Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Questioning Levels

In my last blog, we discussed the relationship of rigor and CIA (curriculum, instruction, and assessment). Now, we will delve a bit more into how to approach instruction. Research has suggested three key areas to consider: Levels of Questioning, Differentiated Instruction, and Multiple Intelligences. We’ll focus first on Levels of Questioning.

Levels of Questioning

How do you think that Levels of Questioning either enhances or detracts from instruction? What purpose do Levels of Questioning serve throughout instruction? When you are learning about a new concept or even learning how to physically do something, asking and being asked certain kinds of questions can help you to more efficiently and accurately acquire the given knowledge or skill. The ultimate goal is to develop and build understanding. Questions—the right kinds of questions in the proper sequence—are crucial for getting a firm grasp of something, for monitoring one’s progression, and for becoming more adept at further inquiry.

In Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, I compare understanding to climbing a mountain. You may have to start at the bottom, but to get the full view (the rigorous view), you have to make it to the top. You climb to the top one step at a time; the steps become increasingly more difficult as you go, but the view is worth it.

One model I like is Ciardello's four types of questions ("Did You Ask a Good Question Today?" Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, vol. 42, no. 3, November, 1998):

Memory Questions.

Focus on: identifying, naming, defining, identifying, designating, yes or no responses

Keywords: who, what, where, when

Convergent Thinking

Focus on: explaining, stating relationships, comparing and contrasting

Keywords: why, how, in what way


bulletExplaining: What were some reasons for the US Civil War?
bulletStating relationships: How does the enforcement of intellectual property rights encourage technological development?
bulletComparing and contrasting: In what ways are spreadsheets and databases alike? In what ways do they differ?

Divergent Thinking

Focus on: predicting, hypothesizing, inferring, reconstruction

Keywords: imagine, suppose, predict, if... then..., how might... can you create..., what are some possible consequences...


bulletPredicting: What predictions can you make if the population continues to grow and less land is devoted to agriculture?
bulletHypothesizing: If the Axis forces had won World War II, how might the world be different?
bulletInferring: What would you expect to happen if intellectual property rights were all repealed?
bulletReconstruction: What would you suggest to increase recreational opportunities in Wisconsin's traditional resort and vacation industries?

Evaluative Thinking

Focus on: valuing, judging, defending, justifying choices

Keywords: defend, judge, justify, what do you think..., what is your opinion...


bulletValuing: How do you feel about the role of competition in the US marketplace?
bulletJudging: What do you think of relaxing of immigration laws and amnesty for illegal immigrants?
bulletDefending: Why do you oppose the construction of a nuclear power plant in our community?
bulletJustifying choices: Why would you prefer to attend a private college?

Do you have a method for developing questions during your instruction? If so, what is it? Which of the three models do you think would most benefit you in terms of improving the kinds of questions you develop, and your ability to do so?


  1. Thank you for a thought-provoking post. I spend a considerable amount of time working on questioning levels with teachers and students. We use Costa's levels of questioning to instruct in the classroom and the divergent and evaluative levels would comprise Costa's 3rd level. It has proven to be one of the most influential strategies we've used and I'll be incorporating some of these ideas (love the mountain analogy!) into upcoming sessions with staff and students.
    Renee Burnett, Literacy Specialist

  2. Glad this was helpful! Good luck.


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