Questioning is key to delving deeply into a text. Curiosity creates a strong desire in the reader to find the answers to his or her questions. At the same time, questioning is one of the most challenging tasks that teachers encounter. How to ask questions that encourage and extend classroom discussions and internalize the process of making meaning from the text becomes the goal of an inquiry-based discussion.
In researching how to support teachers to improve their questioning skills, I came upon the book Questioning the Authorby Isabel L. Beck and Margaret G. McKeown. The authors’ intent is to engage the students in actively building meaning through thinking about, talking about, and integrating ideas from the text with their own background knowledge. Moving away from the model of asking questions to solely retrieve information, Beck and McKeown ask questions, “queries”, or prompts, that lead students to meaningful discourse.
Beck and McKeown determined that increasing comprehension for students relied on a coherent text, relevant background knowledge, a logical sequence of questions connected to the particular text being read, and a logical relationship among ideas. With this in mind, Q&A promotes a discussion-based approach to building comprehension supported through the use of queries and includes a teacher-student collaboration during the reading of the text. Queries are open-ended with the students taking responsibility for identifying, developing and connecting ideas. They are used to initiate discussion and to follow-up and extend the students’ thinking during the reading. Q&A introduces the students to the fallibility of the author. Questioning the author’s ideas frees the students to figure out what the author means and if it makes sense.
Planning a Q&A lesson includes identifying the significant understandings of the text, segmenting the text for initiating discussions, and constructing queries that lead the students, through discourse, to the development of ideas related to the understandings. Through the queries, the students see the author as an active participant in the discourse and engage with the author’s thoughts more fully. As a result, the students interpret and integrate the author’s ideas with their own.
And just like that, Q&A becomes another avenue for building thoughtful discourse and increasing comprehension.