Sequencing questions

In most academic contexts such as the classroom, the issues that are of most interest are those that are expressed analytically and many of the questions that we use to start off a discussion may be posed in that form. For example, we may assign a reading and ask a starting question such as "What do you think the author was trying to say in this paper?" But many students, especially in introductory classes, may not be as familiar with that mode of discourse as we are and need to be led up to it. One successful strategy is to ask questions in an ascending hierarchy of question types.

  1. You start off by asking students for an affective response that relates to their feelings about the paper or topic, with questions of the form: What was your reaction to this reading? Did you like it?

  2. You can use the responses you receive to move on to descriptive questions that requires them to use passages from the readings or other descriptions in support of their affective response: What did the author say that made you feel that way? What examples or arguments was the author using?

  3. You can then finally get to analytic questions, such as: Why do you think the author made this statement?  What problem do you think the author is addressing?Do you think the author makes a convincing case? Why or why not?

Because instructors are so familiar with the world of analytic academic discourse and with the topic under discussion, they may not appreciate that they have had a lot of time to grapple with the affective and descriptive aspects of their work and thus are primed for analytic discussions. As a result, I think that we sometimes forget that it is important to enable students to come to terms with their feelings about a topic before they are comfortable dealing with more abstract aspects of it. Giving them a chance to state their emotions helps them make the transition.