One of the benefits my union offers is professional development via courses developed through AFT, the American Federation of Teachers.

Who would have thunk it? Maybe not the general public after hearing the constant demonizing of teachers, hearing that teachers are lazy, indifferent to improving their practice, and hanging onto a guaranteed paycheck for life, …

The reality is different. Teachers care and pour their time and money into being better. In this case, we devote part of our union dues to a program of professional development, based on the best research, to provide our members (and we welcome non-members, but as they don’t pay dues, they do need to ante up for the training) with the knowledge and support they need to be the best teachers.

This year, I’m working through ten sessions under an overarching theme, Strategies for Student Success. Saturday’s session was about questioning and how to develop good questions.

Veteran teachers, hell even novices, know how we have been pushed to use ‘higher order’ questions. That is, using the hierarchy developed by Benjamin Bloom, we should avoid asking low-level questions involving a recall of facts or an understanding of basic ideas. We should be demanding students analyze, apply, evaluate, and generalize learning and our questions should push them to do the same.

Yet as every teacher has screamed while she pounded the steering wheel on her drive home, how can a student do those things if they can’t recall the facts? That has to come first.

Oh, but that doesn’t work on an observation. Ask those high-level questions. In fact, many administrators want to see the questions scripted in the lesson plan. Rather than allowing a teacher to riff on the lesson as it unfolds in the classroom, some administrators want to hear those scripted questions, regardless of whether they are appropriate in the ongoing conversation between students and teachers.

We form questions and we categorize them into the taxonomy.

What I learned Saturday is that that is wrong, wrong, wrong. The taxonomy is not for categorizing questions and even less for prioritizing questions. The taxonomy shows us the different levels of thinking students engage in as they answer our questions.

We all got Benjamin Bloom wrong.

Good questions have structure: there is the surface structure in the framing of the question and there is the deep structure in the many levels of thinking students have to go through in order to posit a response.

Good questions dive deep. Good questions force students into all the levels of Bloom: recalling, understanding, analyzing, evaluating, generalizing. Bloom was never meant to be an either/or framework. It was meant to help us understand how students have to think in order to have meaningful inquiry and thus learning.

The best questions have that deep structure. The best questions engage all levels of thinking. Because (does it have to be said?) a student cannot analyze, generalize, evaluate, or apply if they don’t have the content knowledge to start with.

P.S. If you weren’t there, you missed a terrific method to get students to pose their own questions to guide their learning. Duval Teachers United, the next session is December 1. Be there.

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