The Common Core Raises Questions About Teachers’ Questioning Skills

New PD initiatives aim to help teachers elicit deeper responses and interpretations from students
By Sarah D. Sparks

There are no stupid questions. But when it comes to the common core, teachers are finding that their questions could be asking a lot more of students.

Educators have called the focus on “close reading” one of the most critical shifts in the Common Core State Standards’ approach to literacy, and one that many teachers need practice to perfect.

Using questioning techniques, teachers can guide students to think critically about complex literary and informational texts and to construct evidence-based arguments based on them. But getting students to dig into deeper meaning requires going beyond simply asking them to cite an example or find an answer in the text. It means encouraging them to build interpretations and analyses from what they’ve read.

To that end, a number of new district and researcher-led programs are being developed to help teachers learn to ask better questions in connection with reading assignments or activities.

“What’s hard for teachers is forming these questions,” said Lindsay C. Matsumura, an associate education dean at the University of Pittsburgh who studies inquiry. Questioning “really requires a lot of planning to do it effectively.”

For example, in discussing E.B. White’s classic children’s novel Charlotte’s Web, typically a teacher might ask a student what Templeton the rat does to help Wilbur the pig. But a deeper question, Matsumura said, might be: ” ‘Is Templeton the rat a good friend?’ He really helps Wilbur, in the text, but you could argue his help always comes at a cost. What’s critical [in close reading] is you need to reasonably be able to take different perspectives on the text. That is getting to the heart of common-core standards.”

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