What We Know
Teaching students to generate their own questions as part of the learning
process is an effective way to boost metacognition and encourage higher level
thinking. Explicit instruction in questioning has been used in mathematics and
science problem solving and in writing. One of the most valuable effects that
this cognitive strategy can produce, however, is improving comprehension of
texts across the content areas (Rosenshine & Meister, 1994; Rosenshine et al,
McKeown et al (1993) have suggested that the difficulty students experience in
attempting to make meaning from their textbooks rests with the writing of the
passages. These texts, they say, are often "inconsiderate" - incoherent and
requiring high levels of background knowledge. The "objective" and tone of
textbooks can inspire a perception that the information source is
authoritative and infallible. Such features inhibit comprehension and cause
students to blame themselves for being poor readers.
Instruction in self-questioning or in generating questions for someone else to
answer can help students focus on main ideas and self-regulate to ensure that
content is understood - two factors that lead to improved comprehension
(Rosenshine et al, 1996; Taylor & Frye, 1992). Reciprocal teaching, which
includes instruction and practice in questioning, has been shown to be an
effective way to increase comprehension, particularly for upper elementary and
middle school students (Lynsynck, 1990; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994; Taylor &
Frye, 1992). Whether reciprocal teaching or another approach is used to teach
questioning skills, research shows that it is important for teachers to
provide students with procedural prompts in the form of signal words or
generic question stems and scaffolding that includes modeling and think aloud
and a gradual increase in difficulty and independence (Rosenshine et al,
1996). For younger children who are particularly put off by the authority of
textbooks, it is recommended that teachers help students to engage students in
a direct questioning of the author. By seeking out ideas behind the author's
words, engagement and motivation are increased, and by thinking more carefully
and deeply about the text, comprehension increases (McKeown et al, 1993).
Self-questioning as part of note-taking and review can improve students'
retention and performance on assessments (King, 1992; Laidlaw, 1993). This has
implications for both oral learning, such as through lectures, as well as
reading comprehension (King, 1992).
Metacognition is thinking about one's own thinking or a self-awareness
of thought processes.
Reciprocal teaching involves strategy training in summarizing,
questioning, clarifying and predicting. Instruction includes teacher modeling
and scaffolded support followed by peer-assisted instruction. The approach was
developed by Palinscar and Brown in 1984 and has been researched extensively,
with highly positive outcomes.