all, I can see a way to use a more direct approach in History, for some units. As well, during the “minds on” section of math lessons, I see a role for focused questions.
So, although I see QS as a bit of “one-trick pony,” I will take it out of the barn on occasion. But for the long treks, exploring new territory and charting our own pathways to learning, QS will stay parked in the corral.